Students Respect Authori-tay Of 'South Park' Class It takes more than activism or scholarly texts to get some young people really interested in debate about religion or social issues. For one college course, it takes some foul-mouthed fourth-graders who are leading authorities on everything politically incorrect.
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Students Respect Authori-tay Of 'South Park' Class

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Students Respect Authori-tay Of 'South Park' Class

Students Respect Authori-tay Of 'South Park' Class

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Who were the leading authorities on everything politically incorrect? Why, Cartman, Kyle, Stan, and Kenny, the foul-mouthed fourth-graders from the TV show "South Park." And they finally made it to college. This is the subject of a new class and...

SIMON: (As Cartman) They will respect their authority.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: That's Cartman. Brian Dunphy is an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College. And this semester, he's been teaching "South Park and Political Correctness." He joins us from New York. Professor Dunphy, thanks for being with us.

Professor BRIAN DUNPHY (Media Studies, Brooklyn College): My pleasure, Scott. Great to be here.

SIMON: What did you think of my imitation?

Professor DUNPHY: It needs work. It definitely needs work, to be honest.

SIMON: Let me ask you the high hard one first. Is this just a gimmick to get college students to go to class?

Professor DUNPHY: Yeah. Why not? If that's going to work, you know, get them attending. That's always been a problem getting students to attend. It's actually not a gimmick. I found through teaching over the last four, five years that the real way to reach students of this age group is to relate to them as best as possible. They relate to humor, they relate to political correctness because they're so aware of it, and also pop culture. So why not make a class with my favorite TV show - or one of my favorite TV shows? And it works. Kids like to be entertained while they're being taught.

SIMON: Do students watch "South Park" for homework?

Professor DUNPHY: It's really not like that. "South Park" is the jumping off point. "South Park" is what gets us talking about the issues. No one wants to discuss politics and real social issues. Everyone is so afraid because we have to worry about political correctness. We have to worry about, I don't want to offend him, I don't want to offend you. So why not just get the offensive part out of the way and have a real dialogue amongst people?

We did an episode called "Super Best Friends" where actually they drew the Prophet Muhammad to no complaints from anybody, but this was also 10 years ago or so. The episode discussed religious pluralism, how every religion is good in its own way, and each one learns from the other.

(Soundbite of cartoon "South Park" - "Super Best Friends")

Unidentified Actor: It's Jesus.

Mr. TREY PARKER: (As Cartman) What's he doing here?

Mr. MATT STONE: (As Jesus) My children, it is time for you to go home and stop following this false prophet. You should be using your money and time for other things. These are simple magic tricks. His magic is interesting, but will it put food on your table? Feeding the hungry, now that is a miracle.

Professor DUNPHY: And they're preaching tolerance and religious tolerance, and they're going against any type of extremism.

SIMON: Do any students get offended?

Professor DUNPHY: There have been some moments where I've definitely taken it over the line in what I'm trying to get them to think of. But I think that from the beginning, if they weren't offended then, they're not going to be offended later. And then as the season went on, we started discussing social issues. So we would discuss euthanasia, assisted suicide. One of my favorite episodes is the "Best Friends Forever" episode, which has to do with the Terri Schiavo incident. And it was being done as the Terri Schiavo scenario was unfolding.

(Soundbite of cartoon "South Park" - "Best Friends Forever")

Mr. STONE: (As Stuart) I don't know if it's right to keep Kenny alive on that machine. I just - I don't know what he would want.

Mr. PARKER: (As Stan) Yeah, the lawyer lost that page.

Mr. PARKER: (As Cartman) Oh, I just remembered. Kenny told me this one time that he wouldn't want to be kept alive via feeding tube.

Ms. ELIZA SCHNEIDER: (As Mrs. McCormick) He did? When?

Mr. PARKER: (As Cartman) Um, it was um, this one time...

Professor DUNPHY: Once everyone started seeing what the messages were, they were offending the left and the right because they were right in the center, pointing and laughing at each of them.

SIMON: When you came up with this idea for a class that begins with "South Park" as its jumping off point, did the administration say, oh, great, we've been waiting for someone to build a class around this TV series so many people find offensive?

Professor DUNPHY: My boss, Dr. George Rodman - he's the chair of the TV and radio department - when I presented it to him, he was so excited. Here was an opportunity for us to bring in a way that we want to teach them, which is to examine text critically. It's no different than an English class dissecting "The Great Gatsby," except one uses foul-mouthed humor, the other one uses wonderful prose.

SIMON: Brian Dunphy, adjunct professor of Media Studies at Brooklyn College. He's just finished his first semester teaching "South Park and Political Correctness." Well, Professor Dunphy, thanks so much.

Professor DUNPHY: No, problem. It was my pleasure.

SIMON: And you can see the syllabus for his class on our Web site, npr.org.

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