South Park’s Representations of Homosexuality
South Park is an animated series that features a wide variety of contemporary social issues guised within the context of the lives of the characters both kids and adults. One of the issues seldom portrayed in the episodes is the issue of homosexuality. The show presents homosexuality in many different ways, chief of them showing the conflict between the social tolerance and acceptance of gays and the ways in which gay individuals are compelled to push their presence into the collective consciousness of their society so that they can be accepted in the end.
For the most part, the fictional stories of South Park revolving around the theme of homosexuality represent it in ways that are closer to the ordinary circumstances of social reality. In “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride,” gays are represented as caring and tender individuals who provide comfort to those who are left-out or are treated as castaways of the society. Through Big Gay Al, gays are also represented as seeking the awareness and acceptance of the general public who still exclude their group and resent them for who or what they are.
The story of Stan and his dog, Sparky, presents a picture of how others try to force homosexuals to “fit” into the whims or demands of the society so that others will not treat them differently and become a cause of humiliation. The boat ride also reveals a partial glimpse of how gay communities are striving for a society that freely accepts the existence of these communities. Big Gay Al’s quick tour of the history of gay communities leads Stan to the culmination of the efforts of gay communities to finally establish their groups as normal members of the society just like everybody else.
As far as Big Gay Al hints at, the ideal society is one that is happy because “gay means happy” and, conversely, “happy means gay”. Towards the end of the episode, Stan’s admission before the crowd in the football field that he was with Big Gay Al and that being gay is just fine made the crowd silent for a while, suggesting that the statement of Stan did not fit his image of a football player. The larger implication is that contemporary society is still hounded with either their indifference or their contempt towards homosexuals (Loftus, 2001).
In “Do the Handicapped Go to Hell? ” episode, Satan is first seen dancing merrily together with other people. Right after the end of the singing and dancing, someone asks Satan to go out but refuses to come because he and Chris are moving to the West side; they still have to unpack their things. Apparently, Chris is a male and Satan is also portrayed as someone with male physical features. That being the case, Satan is portrayed as a homosexual in the episode because of his presupposed relationship with Chris.
This is further affirmed when they transferred to their new condominium room by the River Styx. Right after they moved into their new condominium unit, Satan is surprised to see Saddam Hussein at the door since Satan says he already killed him and, therefore, he should be dead. The persistence of Saddam to win back Satan as his lover also reveals that, indeed, Satan is portrayed as gay in the episode. That is apart from the fact that Satan refused the request of Saddam because he is now living with Chris despite Saddam’s begging and his recollection of his past relationship with Satan.
The episode essentially portrays homosexuality from the point of view of religion, specifically in the context wherein Catholicism typically sees homosexuality as immoral and deserves no place in heaven (Greenberg & Bystryn, 1992). The use of Satan as the image for homosexuality in the episode may imply that a gay Satan is the highest manifestation of homosexuality as evil from the perspective of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the episode points out the idea that gays are still capable of entering romantic relationships.
It also reflects the idea that gays are very much capable of feeling love and being loved in return even if Catholicism and other religions frown upon homosexuality. Even the gay Satan himself, as the episode shows, can be capable of loving an individual of the same sex just like a normal human being would. In “Butters’ Very Own Episode”, Butters is asked by his mother to spy on his father by following where he went so that she can know what her husband is giving her as an anniversary present. That evening, Butters saw his father enter a male peep show which Butters understood as a “movie”.
Butters also saw his dad enter a male spa—a “gym” in the innocent eyes of Butters—where his father “wrestled” some men for fifteen minutes. Returning from home, Butters gave his mom three pictures of his dad after he recalled what he saw causing his mother to faint and drop on the floor. The following day, Butters caught his dad in the bathhouse doing something with his private part although Butters apparently did not know what his dad was doing. Later, Butters’ father explained to his wife why he became gay and apologized.
