A few weeks ago, South Park criticized the Chinese government in a season 23 episode, and the show and all of its related media were promptly banned in China. It was internationally recognized and proved that the show’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, haven’t lost their edge and can still ruffle feathers after more than two decades on the air.
Getting banned in China is far from South Park’s first controversy. In fact, it’s always been marred by controversy, particularly from the Parents Television Council. So, here are South Park’s 10 Biggest Controversies (Including Being Banned In China).
10 Bloody Mary
The episode “Bloody Mary” is really a critique of Alcoholics Anonymous, but it does depict a statue of the Virgin Mary miraculously bleeding. Randy thinks that the blood has cured his alcoholism until the Pope declares that it’s not a miracle, and he uses it as an excuse to relapse. This depiction of Mary was controversial among Catholic groups.
Religious groups in New Zealand called for the episode to be pulled, while counter-protesters said that such action would violate the show’s creators’ right to free speech. In the end, the New Zealand media allowed the episode to air – ahead of schedule.
9 All About Mormons
While Trey Parker and Matt Stone would go on to explore Mormonism in more depth in their Broadway musical Book of Mormon, they first touched on the topic in the South Park episode “All About Mormons.” The episode explores the Church’s history as Stan is invited to dinner at his new Mormon classmate’s house and learns about their religion.
While the Mormon characters are portrayed as perfectly decent folks, it also calls the story of Joseph Smith, the basis of the Mormon religion, “dum-dum-dum-dum-dum.” Naturally, Mormons were offended. The Church officially condemned the episode and called such satirizations a distraction.
8 Hell on Earth 2006
In the season 10 episode “Hell on Earth 2006,” Satan throws a big Halloween party. Steve Irwin is seen at the party with a stingray through his chest. Satan tells him that the costume is insensitive since Irwin had died from a stingray’s barb piercing his heart just seven weeks before the episode aired. When Irwin tells him it’s actually him, Satan ejects him from the party for not wearing a costume.
Passive viewers and South Park diehards alike felt that the joke was tasteless, and Irwin’s widow, Terri Irwin, expressed concern that her children might one day see the episode.
7 With Apologies to Jesse Jackson
South Park tackled the dicey subject of racial language in “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson,” in which Randy uses a racial slur as an answer on Wheel of Fortune and becomes an outcast from society. The controversy didn’t come from African-American advocacy groups, however.
In fact, Kovon and Jill Flowers, the co-founders of the NAACP-linked group Abolish the “N” Word, praised the episode for using its satirical content to “[help] people to educate the power of this word, and how it can feel to have hate language directed at you.” Instead, the Parents Television Council protested the episode for its uncensored use of offensive slurs.
6 It Hits the Fan
It might not seem like a big deal for the word “s**t” to be uttered on television these days, but back in 2001, it was virtually unheard of, especially on basic cable. In the South Park episode “It Hits the Fan,” the town’s residents look forward to the word “s**t” being used once on an episode of Cop Drama, as the word and its variants are ironically used 162 times in the South Park episode itself.
The episode becomes an exploration of curse words, concluding that increased use of curse words lessens their impact. However, all the Parents Television Council heard was the 162 uncensored uses of the word “s**t,” so they condemned the episode.
5 Proper Condom Use
In the episode “Proper Condom Use,” the rise in underage sex prompts South Park’s teachers and parents to debate whether or not they should teach sex education at South Park Elementary. The Parents Television Council was outraged that the episode depicted children learning about sex (including one sequence in which Mr. Garrison teaches kindergarteners about vulgar positions), fearing that their kids would see it and learn a satirical version of the information, rather than the reality.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren’t averse to kids watching their show, but they have said many times that the show isn’t intended to be watched by kids and every episode is rated TV-MA, so at a certain point, don’t blame the show itself and just stop your kids from watching it.
4 The China Probrem
Oddly enough, for a show that would eventually get banned by the Chinese government, the most controversial part of an episode called “The China Probrem” has nothing to do with China. Trey Parker and Matt Stone always know how to exaggerate opinions for comedic effect. In the summer of 2008, Indiana Jones fans were feeling pretty upset with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg for putting aliens, CGI monkeys, and a nuked fridge in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
But a bunch of scenes in which Lucas and Spielberg approach an unsuspecting Indy and sexually assault him was too far for most viewers, even including veteran South Park viewers.
3 Trapped in the Closet
The season 9 episode “Trapped in the Closet” lampoons the Church of Scientology, as well as rumors that Tom Cruise is gay. Trey Parker and Matt Stone were one step ahead of the controversy surrounding “Trapped in the Closet.” Knowing that the Church could (and probably would) take legal action, they decided to credit everyone on the show’s staff as either “John Smith” or “Jane Smith.”
It caused the voice of Chef, Isaac Hayes, a Scientologist, to leave the show, which Stone would later label hypocritical, since Hayes didn’t express any concern about religions getting satirized on the show until it mocked its own.
2 200 and 201
The fastest way to generate controversy is by depicting the prophet Muhammad. South Park has toyed with this a few times. Comedy Central censored such a depiction in the two-parter “Cartoon Wars,” which the creators found confusing because they’d already depicted Muhammad years earlier in the episode “Super Best Friends” with hardly any controversy.
They brought the idea back up in the 200th episode spectacular, “200” and “201,” and Revolution Muslim warned the show’s creators that they would suffer the same fate as murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh. The episode was pulled, and now, it can’t be found online, in syndication, on streaming sites, or on home media.
1 Band in China
South Park’s 23rd season has been following Randy’s attempts to grow his marijuana farm, Tegridy Farms. In “Band in China,” he got the idea to sell his weed in China, figuring that there were over a billion potential customers there. Upon arrival in China, he was locked in a labor camp with various Disney characters.
The episode’s primary concern is how the American media is appeasing Chinese censors. In the week that the episode aired, the Chinese government banned the show. Trey Parker and Matt Stone issued a mock apology and have doubled down on critiquing China in subsequent episodes.