Blog Archives

October is finally here!

As we enter the month of October, we over at Hal Leonard are excited for Halloween. As we count down the days until Halloween approaches, here is an excerpt of one of our spooky books, Haunted America FAQ!

00128461From the bright lights of New Orleans, the avid fan of Louisiana cemeteries could take no more dramatic turn than toward the swamp lights of Manchac, and the mass grave that was perforcedly dug here to bury the victims of the Great West Indies Storm of September 1915.

Or, at least, the storm is what the official story blamed. Local lore, however. insists that the weather was simply the weapon that finished them off. The real killer was Aunt Julia Brown, the elderly voodoo priestess who owned almost all of the property around the town of Frenier Beach, out on Lake Pontchartrain, and who appeared to begrudge every tenant she had.

“One day I’m gonna die,” she used to sing to herself, and to anyone who might be passing by as she sat out on her porch. “One day I’m gonna die, and I’m gonna take all of you with me.” So she could not have timed her funeral more perfectly than to coincide with the landfall of a Category Three hurricane that modern equipment would tell us moved northwest from the Gulf of Mexico at around 14 mph, with sustained winds near its center of 115 mph, and which crashed into Frenier Beach like an express train.

At exactly the same time as Aunt Julia’s funeral.

The old woman had certainly unnerved her fellow townspeople. But they had admired her as well, and the whole town was out to pay its final respects. The funeral service began at four, and that was precisely when the storm hit. Gathered around Aunt Julia’s coffin, mourners were scattered as the windows of her house blew in and the walls peeled away.

Then the winds snatched up the coffin and carried it into the bayou, along with everything else it could gather—livestock and the living included. Later, once the winds had died down and the waters finally started to recede, Aunt Julia’s body was found deep within the cypress swamp.

But they only found her body. Her casket had disappeared, and so had more or less everything else she had owned. The personal possessions that she kept around her house, the house in which she lived, most of the property that she had collected around Frenier Beach, and a lot of the people who lived in it.

Speaking of earthly riches and treasures, people always say that when you go, you cannot take it with you, and maybe that’s true. But Aunt Julia certainly put it someplace.

The bodies that could be found were buried in a mass grave in Manchac Swamp, floated across the lake on makeshift driftwood rafts, and for a century since then the swamp has howled with their restless, and so wronged spirits.

In 2009, A&E’s Extreme Paranormal investigative team even visited the grave site, and although they returned with little more than a prime-time half hour of jumbled voodoo, mini-cam entombment, and the kind of outrageous exaggerations that only reality TV can supply, still it was one of the most captivating shows of its ilk ever broadcast. They found nothing, but that didn’t mean that something wasn’t there.

Besides, the cemetery is just one of Manchac’s claims to fame because there’s reasons aplenty why the locals used to call the place “the swamp of the ghosts.”

Reasons like nearby Manchac Lighthouse, automated in 1941, decommissioned in 1987; derelict and barely accessible but, says legend, occupied to this day.

Reasons like the Blood Red Hanging Tree, an old-time instrument of local justice, whose strange fruit can still be seen hanging from its branches today.

Reasons like the Cajun rougarou that has stalked the swamp for centuries, and reasons like the ghostly highway that crosses the swamp where, until its deadly collapse in 1976, a modern road bridge once stood, although woe betide anyone who attempts trust to its tarmac today.

In fact, the only thing that Manchac Swamp has more of than ghosts and supernatural horrors is probably alligators. Which is maybe why not many people go there at night.

Our 50th FAQ book is…

Haunted America!!

00128461Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group, the leading publisher of books on music, theater, film, television, and pop culture, is celebrating the arrival of the 50th book in its popular FAQ Series with the publication of Haunted America FAQ by the series’ most prolific author, Dave Thompson.

Since the release of Fab Four FAQ in 2007, the FAQ Series, published under the Backbeat Books and Applause Theatre & Cinema Books imprints, has evolved into a robust, wide-ranging, and successful line, offering books that are one-stop sources for information, history, and minutiae on any given topic, be it an music artist, a film genre, an iconic television show, or, in the case of the 50th FAQ, a pop culture topic. Packed with a staggering amount of data, rare photographs, and period ephemera, these reader-friendly volumes are presented in a lively, engaging style. Each chapter in any FAQ book serves as a freestanding article on any aspect of the story, allowing readers to put down and pick up the book with ease.

