South Park Episode 702
Air Date: March 26, 2003)
I remember the afternoon
my friend Adam came over with a videotape. "You gotta watch this,"
he insisted "it's the funniest damn thing I've ever seen!" I popped
the tape in the VCR and spent the next couple of hours laughing
so hard I couldn't breathe. That was years ago, and I've been
a devoted Parkie ever since.
In an old George Carlin
bit, the comic says that he doesn't buy into political correctness;
instead, he asserts, you can joke about anything. Since the creators
of South Park clearly live by Carlin's philosophy, it should come
as no surprise that gays, Barbra Streisand (those really are two
separate entities), and starving kids in Africa are all means to
their satiric ends. It's the reason South Park goes beyond mere
comedy, the reason I'm a loyal fan. You might even argue that South
Park purveys television's only political humor with teeth. But what
happens when the show's writers aim their irony and sarcasm at a
subject really close to me, like disability? Can I take it like
a man when they set out to discredit the folly of my own community?
In "Krazy Kripples,"
Christopher Reeve makes an easy target, but much as I love to hate
him for being such a smarmy, harping-on-a-cure sad-sack, I feared
the South Park boys might use him as a cheap shot, an easy way out.
Silly me. While it is true that Reeve functions as a handy foil
here, a quick reference representing a whole bunch of distorted
values, the satirical mayhem begins in earnest only when the crippled
Superman is taken on by South Park's own resident disabled characters,
Jimmy and Timmy.
That's right, refusing
to settle for one token crip, South Park gives us two disabled boys,
both of whom have made multiple appearances as central characters.
Timmy, South Park's original crip, careens through episode after
episode in a power chair. Unable to vocalize anything but his own
name, he nevertheless manages to become the front man for a rock
band called "Lords of the Underworld," and star as a drag Helen
Keller in the grade school Thanksgiving play, where his disabled
pet turkey . . . well, never mind, that's another story and another
Jimmy, by contrast, never
shuts up, despite a fierce stutter. Although he walks with crutches
he is intent on making it as a comic . . . a stand-up comic. In
"Krazy Kripples," Jimmy's comedy gig is upstaged when that "butthole
Superman asswipe Christopher Reeve" (Jimmy's words) visits South
Park to preach about the wonders of stem-cell research. Reeve can
move his finger! All of South Park is awed! And no one has time
for Jimmy's act. Oh, the humanity.
His gimpy thunder stolen,
Jimmy joins forces with his sometime-rival Timmy. As the only "real
crips" in South Park, they make their way to Denver, where, they've
heard, a group called the "Five-Points Crips" hangs out in an abandoned
warehouse. The Five-Points gang are not exactly the kind of crips
Jimmy and Timmy were anticipating, but Jimmy is so happy to find
community that he doesn't notice that his new homies are gangstas,
not fellow disabled people. Jimmy and Timmy earn the gang's respect
(and the requisite do-rags) when they manage to unwittingly kill
a bunch of rival gangstas, and celebrate by bringing marshmallows
and ginger ale back to the Crip hideout.
The Crip life suits Jimmy
surprisingly well until his house gets shot up in a drive-by. As
Jimmy misinterprets the situation, the Crips have been disabled
since birth, while the Bloods became disabled later in life, thus
a rift has developed.
Meanwhile, back in South
Park, Christopher Reeve has ignited the ire of protestors because
of his use of stem cells. He travels with a supply of stem-cell-rich
fetuses in a biohazard container, and gradually his strength grows.
He clashes with protestors, including movie nemesis Gene Hackman.
Like all good stories,
this one concludes with a happy ending (as well as the possibility
of a sequel). As gang violence takes its toll on Jimmy and his family,
he begins to question the wisdom of differentiating between people
born crippled and those who become disabled later in life. He makes
peace with his resentment of Christopher Reeve, and even manages
to unite the Crips and the Bloods through an all-night pool party.
The maniacal Reeve by contrast, drunk on the power of stem cells,
remains obsessed with his miniscule gains in physical ability.
Watching this episode,
I was struck by how many essential points of disability life the
show "got." Jimmy's hapless search for "community," hilarious as
it turns out to be, rests on a poignant view of reality. The hierarchy
of the disability world is equally hard to avoid for those of us
on the inside, but just as hard to understand for those on the outside.
I have to wonder if the creators of South Park have had some personal
experience with disability, so apt is their wry commentary on the
"born disabled vs. became disabled" dichotomy that often divides
us. An easier target, but one skewered to equal effect, is the "inspirational
cripple" icon that gives many of us the creeps. Jimmy can see the
absurdity of inspiring people simply because he is disabled. He
longs to be appreciated for his comedy act, not because he walks
It's a struggle many
of us can relate to. We want to be acknowledged for the things we
do, not because of the things people assume we are.
© 2003 Raymond J. Aguilera
"A Crip at the Flicks" logo/photo © 2003 Mark McBeth,
Let us know what
you think of this BENT feature.
Raymond J. Aguilera
(at right, cheered on by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence)
keeps busy trying to finish his master's degree and enjoying a
faaaaaabulous suburban existence with his partner (at left). Ray
is a contributor to "Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their
Stories," edited by Bob Guter and John R. Killacky, Harrington
Park Press, November 2003.