Sunday, November 25, 2012

Living on Edge: South Park

     Okay, this one may be painfully obvious, but who could argue that South Park is not an edgy media text? The obvious edginess to South Park is definitely in terms of its racy content, but I think it also fits nicely into Curtin's terms as well. For Curtin, edginess in media is such that strays from the predictable outline of popular media. This media does not need to rely on mass audiences to do well and often does not appeal to mass audiences. However, as Curtin describes, this media is attractive to those with "deep pockets" because of its surprising success and thus a sort of merger has happened within the media world where edgy media is exposed to wide audiences in more familiar strategies that have worked for popular cookie-cutter media. I think that South Park is the embodiment of this model.

     When South Park first began it did not receive well. It was offensive and unappealing to the wide audience, but it was able to maintain that cult following and was able to grow. Regardless of its success, the creators of South Park didn't care what the wide audience was interested in, and in fact, they seemed to aim for making people uncomfortable. They definitely were not trying to win any favors in Hollywood, because a majority of episodes are centered around making fun of celebrities in very demeaning ways. However, the show is obviously caught on and has definitely grabbed the attention of the wide audience.

     Curtin describes how corporations that are exhibiting edgy media are focused on a particular audience, but will adhere to "big brother" corporations in order to get their brand out there. This is the cookie-cutter strategy I mentioned earlier. I believe that South Park has done this by having its show aired on the CW. While, not every foul word is allowed on Comedy Central, the show is very censored on the CW because of the network's standing. While I believe that South Park in its beginning was meant to be a huge metaphorical as well as literal middle finger to many subjects and topics, this move to a more strict platform allowed it to cross cultural platforms and open itself up to a wider audience all while keeping it's edginess.

      This would be the neo-Fordism that Curtin discussed. The cookie-cutter shows that are aimed at the wide audience are stuck in their ways. South Park's initial aim at specific audiences provided the support needed to grow allowed them to branch out and target other specific audiences, thus making their audience wider.

      So, does South Park and other edgy media unite or divide society? I think that it has the potential to unite by dividing. That is, it will make people uncomfortable and it will get people to think differently. The way I see it, there are two attitudes towards South Park. There are those who will get offended and not give it another thought. Then there are those, like me, who may get offended by some (or perhaps by none) of the content, but gives the show a chance. This is what I think the creators of South Park intended for their audience and this is why I think the show has been able to grow. People like me are, in a sense, divided from their initial attitudes and able to identify with others who have done the same and thus create unity. Will there be perfect unity? No, because not everyone will like the media. Will there be division? Yes, but there is unity within that.

     Therefore, the question of edgy media being creative or problematic falls on whichever side you are on. If you are stuck in your ways and can't see past the way things have always been, then this kind of media is nothing but problematic. If you are able to allow yourself to be vulnerable to this kind of media, then I believe you can see the creativity. South Park may not seem to be creative and be nothing more than fart jokes (perhaps it sometimes is), but I would argue that it is creative. From its beginning to where it is now, it did not come without creativity. Now, technology also plays a role, but I believe that creativity is found in how the technology is used as well. In short, this question is subjective and is all about perspective. Here is a preview for the documentary Six Days to Air: The Making of South Park for a glimpse at how creative the team behind the show is:

     In all, edgy media is more pervasive with advancements in technology and globalization, allowing such media to transcend media platforms and cultural barriers. It challenges people to think differently and consider something they aren't used to encountering. In the end, edgy media like South Park is changing the playing field in which media is produced, encountered, and reproduced.

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