VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
These South Park controversies were practically invited by the creators. For this list, we'll be looking at the biggest controversies surrounding South Park. Our countdown includes ridiculing Chinese censorship, the Steve Irwin cameo, Closetgate, and more!
Well, they do bring it upon themselves. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 South Park controversies.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the biggest controversies surrounding “South Park.” These controversies can stem from a variety of institutions, including the media, religious organizations, or specific individuals. As long as it generated controversy in some kind, it will be included!
#10: Ridiculing Chinese Censorship
On October 2, 2019, “South Park” aired Band in China, an episode that viciously satirized Chinese censorship and the ways in which the entertainment industry bends to their demands. American audiences loved it, as it wonderfully critiqued both the Chinese censorship laws and the compromised state of American entertainment. Chinese audiences, not so much. China essentially scrubbed “South Park” from existence, removing every episode from its streaming services, every clip from the internet, and every fan site or social media page dedicated to discussing the series. In true “South Park” fashion, Parker and Stone issued a faux-apology, writing, “Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy.”
#9: Excessive Use of Profanity
If you think “South Park” is controversial now, you should have seen it in the early 2000s. You couldn’t go ten minutes without someone calling it the bane of Western civilization. Back then, people were incensed that the show contained profanity. But it wasn’t just “South Park” - the show “Chicago Hope” also generated significant media attention around a character uttering the phrase “shit happens.” To combat this, South Park co-creator Trey Parker wrote It Hits the Fan, an episode where the same swear word from that phrase is said and written a total 200 times. This equates to the word being said or written every eight seconds. Surprisingly, the episode itself didn’t stir up much controversy...aside from the 5,000 odd emails that were sent to Comedy Central.
#8: Portrayal of Mormonism
The season seven episode All About Mormons concerns a Mormon family moving into South Park and swaying the Marshes with their religion. The episode obviously touches on a lot of important facets relating to Mormonism, including the Book of Mormon, Family Home Evening, the story of founder Joseph Smith, and the golden plates. Parker concedes that he found the episode difficult to write, as most of the Mormons he knew were friendly and good-natured people. The LDS Church stated that although the episode did not hamper their growth, they did admit that “individual Church members...felt uncomfortable” over the “gross portrayal of Church history.”
#7: The Steve Irwin Cameo
On September 4, 2006, Steve Irwin tragically died after a stingray attack. On October 25, just seven weeks after the tragedy, Irwin appeared in the episode Hell on Earth 2006. In the episode, Irwin can be seen at Satan’s party with a stingray protruding from a bloody chest wound. This spurred a lot of vocal controversy, particularly from the Irwin family. A friend of Irwin’s widow released a statement saying, “Terri is devastated Steve is being mocked in such a cruel way. Her worry is that [their children] Bindi and Bob will see it and break down.” Many voiced their criticism, believing the episode to be distasteful. On the other hand, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were surprised that the cameo caused so much controversy, believing that they’ve done things on the show that were far more offensive.
#6: Sex Education
This season five episode serves as a satire on sex education in schools. The episode contains many problematic and graphic scenes, including Stan and Cartman...um…pleasuring dogs and Garrison both fellating a model penis and teaching graphic sexual positions to kindergarteners. Needless to say, the episode generated some significant criticism from censorship boards. Australia channels gave the episode an MA rating and aired it in a later time slot, while the British channel Sky One refused to air the episode altogether. Subsequent rebroadcasts and the DVD version are both edited, and the episode has never been aired in syndication.
#5: The Curious Departure of Isaac Hayes
Isaac Hayes voiced Chef for nearly ten years before randomly quitting in March of 2006. According to the press release made in his name, he left the show due to their supposed “intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs.” Parker and Stone found his departure suspicious and argued that Hayes was a hypocrite, as he only showed contention with the show when it made fun of his own “religion” - Scientology. However, reports began to emerge indicating that the statement was likely made and concocted by someone else. This was later confirmed by Hayes’s son, Isaac Hayes III. According to him, his father’s fellow Scientologists had released the statement under his name after he had suffered a debilitating stroke.
#4: Racial Slurs
On November 17, 2006, Michael Richards effectively tarnished his legacy through a vile and racist rant at Hollywood’s Laugh Factory. This inspired Parker and Stone to write With Apologies to Jesse Jackson, an episode exploring the societal implications of the n-word. The episode contained 43 uncensored uses of the word, but despite that, it received very little media attention. In fact, it was even praised for both its humor and relevance in society. Ironically, this lack of controversy stirred some controversy, particularly from the Parents Television Council, a conservative advocacy group. According to its founder, the lack of media attention was hypocritical, as other people, specifically radio host Don Imus, had been criticized for using similar racist language in the past. However, his controversy is nowhere near as awkward or embarrassing as Randy’s ...
#3: The Virgin Mary Statue
This episode sees the citizens of South Park flocking to a statue of the Virgin Mary that shoots a substantial amount of blood from its rectum, which they believe contains healing powers. When Pope Benedict XVI investigates the statue, he discovers that the blood actually emits from the vagina, which negates its healing potential. As you can imagine, numerous groups took issue with the Virgin Mary spraying vaginal blood on people. The Catholic League attempted to have the episode erased and religious groups in New Zealand tried to prevent it from airing in their country. Notable religious figures voiced their concern, including Archbishop Denis Hart and Bishop William Skylstad, who claimed that Comedy Central showed extreme insensitivity by airing the episode.
The season nine episode Trapped in the Closet takes substantial shots at the religion of Scientology and its famous members. This resulted in an enormous amount of backlash, including the aforementioned departure of Isaac Hayes and what was then termed Closetgate. Comedy Central suspiciously cancelled a rebroadcast of the episode in March 2006, and many people suspected the involvement of Tom Cruise. Cruise was promoting “Mission: Impossible III” at the time, and Comedy Central’s parent company Viacom also owns Paramount Pictures. According to the theory, Cruise refused to promote the movie unless the episode was pulled, and Viacom relented. While Cruise denied the allegations, the incident caused some major animosity between Parker and Stone and Comedy Central.
200 and 201 aren’t just the most controversial episodes of “South Park,” but each has a case for being the most controversial episodes in television history. After the airing of 200, Parker and Stone received open death threats from a radical Muslim organization due to the episode’s depiction of Muhammad. As a result, Comedy Central heavily censored the ending of 201, wherein Kyle gives a satirical speech about the effectiveness of violent threats. The network then became the subject of controversy - not only did they ironically nullify and directly contradict the speech’s theme by censoring the episode, but they proved that violent threats actually work. Critics suggested that the act of cowardly caving to demands would only encourage similar violent behavior from radical organizations.