The popular animated show South Park was first aired on Comedy Central in August of 1997; and has been under constant scrutiny by viewers ever since for its raunchy, offensive, and outright vulgar brand of satirical comedy. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the writers and creators of the show, who also do nearly all of the voices and write most (pretty much all) of the music, have made a fortune making fun of trends in American culture, specifically religion. The duet have recently put out a Broadway play in 2011, entitled, The Book of Mormon, in which they take the points they made in the famous South Park episode, “All About Mormons,” and modify them to create a full-length musical.
“All About Mormons” is the twelfth episode in season seven of South Park, and begins with a new Student in main character Stan Marsh’s fourth grade class. His name is Gary Harrison, and immediately Stan sees that he isn’t the normal kid from South Park, Colorado. Gary is from Utah, and just moved into town with his Mormon family. Gary gets high grades, is tolerant of others, and really has no ulterior motive other than making friends. Stan is taken aback by this kid, who invites Stan to dinner at his house. When he sees how well the Harrisons get along with one another, he figures that there must be something to this religion, so he asks more about its beliefs.
Stan is entranced as Mr. Harrison tells him about the beliefs that made his family so happy. “The Book of Mormon” is told during this episode through flashback, as if the viewer watched Joseph Smith’s story. It is important to note again that South Park writes a lot of their own music, and during this cheery tune, the only words they use to fill the music in between phrases is “Dumb, dumb-dumb-dumb dumb.” When finally someone questions Joseph Smith’s story, the words change to “Smart, smart-smart-smart smart.” Here is a blatant insight as to what Trey Parker and Matt Stone have to say about Mormonism, and could quite possibly indicate that they feel it is necessary for people to question their beliefs every now and then. The more that Stan hears about his religion, the more he starts to question it. He soon decides that there’s no way he could believe what these people think, but he admires their lifestyle.
This episode is important for interpretation because the writers do an interesting job of literally enveloping themselves in it. Stan, who is representative of a young Trey Parker in every way, (He and Trey share parents’ names/occupations, religious upbringings, and relative hometowns) goes into the Harrison house a skeptic, but gradually is swayed toward the religion. Like Stan, Trey has inherent interest in searching for an answer, but falls short when he investigates in the hope of finding viable beliefs. Parker said in an interview with ABC’s Nightline that he does believe in some sort of God, stating, “Basically… out of all the ridiculous religion stories which are greatly, wonderfully ridiculous—the silliest one I’ve ever heard is, ‘Yeah… there’s this big giant universe and it’s expanding, it’s all gonna collapse on itself and we’re all just here just ’cause… just ‘cause’. That, to me, is the most ridiculous explanation ever.”
It’s clear that his inconclusive searches for his “God” have not discouraged Trey Parker, and he wants the same for America, who is gradually rejecting the idea of religion.