That was a mantra of protesters in the 1960s, often credited to Timothy Leary. [reference: Timothy Leary Quotes] But Benjamin Franklin, an original American revolutionary, may have said it first. [reference: Benjamin Franklin Quotes/Quotations from Liberty Quotes] Indeed, if we wish to think for ourselves, questioning authority is a good start.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the generation gap between the baby boomers and the "greatest generation" was made even more pronounced with this warning -
Never trust anyone over 30
This slogan of the baby boomer generation is attributed to Jack Weinberg , though it is not a new thought and seems to recycle itself with each new generation. [reference: Quote/Counterquote: Don't trust anyone over 30 – or 40]
Time marches on. Now, baby boomers are all over thirty and many of us have become part of "the establishment" - the very thing some had protested against in the 1960s. And ironically some who had been part of the free speech movement (FSM) have pushed the political correctness in our times which seems to have a chilling repression of free speech. [reference: The Death of Free Speech on Campus]
But the following generations find creative ways of watching out for the people and exposing the abuses of the politically powerful. One tried and true method of attack on "the establishment" is an offense through "children's stories" and humor.
Those who follow my blogs may have an inkling that my posts express a conservative worldview with a religious flavor. So it may seem a surprise that I have taken to the Comedy Central cartoon South Park. Yes, this show pushes the boundaries of decency and nice as the first weekly TV show to earn the Mature Audience (MA) rating. No doubt many find the cartoon offensive for its language and adult situations.
The South Park Offense?
Frankly, I see redeeming social value in South Park's humor. It is an equal opportunity offender, sparing no special group of its barbs and satire, taking on the establishment and politically correct world with comedy. And it can be a great tool to go on the offensive in the culture war and even teach children to question authority and think for themselves.
But this cartoon is not for children, is it? It's MA - mature audiences only. Yet, this clip makes a case that children can learn important skills of critical thinking:
(Warning: Some mature content in video below.)
Quick summary for kids of all ages:
1. Almost every episode shows the difference between legitimate authority and the abuse of power/scare mongering.
Otherwise, South Park encourages us to think for ourselves - question authority, especially those in the establishment.
2. Kids today (as well as us adults) are subjected to a "tolerance" and "diversity" that ring hollow and false.
But the show fosters a true live and let live ethos sadly lacking in most school curricula - as well as other institutions and much of the media.
3. A core theme is taking personal responsibility for our own actions.
In many of the episodes, it takes a child to point out self-control and accountability to the adults. It also lampoons blaming someone or something else for the problems we have created, such as Blame Canada!
And there have been many types of "South Parks" throughout history.
Here are a few of them:
* Court jesters
Often the court jester (or fool) was the rare person who could criticize the king with impunity and freely speak his mind. [reference: Medieval Jesters] One such example in western literature is the Fool in Shakespeare's King Lear.
* Children's stories
Listed are some examples of classics some of us have grown up with -
* Nursery Rhymes [reference: Secret History of the Nursery Rhyme],
* Aesop's Fables [reference: "The Storyteller from Samos" by Donna L. Preble],
* Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels [reference: George Orwell: Politics vs. Literature - An examination of Gulliver's travels]
These are only a few examples of how the commoners, the powerless of the day, were able to exercise free speech and criticize the politics and the abuses of the elite. Under the heel of a tyrant, the critics of the political correctness of those regimes often came to an end that was not pretty.
Today, we may see ourselves as more civilized. But we have our ways to silence free speech and dissent through character assassination and the politics of personal destruction.
The South Park characters are an example of the court of jesters of our times. The show lampoons political correctness through the eyes of children so we may open our eyes and see that the Emperor really has no clothes! [reference: Hans Christian Andersen : The Emperor's New Clothes :: www.andersen.sdu.dk :: The Hans Christian Andersen Center]
And some of the South Park Offense is an effective offense in the culture war, questioning authority and perhaps get us thinking for ourselves.
Benjamin Franklin would be proud!
Previous post in this series:
PC Watch (part 1) - Political Correctness (2013)
Photo from: everystockphoto.com/Cartman