South Park just started its 23rd season, which both makes me feel really old and is a testament to how something that manages to stay authentic can really endure.

We just got to see that all on display at once. 

Case in point: the brutally funny way the show's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, mocked China on Monday, not long after the NBA fell all over itself apologizing for a tweet.

Let's get caught up quickly on the backstory. 

Last Friday night, the general manager of the NBA's Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, posted a tweet with the slogan: "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong." 

He deleted it, but as the New York Times summarized:

Chinese fans, who see the Hong Kong protesters portrayed as violent rioters in the state-run news media and largely regard them as such, were furious. Sponsors paused their deals with the Rockets, and the country's main broadcaster said it would remove the team's games from its schedule.

The league quickly apologized to China, which has hundreds of millions of basketball fans and represents lucrative financial opportunities. 

Then owner of the Rockets apologized. Even their star guard James Harden separately apologized.

I could keep going, but the NBA's apologies have been almost unanimously criticized at home. Which brings us back to Parker, Stone, and South Park.

Because just before the NBA started begging China for forgiveness, South Park released an episode called "Band in China."

As the Hollywood Reporter put it, the episode "set its targets on Hollywood, specifically Disney, mocking how the industry and company shapes film, TV, and music to avoid Chinese censors in order to have art shown in the country."

The episode apparently follows the show's character Randy, who tries to expand his marijuana business into China but gets arrested and winds up in a work camp.

While there, he runs into Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, a reference to China's having banned those characters because they've been used to mock the country's president, Xi Jinping. 

It goes on -- but in a life-imitates-art moment, the episode apparently got South Park banned from the entire Chinese internet. Again from the Hollywood Reporter:

A cursory perusal through China's highly regulated internet landscape shows the show conspicuously absent everywhere it recently had a presence.

A search of the Twitter-like social media service Weibo turns up not a single mention of South Park among the billions of past posts. On streaming service Youku, owned by internet giant Alibaba, all links to clips, episodes and even full seasons of the show are now dead.

And on Baidu's Tieba, China's largest online discussion platform, the threads and subthreads related to South Park are nonfunctional. If users manually type in the URL for what was formerly the South Park thread, a message appears saying that, "According to the relevant law and regulation, this section is temporarily not open."

So, in response, South Park did what the NBA did -- only in a pure mocking tone. Stone and Parker posted an apology on Twitter:

OFFICIAL APOLOGY TO CHINA FROM TREY PARKER AND MATT STONE.

Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn't look like Winnie the Pooh at all. Tune into our 300th episode this Wednesday at 10! Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn's sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?

It's a very smart move on so many levels, especially given that the NBA hadn't even stumbled into its kerfuffle with China when Parker and Stone created this episode.

At the same time, while I guess South Park can say goodbye to whatever hopes it might have had of making a ton of money in China (probably not much anyway), with just one tweet it picked up a lot of American support -- in part from people who probably haven't watched the show in years.

It's all about knowing what you care about, knowing who your audience is, and staying true to it.

And South Park just showed the NBA and everyone else how it's done.

Published on: Oct 8, 2019
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