Funny to think South Park first hit the airways maybe 10 years ago, and at the time, it was oh so gross and completely alternative stuff for the kids. Turns out, it has a bit of a humanistic heart to it, ca ore set of values, unlike such mainstream fare as Family Guy that aims simply to offend, within the limits of commercial TV, and in its assertion of post-modern “values” is mostly nihilistic. The Simpsons started this post modern move, in fact advertising the show at one point as post-modernism for the masses. But however much the show moves in that direction, the family unit—Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and that other kid—remains firmly in place and valued. Bart for example would never try to kill his mother, as that insane little Stewie did in an episode of Family Guy.
I don’t know that I have ever watched an episode of South Park from beginning to end. Maybe I did watch all of the one that was their take on how kids get eaten alive by video games like World of Warcraft. This particular game is so damn popular that Toyota used it as the backdrop and context for a Tundra commercial. Odd to think of the World of Warcraft appealing to a key demographic for the Toyota Tundra. But I guess it must be so; otherwise they wouldn’t have done it. Fat kids who want a truck, a fantasy truck.
I bought all of season four of South Park at Borders. By accident I saw part of the episode about the Tooth Fairy from season 4 (2000), and just couldn’t resist. I could have ordered over my Block Buster account but it wouldn’t have arrived by Monday. That’s when I want to show it, on Monday, to my classes. They need a break. So do I.
Turns out Cartman loses a tooth and his mother gives him a whole two dollars for the tooth. He sees this as a way to get the money necessary to buy a Sega system. So he starts stealing teeth from other kids and his mother keeps shelling out two bucks a tooth. He steals like 117 teeth or something like that, driving his mother into financial ruin at two bucks a pop. She says they will have to go without buying food for a month, and at the same time tells Cartman, look, there is no tooth fairy. Whereupon, Cartman accuses his mother of being a damn liar, and goes out the door saying, well since I can’t trust anybody, I have to trust myself.
I am not of course saying the guys at South Park read Erik Erikson, but this has all the key elements of what Erikson would call a developmental crisis. First, the crisis is stimulated by changes in the body. So the baby learns to walk, to control its bowels, to speak, and so on, and each of these changes in the body produces for the child an altered relation to the environment (part of the environment being its own body). We don’t think about it much, I guess. But losing all your baby teeth is a sort of strange experience—certainly it is a change in the body. And perhaps to assist the child in tolerating having pieces of its body fall out, society—at least this society—has dreamed up the tooth fairy business.
The eventual outcome: very Eriksonian. Cartman bumps up against the reality principle—he is disillusioned with his mother (who appears to be insane in any case), experiences a crisis in trust that is eventually resolved, Erickson suggests, by the child learning to trust itself and its own sense. Though poor Cartman should never trust himself.