Let’s take a moment to fully appreciate how much the world has changed since South Park first premiered in 1997: Bill Clinton was still president, and his sex life had not yet become an object of national fascination. The Daily Show was barely a year old, and Craig Kilborn was the host. California had just become the first state in the U.S. to legalize medical marijuana. Gay marriage was still a distant pipe dream. Titanic had not yet taken over the world. No Columbine. No Bush/Gore election fight. No 9/11. No Patriot Act. No opioid crisis. No Facebook or MySpace or Instagram. No celebrity sex tapes. No Family Guy or Archer or Rick and Morty or BoJack Horseman. No Obama. No President Trump.
America was a different place. Less cynical, less evolved, less comfortable discussing taboo subjects in the public sphere, still clinging to a petty puritanical prudishness and a false sense of exceptionalism. So when Trey Parker and Matt Stone unleashed their crudely animated cartoon about four foul-mouthed children and their misadventures in a small Colorado mountain town, people were shocked—by the profanity, the violence, the disrespect, the gleeful flouting of polite norms. At first, the show was content to live in the sandbox of largely apolitical toilet humor, but as the world got more complicated, South Park became a cultural beacon, shining a light on the issues of the day from week to week through increasingly pointed Swiftian satire that made sport of gathering our sacred cows together and shooting them for laughs. South Park became a mirror that reflected the state of things, and, in its 23rd season, it’s still going strong today—and as recently as this week caused uproar from an entire country.
There was a time when every single week brought a new statement of condemnation against the show from some aggrieved party; determining the most controversial episodes of a show whose bread and butter is offense is a tall order, to say the least. Without overthinking it, here are 10 of the funniest, most fucked up, most memorable instances of South Park courting controversy. With two notable exceptions, all of these episodes are available for streaming on Hulu.