Review by Mary Cox
“White People Renovating Houses”
South Park is one of those cultural cornerstones that people have looked to for commentary on social and political issues over the past two decades. In a return to Season 8’s episode “Goobacks,” Darryl and South Park’s other xenophobic rednecks are rallying over being replaced by automation. This episode has several direct visual references to the recent Charlottesville protests, Tiki Torches and all.
It seems like class is very much going to be the thematic focus of this season. We start with the the anger of middle-class whites, like the Marsh family, upset about damage done to the “white brand” by conservative protesters. However, there’s some clear miscommunication regarding Randy’s take on the motives of the Confederate flag-waving horde who are hurting the “white image.”
In the “come to Jesus” speech Randy gives to Darryl, the tonal focus is more about morals, and less about economics. The implication is that a superficial change in lifestyle, such as that created by a home renovation, is symbolic of a massive shift in the foundation of someone’s beliefs. In other words, you can deal with the problems of conservative white Americans by providing them with the illusion of a bourgeois middle-class lifestyle.
This is highly emblematic of the fundamental cultural divide in the United States, whereas the issue splitting the country into two angry sides isn’t necessarily related to politics, but to class. Even if Darryl’s lifestyle and cultural perspective can be “rehabilitated,” how can the issue of economic displacement caused by automation be resolved?
Coal mining jobs are never coming back, truck driving jobs are on the way to irrelevancy with self-driving cars, and most basic retail and food service positions are on their way out as well. If the jobs AI is replacing are, as Darryl says, “degrading and menial,” and good jobs are exclusively restricted to university graduates, as is asserted by Randy, what options do working-class people like Darryl even have? It will be interesting to see the solutions provided by Matt Stone and Trey Parker over the course of this season.