Is the Chinese government afraid of anything? China has over 1.3 billion and a strong economy. It’s not afraid to get into trade disputes with the United States. There were even reports that US President Trump told Chinese President Xi Jinping he’d stay quiet about the Hong Kong protests in exchange for favorable trade deals.
Does this mean no one is willing to stand up against China? Activision Blizzard, NBA, and Disney are in the media spotlight for turning their backs behind human rights just to appease China. It turns out that hope and resistance come in the form of an irreverent cartoon: South Park.
No Sacred Cows for ‘South Park’
South Park has been around 1997. This year, we had Season 23, which included the EP 299. This was the infamous “Band in China” episode. It was so effective in its satire that the Chinese government called for its nationwide ban. Was it offensive? Yes — but it was purposeful in its artistic protest.
“Band in China” was a criticism not only of China but also of those who support it. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone knew what they were doing. To kids, it was just an episode about Randy and his hopes of expanding his weed business to China. To everyone else, it was a show of resistance.
South Park didn’t have to hide the companies it was poking fun at. The episode included NBA players, Disney characters, and Marvel superheroes. Somehow, lucrative companies went quiet in the face of China.
Braver Than Entire Companies
What’s more amazing is that “Band in China” aired during an NBA issue involving China. Daryl Morey from the Houston Rockets sent a tweet in support of Hong Kong. That alone convinced China to cancel the NBA airings in its state-run media. Even the NBA distanced itself from Morey’s political sentiment.
When those who have economic and political power are unwilling to act, South Park’s actions become more inspiring. They didn’t need to do this. They could’ve just satirized other issues and kept silent about China. Yet they chose to speak up and stir up a hornet’s nest in the best way they know.
Still, “Band in China” wasn’t the only weapon South Park had against China. In its 300th episode titled “SHOTS!!!”, the series included a clear anti-China statement. Through one of the characters, the show was able to release a vocal snippet cursing the Chinese government.
The Value of Irreverence Today
Do these South Park episodes have any long-term impact? It’s hard to say. But one thing’s clear: It has an immediate impact in the real world. Apart from making headlines around the world, “Band in China” got the attention of Hong Kong protesters as well.
Some people managed to set up a small screening in one of the protest areas. No one knew about this — they didn’t even know who organized it. But a sizable crowd watched it. And once it was done, the online discussions revolved around South Park being a rare Western entity that could stand up to China.
The rest of the world can do so much more to safeguard democracy and support Hong Kong. South Park doesn’t have the resources to convince the rest of America, but it’s done more than enough as it is.