South Park is a show built on satire and current events. For 19 seasons, the show has featured popular news and media as well as whatever creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone feel like cooking up. Always topical and regularly offering candid opinions, the show is a sensational hit.
On October 28th, the sixth episode of the 19th season released. Titled “Tweek x Craig,” the theme was yaoi fanart and shipping real-life people. The premise of the episode was based on newer Asian students drawing yaoi (male on male love) fanart of the imagined relationship between characters Tweek and Craig. The incredibly popular pictures (all used from actual fan artists) are displayed at a school assembly much to the surprise of everyone, especially Tweek and Craig.
This prompts several hilarious conversations throughout the episode, including Stan asking his dad, “How do Asians decide who is going to be gay?” Many of the kids wonder why Tweek and Craig kept their relationship a secret while the town idolizes the artwork and accepts it as fact.
Tired of people assuming they’re in a relationship, the boys stage a nasty public breakup to try to end the rumors once and for all so they can move on with their lives. This only makes matters worse as the fanart turns dark and depicts Craig as an emotionally abusive and harsh figure.
Ultimately, after deciding that they can’t win, the two boys choose to “get back together.” Since no one believes they’re straight and now the town has ostracized Craig, they give up and play along to make their lives easier. This actually strengthens their friendship as they hang out more to keep up appearances.
The commentary on how people can so easily confuse fantasy with reality and how it impacts people’s lives is spot on, in my opinion. Many fandoms in recent years have been at the center of such issues. Small subsets of fans in fandoms can make it incredibly difficult for the objects of their affection when they insist on a relationship that isn’t there, especially when they insist despite ardent protests from the people involved. It’s like in high school when people start rumors that one person likes another and won’t let it die even when both parties are shouting to the world, “No! Please shut up.”
Recently, One Direction’s Larry fans went on a rampage when band member Louis Tomilson lashed out over Twitter in response to being shipped with one of the other members of the band. He was very frank about him not being in a romantic relationship with bandmate Harry Stiles, as is his right as a human being, but the Larry fans were having none of it. A few fans even fired back at him and his girlfriend over media despite him repeatedly asking for the conspiracies to stop.
A few years ago, Supernatural fans rallied to defend Danneel Ackles, wife of actor Jensen Ackles, from the attacks of shippers who paired Jensen with his costar Misha Collins due to their on-screen chemistry. This subgroup threatened Danneel and harassed her via Twitter and other forms of social media. I remember being so incensed during this time that I almost didn’t want to openly admit I was a part of the fandom.
These sorts of attacks and situations bring to light the ethical concerns of real-life shipping and the very real way it can affect people’s lives. When fans try to force a relationship they’d like to see or think they do see, despite the protests of the actual people involved, a schism forms. This is because as actual human beings, stars have their own needs, insecurities, and lives outside of the media. It’s disrespectful to retaliate against them for not being who the fan would like them to be or for rightfully defending themselves against uncomfortable insinuations.
South Park did a good job of portraying the awkwardness these situations can cause as well as the backlash that can erupt from displeased fans. So, go watch the episode (it’s available on Hulu). It is definitely worth the watch if for no other reason than the great writing and the support of fan artists.
And remember: Ship Responsibly.