Cripple Fight and the Excuse

I’ve been rewatching random episodes of South Park lately, and I’m starting to notice some small problems with it. While a series that likes to make fun of ‘both sides’, there does seem to be a definite bias in the message of the show. Assuming, of course, there even is a message to begin with.

Cripple Fight

Cripple Fight is the second episode of South Park’s 5th season. The title refers to the episode’s B plot. A new disabled kid, Jimmy, comes to town and joins the Mountain Scouts. Timmy, another disabled child, becomes jealous of Jimmy’s sudden popularity. This all comes to a head in a fight between the two kids, after which they manage to resolve their issues and become friends.

However, it’s the A plot of the episode is what made me want to write this article. It follows the typical format of early South Park. Shenanigans happen, everyone gets upset with each other, and leaps of troll logic lead to hilarity. Then at the end someone gives a heartfelt speech and everyone agrees to just get along.

In this episode the boys have joined the Mountain Scouts and are on the way to their first meeting. When they arrive they are delighted to find that Big Gay Al will be their scout leader. Unfortunately, their fathers aren’t thrilled to see an effeminate role model influencing their boys. They complain to the Mountain Scouts and the fear that a homosexual scout leader might exhibit paedophilia causes Big Gay Al to be fired from his job.

The boys get a new scout leader, a manly man, who starts asking them to take off their clothes so he can take pictures of them. He threatens the kids to ensure they keep this secret from their parents. As a result the boys don’t like him and start protesting to get Big Gay Al back as their scout leader. It leads to a court case where the Mountain Scouts are sued for discrimination.

Eventually the abusive scout leader is caught and arrested, and Big Gay Al wins his case in court. The court orders the scouts to reinstate Big Gay Al as a scout leader.

The Heartfelt Speech

In the final moments of the episode, Big Gay Al declares that he won’t be taking the job. He gives a speech explaining why he doesn’t want to return as a scoutmaster.

“Look, I appreciate what you kids did; I really do. But this isn’t what I wanted. I’m proud to be gay. And I’m proud to be in a country where I’m free to express myself. But freedom is a two-way street. If I’m free to express myself, then the Scouts have to be free to express themselves, too. I know these men. They are good men. They are kind men. They do what they think is best for kids. No matter how wrong we think they might be, it isn’t right for us to force them to think our way. It’s up to us to persuade, and help them see the light, not extort them to. Please, don’t cut the Scouts’ funding. The Scouts help and have always helped a lot of kids. That’s why I love them. I will continue to persuade them to change their mind, but this is the wrong way to do it. So, I am hereby dropping my case, and allowing the Scouts their right to not allow gays into their private club.”

It’s possible this is meant to just be a joke. Something along the lines of “the boys did all that work but they were still wrong”. But I think this part of the episode was supposed to be their message for the episode. South Park often does this kind of thing, especially in the earlier seasons.

As Big Gay Al leaves the stage, Gloria Alfred calls him a homophobe. This is meant to be a joke. But in a way, she is right. Big Gay Al may be a gay character, but his speech is problematic. It breaks the fundamental rule in the fight against intolerance: it tolerates intolerance.

If you boil the speech down, it’s core argument is that we should “let them decide for themselves”. It’s an age old argument, and one that is proven not to work. If it did, then we wouldn’t need anti-discrimination laws in the first place.

In the context of this episode, it ignores the problem of child safety. By allowing the scouts to be homophobic, they end up putting a paedophile in charge of young children. By “protecting” them from something that isn’t harmful (gay men), they ignore the real dangers and the kids end up getting abused. The text of the episode tells us why Big Gay Al’s final speech is wrong.

This argument, which has been used by those refusing to bake cakes for gay men, was also used to overturn Roe v Wade. “Let the states decide for themselves”. It’s one that has resulted in some states oppressing women and losing medical professionals.

The problem with “let them decide for themselves” can be seen if you take it to the extreme. The law shouldn’t apply to an individual. Each individual makes their own personal laws. So if some decides murder is legal then they can kill whoever they want.

Some people need protecting. That’s why we have anti-discrimination laws. It’s why we need organisations that look after children to filter out the actually harmful people from their employment. It’s why we have various laws to ensure people are punished for hurting others. Sometimes you can’t convince people, so you need laws to protect the vulnerable.

There are some things that need to be codified in law. Societies are made up of people that agree to follow a set of rules that are supposed to help everyone. In a developed society there will be systems in place to change those rules, if necessary. Individuals may not agree with all those rules, but they at least agree to follow them. That’s what a civilisation is.

The alternative is a lawless, anarchistic, libertarian nightmare of a Mad Max world where everyone travels and no one drives. I suppose some people might be into that.

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