“A key aspect of the FAQ series is that the authors are rabid fans of the subjects they write about, and they have keen insight into what other devoted fans are hungry for,” explained Backbeat Books series editor Bernadette Malavarca. “The flexibility of the series’ topical editorial format gives authors an opportunity to cover the subject matter widely but at the same time in great detail. In an FAQ book, info a fan would have to glean through devouring a multitude of different types of media—articles, biographies, documentaries, music histories—comes together in one cohesive, lively volume.”

True to that description, Haunted America FAQ is a fast-paced survey of the ghosts, ghouls, and associated denizens of the nation’s haunted history. Tracing local ghost stories back to Native American legends and forward through horror tales, both ancient and modern, Thompson visits some of the countries best-known haunted locales and most obscure creepy places – from private homes and hotel rooms to schools, parks, prisons, hospitals, battlefields, and nearly anywhere else people go.

In addition to Haunted America FAQ, this fall’s new entries in the series include The Twilight Zone FAQ, also written by Dave Thompson; Star Wars FAQ by Mark Clark; The Beat Generation FAQ by Rich Weidman; The Smiths FAQ by John D. Luerssen; Dracula FAQ by Bruce Scivally; Michael Jackson FAQ by Kit O’Toole; A Chorus Line FAQ by Tom Rowan; The X-Files FAQ by John Kenneth Muir; and TV Finales FAQ by Stephen Tropiano and Holly Van Buren.

Happy Birthday to Robert Plant!

Today is Robert Plant’s 67th birthday! While best known lead singer for Led Zeppelin, that wasn’t all that defined him. Two years after Led Zeppelin broke up, Plant went solo and has maintained an unbroken career ever since.  Author Dave Thompson’s book, Robert Plant The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin, shines a light on Plant’s solo career.  Below is an excerpt of the book, check it out!

00120813 It is a rare talent indeed, then, that can sustain the initial impetus and spread
it over much more than four albums; a rarer one still that can keep it going
for four decades; and even Robert Plant will admit that there have been
times throughout his solo career when the roar of the crowd became more
of a murmur, and the plaudits that once popped like corks were suddenly
plopping instead.
On those occasions, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to
make a few phone calls, rehearse a few songs, reprise an old band name . . .
and once, that is precisely what he did. But when the headlines announced
back in 2012 that Robert Plant was re-forming the group he used to play
with, it was a revamped Strange Sensation that roared out of the garage,
and the slate was swept clean overnight.
Whether at the helm of Led Zeppelin, where it was generally Plant’s
lyrics that set the mood of the music; alone with his own band; or drifting through the welter of side projects that have occupied him throughout the intervening years, Plant has rarely stood still for any longer than he needed to—and on the occasions he has, he just leapt a little further the next time around. But it is not the dilettante shuffling of rock’s other shapeshifting skipjacks that sustains him. A straight line drawn from Plant’s first recording will always lead to his latest, no matter how many technical, sonic, or cultural advances might separate the sessions, and no matter what caliber of musician he may choose to work with next.

To read more about Robert Plant, you can buy the book here.

Dave Thompson on The Tony Basilio Show on WJBE 99.7 FM

Dave Thompson, author of Hearts of Darkness, spoke with Tony Basilio on 99.7 FM, Knoxville, Tennessee’s very own Tony Basilio Show. They spoke about all things James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Cat Stevens and how they launched the age of the singer-songwriter in the 1970s.


00333163Hearts of Darkness is the story of a generation’s coming of age through the experiences of its three most atypical pop stars. James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Cat Stevens could never have been considered your typical late-sixties songwriters – self-absorbed and self-composed, all three eschewed the traditional means of delivering their songs, instead turning its process inward. The result was a body of work that stands among the most profoundly personal art ever to translate into an international language, and a sequence of songs – from “Sweet Baby James” and “Carolina in My Mind,” to “Jamaica Say You Will” and “These Days,” to “Peace Train” and “Wild World” – that remain archetypes not only of what the critics called the singer-songwriter movement, but of the human condition itself.

Author Dave Thompson, himself a legend among rock biographers, takes on his subjects with his usual brio and candor, leaving no stone unturned in his quest to shine a light on the dark side of this profoundly earnest era in popular music. Penetrating, pointed, and laced with vivid insight and detail, Hearts of Darkness is the story of rock when it no longer felt the need to roll.

Ian McKellen is the latest Sherlock Holmes!

