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Last night's South Park was one of the best episodes of the show in recent memory (and as a lover of the show for more than a decade, I take that statement very seriously). The show has long been a source of brilliant satire, and last night Trey Parker and Matt Stone took aim at the recession, using a "Margaritaville" margarita maker - a frivolous, overpriced gadget owned by Stan's father, Randy Marsh - as a metaphor for the mortgage crisis.
As Stan struggles to figure out where all the money went, he attempts to return the device so that his family can stop subsisting on sliced hot dogs and tomato slices, but is constantly met with rejection by retailers, banks and even Wall Street. Eventually he is able to get rid of the machine -- although nobody ever gives him any actual money for it -- and he discovers the government's technique for determining how to deal with insurance companies that go under.
Meanwhile, with the town paralyzed by fear, the soapbox preachers take to the streets. Randy's gospel spreads like wildfire and South Park becomes something of a Roman-era hamlet, with people wearing bedsheets instead of clothing, riding llamas instead of driving cars, and hurling squirrels at any heathen caught spending money at the mall in a strange stoning-by-rodent ritual. The townspeople believe they have been shown the light, but as is typically the case in South Park, they have actually become even more hopelessly confused without necessarily realizing it.
Cartman, typically, blames the Jews for the recession, accusing them of stealing the money and hiding it in their secret Jew cave. Kyle emerges as the savior figure, preaching his gospel of spending and reminding the community not to fear, for the economy is merely an idea that only exists through faith. "Without faith," he says, "it is only plastic cards and paper money."
As you might guess, Cartman ends up as Judas -- his 30 pieces of silver is 'Grand Theft Auto IV: Chinatown Wars' for Nintendo DS -- in a mock-up of the Last Supper that screams classic South Park.
In the end (SPOILER ALERT, as if you couldn't tell by the fact that I just said "in the end." I loathe "SPOILER ALERT"), Kyle saves the town with his limit-free Platinum Am-Ex (obtained the day before to prove the point that just about anyone can get a credit card these days) by paying everyone's debts so that the people may spend again. In classic South Park fashion, the town's citizens return to the malls, Randy convinces himself that he must have the *new* Margaritaville (with built-in salsa dispenser!) and President Obama takes the credit for saving us all as Kyle helplessly watches the news in disgust.
Whether you're a fan of South Park or not, it's an incredibly poignant and thought-provoking satire. Depending on your reading of it, "Margaritaville," as Entertainment Weekly puts it in their review of the episode:
"Was the most back-handed endorsement imaginable of President Obama's economic bailout plan. Or the most withering dismantling of it. As usual, South Park had it both ways. As Randy said to the assembled multitudes (i.e., us): 'Instead of paying for cable, let us watch clouds!'"
If you have 22 minutes -- and judging by the numbers, a whole lot of you do -- I'd say you should do yourself a favor and watch this episode. Check back here after you're done and leave a comment to let us know what you thought about it.
At the risk of sounding like too much of a fanboy, I will say that for me, last night's episode of South Park was the most coherent take on the economy that I've seen on cable so far. And if you don't want to take my word on that, then take my word on this: it's freakin hilarious, and it's right here, so you really have no choice but to just watch it.
--Posted by Steven Schiff, Vault News & Commentary
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