South Park’s Take on Paranoia

After seeing the clip from The Simpsons in class, I was curious about other popular cartoons poke fun at widespread ideas about fear, paranoia, and anxiety. I decided to search for South Park episodes that might relate to these topics, partly because the show is so well known for providing humorous social commentary on just about everything, and also because it’s one of my favorite things to watch. I found some clips from an episode in season 6 entitled “Child Abduction is Not Funny.” The clips focus on one of the already rather spastic character Tweek, and his reaction to what he sees in the media and is told by his parents about the safety of children in society.

In the first clip, Tweek can’t escape from news reports that basically send the message that he’s not safe anywhere. When his parents bring him into the kitchen to talk about the recent abductions his mother states, “you can’t trust anybody.” The clip is funny for its exaggerated commentary on the influence of the media in everday life, but it also rings true. The public is very much dependent on the media, but often fails to take into account that the actual danger outside of their homes might not be so severe as they are led to believe. I think it’s interesting how society has made itself a paranoid place. Granted, a lot of crimes happen, a lot of positive things happen that are not reported in the news, and so a certain sense of fear and general lack of trust seems to be prevalent in today’s world.
In the second clip, Tweek’s anxiety is caused by his own father who conducts a “drill” in the middle of the night. He tells Tweek not to open the door even for the police because they may just be pretending to be the police. This instills more paranoia in him, and he ultimately reaches a point where he is suspicious of everyone he encounters. It’s funny how one incident can create so much anxiety in a large group of people. An isolated incident can become incredibly influential, because of how people choose to react to it. The humor in these clips, I think, speaks to a major reality. Though we can’t trust everyone in the world, believing everything the media says to the point where we feel as though everyone around us is out to get us isn’t practical either.
The paranoid character of Tweek reminded me a lot of Harry Caul from “The Conversation.” He can’t even function in his day to day life because he is so unable to trust those around him. The third clip really shows how he becomes completely paranoid as he hears more and more about the “danger” around him. He runs away from the movie theater because he doesn’t know the man at the ticket booth, “what if he wants to kill me!?” he shouts as he runs off. This of course, pokes fun at the way parents tend to overemphasize the “don’t talk to strangers” rule to the point where it can create even more anxiety in children, when the primary goal is their safety. Even though Tweek is a funny character, he does make the viewer feel a little bit stressed out and anxious just because of his complete inability to relax. I think it’s funny how a show like South Park can so accurately represent themes like fear, paranoia, and anxiety that we see regularly in society. I think sometimes it takes humor for people to really step back and consider how effective their approach to the world around them really is.

Pornography Will Make You a Communist!

All this talk about the fear of Communism during the Cold War period has made me very curious about how this fear really influenced society. While browsing around I came across a video from 1964 called “Perversion for Profit.” The video, in total, is about a half an hour long, and addresses pornography in American culture as something that is weakening society in the fight against Communism. I won’t delve into debating the grandiose claims made in the short film about how various publications were transforming America’s youth into “homosexuals, lesbians, sadists, masochists, and other sex deviants” because I fear that may just turn into a long-winded rant. I would, however, like to examine the true intention behind this film, and also how paranoia and propaganda can influence an entire culture’s perspective. It seems to me certain periods of heightened social stress can give radical groups a perfect window of opportunity.

I think it can be argued that groups who are against certain ideals, ways of life, and “types” of people take advantage of social distress. If a society is constantly bombarded with messages warning them that the life they know could be gone in an instant, they are far more susceptible to believe almost anything they hear. During this time period in particular, I think people were less critical and therefore less likely to consider the real intention behind the images and ideas that were being fed to them. During the Cold War period the media was able to propagandize most of what Americans were seeing, and, in turn, mold the public exactly how they wanted. I thought it was really interesting that this video used images so heavily, and even quoted a passage from one of the risqué “pocket books.” Displaying these censored images, in my opinion, seems like it would only pique the interest of viewers unfamiliar with the world of pornography.

