Combining Media Criticism & South Park

Hello everyone, Welcome to my blog!

My name is Evan Alfano, a junior at Towson University and a current student of Media Criticism. This class is incredibly important for a variety of reasons and really encourages an average citizen to take a closer look into the media that we consume daily. For example, you might look at an average print ad and think “Oh… that’s cool.” But when you sit down and really analyze the message a media text is trying to send you, new meanings arise. The objective of this course is to look past the simple entertainment aspect of media and try to unravel what it is really saying.

Media Criticism doesn’t leave us to figure out how to examine these texts by ourselves. It offers tons of methods and approaches for analyzing texts. One tool we learned to utilize is called the “Cultural Diamond.” This allows us to investigate the following aspects of media:

  • Text
  • Audience
  • Production
  • Social World

Through the exploration of these 4 aspects of media, we are able to take a closer look at how the cycle of how media is first produced all the way to how consumers react when they see it. By examining the text itself, one is able to look for the message that is being sent through the text and how it’s structured. By examining the audience, one can examine how  people will take media texts in all sorts of different ways. The production aspect examines what the producer of the text, whether it be an advertising agency, television network, or movie producer and looks into what message they are trying to get across to their audience. Examining the social world aspect of media texts may be the most important of them all. Anyone can watch a television show or look at an advertisement but it’s what happens after that which is most important. Once you take the ideas and meanings from the text and transfer it to  the rest society, the world can change.

In today’s world, media has a very heavy effect on society. Whether you know it or not, any form of media you watch can be shaping your values or sending you messages when you didn’t even know about it. How crazy is that! It’s  something that is scary to think about but important to recognize. For example, children can watch advertisements hundreds of times until they know nothing else but, “I must eat at McDonald’s.” It’s a scary concept but it really is true!

Moving further into that past example, I thought about why so America has such a high obesity rate and has such an obsession with fast food. Check out this study I stumbled upon published by Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. The study shows the number of fast food advertisements shown to children in 2012. It proves how just simple advertisements, if aired enough, can affect a whole population yet alone one person.


Anyway, with the idea of media influence in mind, I’d like to bring another fascinating example to the table. This television show gives us countless great examples of how perception on a certain topics on ideas can drastically change. It presents a perfect case of influence on a viewer, and may or may not be one of my favorite shows on television. The program I am talking about of course, is South Park.


For those who have never heard of it, South Park is a television show about four boys who live in South Park, Colorado. These boys continually partake in shenanigans that are controversial and either get themselves or someone else in trouble.  The show can be described as very vulgar, profane, and insensitive to those that watch it. Most adults would agree that it is definitely not a show for kids and those who view it should be prepared.  The show is of the comedy genre and is generally targeted (not exclusively) at men from the age of 18-34.

However, South Park continually tackles hot button issues that are usually relevant to all viewers around the country. It usually involves all of the townspeople of South Park leaning one way or the other on these issues. There tend to be several arguments throughout the episode until it somehow ends and a lesson is learned.   Some of these topics include: drug use, abortion, religion, politics, homosexuality, and global warming, just to name a few. Keep in mind there are over two hundred and fifty episodes of this program.

The reason South Park can be seen as influential to viewers is because of the take it gives on pressing issues. It gives a satirical twist on these issues, and will overly exaggerate one or multiple sides of the issue through any means possible. One of the creators of the show, Trey Parker, has stressed that there is not a line South Park won’t cross. These ridiculous takes on certain issues spark debate and question in the eyes of viewers who can come to think, “Wow, why do I think this way?” It does a great job of putting things into perspective for viewers.

A Media Criticism concept that strongly relates to this is semiotics. Semiotics is the discipline for interpreting and analyzing texts. It supports the idea that there are signs in all texts and meaning can be derived from those signs. Since different people view these texts, different meanings can be derived from those texts.

This article this I found discusses South Park’s influence over race and media. It talks about how South Park has a humorous aspect to it and certain people can take that away from the show.  But it also talks about how society’s views can easily be swayed from media. It uses South Park as a prime example. Because they mock just about everything, ethical questions can arise from this show. Takes on serious issues can be dumbed down to be better analyzed.

Here is an example (Viewer discretion advised!!) of an episode of South Park that can have semiotics applied to it. This clip shows one of the characters, Kyle, explaining to the police that one of the school teachers is having sex with a student (his brother). The policemen immediately become concerned until they learn the teacher is a woman that is attractive so it’s okay. This is a very important pressing issue that was a big deal at the time and still is. There is a complete double standard that takes place in our society.

Where semiotics comes in to this example is when we apply it’s assumptions. One assumption of semiotics explains that signs in texts can be interpreted in different ways even though they have common meanings. Clearly the meaning of the clip is that there is a double standard in our society. Yet, people can either watch it and take away that there is an unfair double standard,  that it isn’t a big deal just as the cops show, or not have an opinion either way and just think that the whole thing is funny.

This also supports another assumption made by semiotics which explains that meanings vary according to person, time, place, or context. Had that same clip been shown 50 years ago, I’m sure reactions would be a lot different than they are today. Also, a woman would probably be a lot more offended then a man would be at this clip.  The multiperspectival approach supports this notion that the meaning interpreted from the text revolves around the audience and context.

Now you may be thinking to yourselves, “This is interesting and all but, why can’t I just enjoy the media I watch and not think about it anymore than that?” My response to you:


IT’S IMPORTANT TO ANALYZE ALL MEDIA!! The things that are presented to us in everyday media are important. If we don’t sit down and look at what is actually being shown to us, we will just turn into another statistic. Media sends messages to us whether we like it or not. Whether you agree or disagree with that message is completely up to you, but you need to recognize that it’s there.

The media shapes our culture. Everything little thing you see on television is being imprinted in the mind of someone, somewhere. Those ideas will spread throughout our culture just because we are watching them. It is a good thing to over analyze and think, “Is this really a message that should be sent to people?” South Park hands us very debatable issues on a silver platter every week. How one chooses to react and feel  about the presentation of those issues is completely up to them. But as long as you are realizing that something is there and you are looking into it, I am very proud of you.

Also for the record, if any of you are now interested in South Park because of this sensational blog post, I highly recommend the episode “Asspen.”

Combining Media Criticism & South Park

One thought on “Combining Media Criticism & South Park

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