The Heavens Fart


If you've read our interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone and still can't get enough South Park, check out Paul Cantor's praise for the program at Here's a sample:

Before dismissing South Park, we should recall that some of the greatest comic writers—Aristophanes, Chaucer, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Voltaire, Jonathan Swift—plumbed the depths of obscenity even as they rose to the heights of philosophical thought. The same intellectual courage that emboldened them to defy conventional proprieties empowered them to reject conventional ideas and break through the intellectual frontiers of their day. Without claiming that South Park deserves to rank with such distinguished predecessors, I will say that the show descends from a long tradition of comedy that ever since ancient Athens has combined obscenity with philosophy. There are almost as many fart jokes in Aristophanes' play The Clouds as there are in a typical episode of The Terrance and Philip Show in South Park. In fact, in the earliest dramatic representation of Socrates that has come down to us, he is making fart jokes as he tries to explain to a dumb Athenian named Strepsiades that thunder is a purely natural phenomenon and not the work of the great god Zeus: "First think of the tiny fart that your intestines make. Then consider the heavens: their infinite farting is thunder. For thunder and farting are, in principle, one and the same." Cartman couldn't have said it better.

The whole thing is here. While I enjoyed Cantor's essay, I think his analysis of the underwear-gnomes episode misses something obvious. The gnomes' famous three-step diagram ("Phase 1: Collect Underpants; Phase 2: ?; Phase 3: Profit") doesn't merely "encapsulate[] the economic illiteracy of the American public," who "can see no connection between the activities businessmen undertake and the profits they make." It's a funny parody of the poorly reasoned business plans that were all the rage during the dot-com bubble. (The episode first aired in 1998.) With more nuance than is sometimes acknowledged, the episode doesn't just endorse the free market; it satirizes both corporate and anti-corporate cant.

Bonus links: Cantor's Reason articles are here. Barry Fagin explains why he lets his kids watch South Park here. My appreciation of the show is here.