Government worshippers are finally getting their humiliating turn in the proverbial town square’s stocks, to have rotten fruit thrown at them by passersby. Unfortunately for them, the tormentor in question happens to be a particularly brutal one: South Park.
In the first episode of the latest season, “Let Go, Let Gov,” the perpetually-irreverent animated series South Park takes aim at those who place an inordinate amount of faith in the government’s ability to provide. The story follows Eric Cartman as he takes to engaging in loud phone conversations via speakerphone. When classmates point out the obvious, that they can hear all of his vapid chit-chat, Cartman cries privacy infringement. He then declares that the government is spying on everyone, listening in on every last word, and leaves on a mission to right this wrong by infiltrating the National Security Agency.
Meanwhile, Cartman’s impressionable friend Butters, upon hearing that the government is watching him, begins praying to it nightly like a deity, thanking it for security and asking President Obama for blessings. After converting a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses to his newfound governmental faith, Butters begins holding religious services with his growing following at the Department of Motor Vehicles, where congregants confess their sins to employees and ask for forgiveness.
Behind all the silliness and good fun lies a serious critique of big government apologists. By comparing faith in the state to faith in a celestial deity, South Park points out the blindness of unconditionally trusting the government to solve any and every problem, even when presented with overwhelming evidence of its incompetence. In particular, the choice of the Department of Motor Vehicles as the house of faith underscores the stark reality that for most people, daily interaction with government is defined by inconvenience and misery.
But there is an even more important message that South Park unwittingly drives home: distrust of government has reached pop culture status. Long the domain of Tea Partiers and libertarian malcontents, to see such a vicious mocking of faith in government take the stage on a show with millions of viewers worldwide is a profound statement as to exactly how low trust in the state has slid. This attitude is a far cry from the abundance of hope and change that gripped the country five short years ago.
Popular culture acts as a mirror for the attitudes and opinions of the people. If South Park’s recent episode is any indicator, trust in the ability of the state to provide is at an all-time low. To paraphrase former President Clinton’s famous declaration, the era of faith in big government is over.
Joël Valenzuela is the editor of The Desert Lynx.