In its more than 20 years on the air, South Park has offered insightful commentary on politics, the economy, and various developments in society. Early on, its simple style of animation enabled creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker to produce an episode per week at a time when other animated sitcoms could not keep up with this pace. This allowed Matt and Trey to discuss current events in real time with the kinds of social commentary that comedy specializes in.
As is the case with all creators, not everything they had to say was equally nuanced. That said, their insights were often timely, and on more than one occasion, the jokes were well ahead of their time, as can be seen in these examples:
10 Fear the Economy
After the 2008 Financial Crisis devastated the global economy, people were left trying to make sense of how their economic institutions had failed them. South Park came to the rescue with an answer in the episode "Margaritaville." In the opening scene, Stan tries to open a bank account, only for the bank to lose all his money by investing it poorly--a phenomenon shared by people throughout the town (and in the world beyond).
The episode also showed Randy become a toga-wearing street preacher, rallying against the wrath of an angry economy. The brilliance of this episode it how it shows this superstition about finances extending to Wall Street and government regulators, culminating in government officials sacrificing a chicken to divine the future of the markets.
9 Chicken and Cow
In the episode "Whale Whores," the show took aim at the Japanese whaling industry. The practice of killing dolphins and whales in Japan is considered barbaric by many Western nations, so South Park addressed this in the South Parkiest way possible by portraying the Japanese as a barbarian horde of spear-wielding feudal peasants harpooning aquarium exhibits and even going so far as to murder the Miami Dolphins football team.
In a twist at the end, the Japanese adopt Western norms, now convinced to brutally massacre chickens and cows instead.
8 Terri Schiavo
The Terri Schiavo Case was a media sensation back in 2005 that debated whether Schiavo--who had been in a vegetative state for more than a decade--had a right to die. Schiavo's husband argued for taking her off life support while her parents wanted to keep her alive despite there being no hope of resuscitation. Many Christians at the time argued that keeping Schiavo alive was in keeping with the tenants of their faith. So naturally, South Park flipped the arguments on their head.
In "Best Friend Forever" Kenny (taking the role of Schiavo) is offed so he can assist God's armies in heaven, only to be artificially kept alive (against God's will) by people who love him. Meanwhile, Cartman argues to let nature take his course so Kenny can die, but does so for purely selfish reasons.
7 Chinese Censorship
South Park is one of the only programs willing to address the problems of Chinese censorship and human rights violations. In the recent episode "Band in China," Randy flies to the country to expand his marijuana business, whereupon he's promptly arrested and locked in a reeducation work camp.
Meanwhile, Stan starts a successful band but is told that the only way to make it in music nowadays is to make a successful film biopic about the band--a film that needs to be approved by Chinese censors. Both of them are forced to choose between economic success in Chinese markets and their own morality. To quote Stan's manager, "You know what they say. You gotta lower your ideals of freedom if you want to suck on the warm teat of China."
6 Internet Immortality
In the episode "Holiday Special," Randy is seen trashing anyone who celebrates Columbus Day, going so far as to defecate on a statue of Christopher Columbus and harass people who live in the city of Columbus for living in a place named after a genocidal slave-trading monster.
Then it emerges that Randy himself dressed as Columbus some years before and that images of this are online. He panics, and fearing exposure, dramatically overreacts. This is one of the shows to examine how the internet forces people to live with past actions they've since outgrown and the anxiety it can cause--something also covered by Wisecrack.
5 DNA Testing
In the same episode, there is a commercial for people to take a DNA test to learn about their ancestry. This company, DNA&Me, is a clear parody of 23&Me. In one commercial, a white woman says "Turns out I'm not totally white. I'm part northern Asian and even some Kurdish." In another commercial, white people list what percent of their genetics are composed of being a "victim"--meaning non-white.
Since race is a social construct rather than the result of purely biological factors, the notion of white people claiming to be parts of marginalized groups based solely on a DNA test is patently ridiculous.
4 Businesses Big & Small
While South Park recently addressed many economic issues such as the influence China has on the global market, how independent businesses adapt, and the horrid treatment of Amazon workers, one of their earliest episodes to deal with economics was "Gnomes."
In this episode, a Starbucks-inspired megacorporation tries to open a coffee shop in the town, threatening to put the Tweek family's locally-owned coffee house out of business. What put this episode ahead of its time is the observations of how small businesses can be even more cutthroat that major corporations--another thing that Wisecrack covered in a video.
3 Follow the Leader
The Passion of the Christ is considered one of the most controversial films ever made. Some love the movie and see it as a representation of their faith while others feel the film is a gratuitous slurry of gore muddied with anti-Semitism. South Park's answer to this debate is "The Passion of the Jew."
The most nuanced plot line of the episode follows Eric Cartman, who upon seeing the film, becomes inspired to eradicate the Jews, believing this is the film's message as intended by director Mel Gibson (a man with a troubling history of remarks regarding Jewish people). The insidious brilliance of this episode is how Cartman leads a mob of Christian to march behind him while he's dressed as Hitler, using their faith to manipulate them.
2 Trump's Base
South Park picks on everyone--religious groups, political parties, even democracy itself! For years they advocated that all elections were a choice between a giant douche and a turd sandwich, but the 2016 American Presidential Election made them reconsider this. Both Matt Stone and Trey Parker clearly saw Trump as the unambiguously worse candidate, as Season 20 of the show makes clear.
However, in the episode "Doubling Down"--the show's creators show sympathy for Trump's supporters, comparing them to abused spouses, while critiquing the snobbery of Trump's opponents for alienating people into supporting the orange Commander-in-Chief. As Wisecrack has noted, this nuanced political critique is rare with most media opting to mock Trump and his core base without trying to understand other factors or groups which have led people to side with him. This allowed Stone and Parker to continue reaching an audience otherwise alienated by similar comedy shows.
1 Economic Divides Among White People
In "White People Renovating Houses," the show looks at two vastly different economic realities for different groups of white people living in the town. While Randy and Shannon have a TV show about remaking homes, many in the town have been driven out of work or forced to do demeaning tasks as Amazon's Alexa has replaced their jobs with automation.
A mob of enraged working class white people march with confederate flags, claiming they will not be replaced by Alexa--reminiscent of the alt-right march on Charlottesville in which white supremacists chanted "Jews will not replace us," among other despicable slogans. By contrasting the different economic realities for poor and middle-class white people, the absurdist humor here addresses the economic factors that have led many white Americans to feel embittered and to resort to hate for being left behind by the digital economy.