Apparently, the episode focuses on how families are affected once the members find out that the father of the household is a homosexual. It portrays how wives initially react to the revelations, so to speak, and how the children in the family may remain unaware of the circumstances despite the negative consequences inflicted on the marital relationship of their parents. With that in mind, the episode essentially signifies the struggles dealt with by gay fathers, especially the struggle to either suppress the truth from the knowledge of the family or to reveal his homosexual status once and for all.
Each of these options has its own respective benefits and harms, both leading to rejection, acceptance or, perhaps, indifference. In any case, the episode signifies that the urge of homosexual fathers to reveal their gender preference is inescapable and that they have to make-up their minds sooner or later (Risman & Schwartz, 1998)—even worse comes to worst. In the episode “Trapped in the Closet”, Tom Cruise locks himself inside the closet of Stan and hesitates to come-out. Tom’s act caused the public and the authorities to ask him “to come out of the closet” for many times.
John Travolta and R Kelly also asked Tom to come out of the closet but refused to do so. Surprisingly, both John and R Kelly also went inside the closet and joined Tom. Apparently, the phrase “come out of the closet” has been commonly attributed to coming out into the open and admitting that one is a homosexual (Stevenson, 1998). The impersonations of John Travolta, Tom Cruise and R Kelly in the episode suggest that there are actors in the entertainment industry who are part of the so-called communities of gays. However, they refuse to “come out of the closet” or make their homosexuality publicly known for reasons that vary.
One reason may be because the public confession of an entertainer’s gender preference or even the mere gossip of it can negatively impact the career of the entertainer such as a movie actor, for example. Moreover, the hesitation of actors to “come out of the closet” may result from the fact that contemporary society does not entirely accept and appreciate homosexuality as a normal part of humanity. Once out of the closet, so to speak, certain homosexual actors may end up getting heavily criticized by their followers and some of their colleagues in the profession which, in effect, would devastate their careers.
These actors may eventually lose the glitz and glamour of being on the industry after braving the challenge of openly revealing their gay status. Also, the observation that there are gays who are still afraid to come out of the closet suggests that something is holding them back from making their gender preference publicly known. Apart from the idea that the criticisms of other individuals are most likely to surface, the existing status quo in the society also prevents gays from coming out of the closet. As it has been seen in “Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?
” episode, the influence of religion is one of the social factors seeking to discourage and proscribe homosexuals from continuing their habits. Using Roman Catholicism as the example, the episode reinforces the notion of pain and suffering in hell for the commission of sins. As a result, the minds of people are conditioned to frown upon homosexuality and homosexuals. The basic social institution of family also plays a key role in either making or breaking the decision of gays to finally confront their fear of being openly recognized as homosexuals.
As seen in “Butters’ Very Own Episode”, Butters’ father was trying to hide his homosexuality from Butters and his wife because he was afraid that his gender preference might destroy his family. His decision to finally tell his wife about his gay status eventually led to strengthening their bond as a family; his wife accepted him for who he really is. It is in that instance where South Park presents the idea that gays should not be afraid to confront their worst fears. Instead, the show encourages gays to “come out of the closet” because it is the best way for them to be accepted by the society.
It is interesting to know that South Park incorporates the theme of homosexuality in its episodes despite the fact that the show is an animated series. Apparently, children are more likely to gain interest in watching the show and absorb the representations of homosexuality that the episodes contain. Yet that is perhaps the point of view of the show—in order to make the public become more conscious about the situations dealt with by gay communities, it is crucial to make people aware about such situations at a time when some people still have the ears to listen and the eyes to bear witness to various social events.
References Greenberg, D. F. , & Bystryn, M. H. (1992). Christian Intolerance of Homosexuality. The American Journal of Sociology, 88(3), 515-548. Loftus, J. (2001). America’s Liberalization in Attitudes toward Homosexuality, 1973 to 1998 American Sociological Review, 66(5), 762-782. Risman, B. , & Schwartz, P. (1998). Sociological Research on Male and Female Homosexuality. Annual Review of Sociology, 14, 125-147. Stevenson, M. R. (1998). Promoting Tolerance for Homosexuality: An Evaluation of Intervention Strategies. The Journal of Sex Research, 25(4), 500-511.Sample Essay of EduBirdie.com