Much of this video is connected to the societal taboo that sex holds. Sex outside of marriage is frowned upon, and anyone who even looks at any of these materials, according to this film, will become forever perverse and unnatural. This sends a very clear message that sex is not to be enjoyed or experimented with, but rather is serves the purpose of procreation as it is spelled out in the proper “Judeo-Christian tradition” mentioned in the clip. We have discussed how sex has always created fear and anxiety within society, and it is interesting to see that people can be so uncomfortable with and afraid of sexuality that they will go to such lengths as to create a half an hour of film filled with statistics and questionably credible claims about its dangers.

I think I found it most interesting that the alleged purpose of this film is to discuss how “moral decay” is weakening the American public to the threat of Communism, but this concept is only mentioned a few times. Overall, the film seems to be targeting homosexuals and openly sexual people. Near the end of the film the narrator urges the public to keep their standards high and reform the corruption in society. It also sort of advertises the interest group, and suggests that viewers should start groups in their neighborhoods. At this point, it becomes far more evident that the film is not so much about the threat of Communism as it is a tool to spread the ideals of the group producing it.

Thoughts on “Eraserhead” and the Power of Disgust


I realize I’m breaking the general theme of the recent blog posts in revisiting Eraserhead, but I was so completely fascinated by this movie I feel it will be much more interesting for both myself and any of you reading for me to discuss something about which I am really excited. Eraserhead is an excellent example of how film can instill fear, paranoia, and anxiety within viewers. Granted I found myself confused for the majority of the movie, I also found myself thinking about what the movie could have meant and why certain details were used long after it was over. When I realized that the movie that stuck with me the most was also one of the most disturbing movies I have seen to date, I was a little surprised, and found myself wondering why it is that movies that are grotesque and very unconventional are so likely to catch my attention. I’m sure that part of my reaction is due to my general fascination with “weird” things, but also I think movies with elements that have the power to make the audience cringe also have the ability to stick in their minds. It is an interesting experience to face unnatural and “disgusting” images like a deformed, prematurely born baby, a cooked chicken that starts moving its legs while sputtering blood from the gap between them, and a bed full of, well whatever those things were. Personally I found myself cringing, scrunching up my face with a disgusted look, but unable to turn off the film because some part of me was interested to see what other strange things I would encounter.

I considered my reaction further while reading Plantinga’s article “The Rhetoric of Emotion: Disgust and Beyond.” Mainly, this article discusses the complexity of disgust as a reaction to film. Eraserhead has components of all three “types” of disgust (core, animal-reminder, and sociomoral). The presence of these elements, at least in my experience, made watching the movie very uncomfortable. In addition to the presence of disgusting elements, the main character, Henry, filled my viewing experience with anxiety. The extremely paranoid look on his face, his nervous gestures, and his slow, quiet speech made me feel both anxious and fearful about what kind of world he must live in if he behaves in such a way.

Despite my ability to recognize the presence of all of these details, I still am not completely able to pinpoint why this film impacted me so strongly. I think perhaps my reaction could be related to the idea of film as an escape from reality. I would never want to see any of the things Henry saw in his world, and I would certainly never want to know or be like any of the characters in the film, but because there is safety in knowing on some level that it is only a movie, I was able to explore more deeply the realm of the grotesque. There is a certain freedom gained from this and there is something sort of thrilling about the “I don’t want to look, but I can’t look away” experience. Also, this movie gave me an escape from asking, “what does this mean?” While I did wonder about what meaning could have been attached to this film, I found that it was necessary to at least try to abandon my usual need to understand and explain to really appreciate the film as a creative work.

I don’t know what all of you thought while watching the movie, I’m sure everyone had different reactions, but I think my general conclusion is that we find ourselves fascinated by grotesque and disturbing things because we know that this fascination breaks convention. I think one feels a thrilling sense of rebellion that comes from viewing images that many would suggest shouldn’t be seen at all. This, of course, is only my opinion, and I would love to hear more insight on the matter.