South Park is known for mining comedy gold from headline-making news: The Catholic church sex scandals, Occupy Wall Street, and Osama bin Laden's death have all been mocked by the equal-opportunity satirizer. This week, the show took on the Penn State sex-abuse scandal, in which legendary college football coach Joe Paterno was fired for failing to blow the whistle on an ex-assistant coach accused of molesting young boys. In South Park's episode, Kenny and his siblings are taken from their drunk parents' custody. Their social worker tells them, "I've been looking over my file and see you kids have all been horribly physically and emotionally abused. Oh, whoops! That isn't your case file. It's the Penn State University Gazette. Ha! I'm joking. That's just a joke. We like to have fun here." (Watch the video below.) The social worker had plenty of other "jokes" for the kids, at one point outlining their foster care options as "Neverland Ranch, a Catholic Church, and Penn State University." Is it too soon to wring humor from the Penn State tragedy?
The jokes just weren't incisive enough: Typically, South Park "uses its offensiveness as a means to drive home some sort of larger point," like Scientology is weird, or the Catholic church is corrupt, says Dan Fogarty at Sports Grid. But the Penn State episode "didn't make any sort of point at all," something that just doesn't work if you're going to wade into the tricky waters of "child rape jokes."
"The most offensive thing about South Park's 'Penn State episode' wasn't the offensive jokes"
And they weren't funny either: It's certainly way too soon to be making jokes about what happened at Penn State, says Zachary D. Rymer at Bleacher Report. But we've come to expect tasteless timing from South Park. And let's be honest: Lately, South Park has been a "real hit-or-miss show," with its punchlines often feeling forced. "It didn't surprise me that" the show's writers "decided to use the Penn State mess for comedy, but they just plain did a lousy job...."
"South Park's Penn State jokes: South Park's biggest crime is bad comedy"
Really, people? I thought it was brilliant: When something as "devastatingly sad and sickening" as the Penn State scandal captures the nation's attention, "there are very few ways to satirize it without coming off as insensitive," says Katia McGlynn at The Huffington Post. Yet South Park found a way, largely by "mocking not the acts themselves, but the tired jokes you undoubtedly hear about them." As the social worker continues to rattle off terrible, tired one-liners, Cartman hits the nail on the head when he says: "All you're doing is taking something topical and revamping old Catholic jokes!"
"South Park mocks Penn State scandal jokes"