Today marks the premiere of the new movie ‘Mr. Holmes’ starring Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes. A multitude of actors that have portrayed Holmes through the years, from Nicholas Rowe to Robert Downey Jr. to Benedict Cumberbatch, and in his book,  Sherlock Holmes FAQ, Dave Thompson has picked his favorite — Basil Rathbone.  Here’s an excerpt from Sherlock Holmes FAQ in which talks about the first, and in Thompson’s eyes, the best Holmes on screen:

00117258Basil Rathbone is the template from which all future portrayals of Sherlock Holmes would be drawn.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 13, 1892—that is, in the same month as “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches” brought the first volume of Sherlock Holmes stories to an end in The Strand magazine—Philip St. John Basil Rathbone was the son of a mining engineer, Edgar, and a violinist, Anna.

His filmography includes starring roles in such well-remembered epics as David Copperfield, A Tale of TwoCities, Anna Karenina, Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Last Days of Pompeii, Son of Frankenstein, and The Mark of Zorro. But his crowning glory,at least in terms of his future reputation, arrived in 1939, when he was cast as Sherlock Holmes in 20th Century Fox’s upcoming production of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Still regarded among the definitive retellings of Holmes’s best-known adventure, the movie was only ever intended as a one-off. Its success, however, prompted the studio to swiftly follow up with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a movie ostensibly based upon William Gillette’s original play but scarcely recognizable in any form. Indeed, Rathbone’s second Holmes movie retains only a handful of that earlier piece’s characteristics—a bit of subplot, a couple of characters, and a nice piece of sparring between Holmes and Moriarty. Like so many of Rathbone’s performances, however, his very presence overcomes any attempt to contextualize the story in terms of the original Holmes; he is just such a great actor, with such a formidable grasp on the role, that one is instantly sucked into this tale of fiendish ne’er-do-welling, while admiring the fresh insights into a genuinely Holmesian mind that it delivers.

It is The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, for instance, that introduces moviegoers to the detective’s attempts to discover the most potent insecticide ever known; having trapped some bluebottles inside a brandy glass, he is now plucking his violin at them, “observing the reaction on the common housefly of the chromaticscale.” It is his belief—or, at least, hope—that somewhere within the range of notes, there will be one that will strike such horror into the heart of the pest that it will leave the room directly.

Who was your favorite Holmes?  How does Ian McKellen measure up?  Let us know in the comments section!


The Cup – Soccer FAQ

Tomorrow at Wembley Stadium, Arsenal will face Aston Villa in the final of the FA Cup, the oldest and most-revered competition on the football calendar.  Dave Thompson took a long look at “The Cup” in Soccer FAQ and recalled some of its more memorable finals.

00126956Legendary FA Cup finals dot the history books. Prior to 1923, the Cup final had never had a home; rather, it wandered around different grounds and even different cities. The 1923 eventwas the first to be staged at the newly built, suitably grandiose Wembley Stadium, and such was the anticipation surrounding the event that no fewer than 126,000 people attended that game—and possibly more; some reports claim up to

200,000 were present, once the barriers broke and the crowds surged in.

The game itself, Bolton Wanderers vs. West Ham United, may or may not have been memorable. But history has never forgotten the image of the police officer riding a white horse around the perimeter of the field, keeping the crowds in order.

There was the 1953 final, when the entire British Isles, it was said, was willing Stanley Matthews’ Blackpool team to victory, simply out of love and admiration for one of the finest players ever seen on an English field. They were rewarded with a seven-goal thriller, and Blackpool triumphing over (again) Bolton Wanderers.

Sometimes it is not entire games, but mere incidents within them, or anecdotes around them, that consign a Final to legendary status. The passage of play, in the dying moments of the 1983 clash between Manchester United and Brighton, which culminated with an excited television commentator insisting “and Smith must score…”—only for Brighton striker Smith not to score, and his side’s chance of victory reduced to a replay instead.

The 1987 final when Coventry City not only shocked much-fancied Spurs to take the trophy home with them, they also finally removed themselves from the punchline to one of Monty Python’s Flying Circus’s most venerable routines, that moment in the Communist Quiz when Che Guevara is asked the fateful question, “In what year did Coventry City last win the FA Cup?” The answer—which neither Che, nor fellow competitors Mao Tse Tung, Lenin, and Karl Marx could supply—was “Coventry City have never won the FA Cup. It was a trick question.” Not any longer. Although there was certainly a Pythonesque surrealism to the side’s defense of the trophy the following season. They were bundled out in the third round by non-league Sutton United.

We remember the 1988 game, when all-conquering Liverpool faced unfancied Wimbledon, and not only lost 1–0, but also earned the ignominious title of becoming the first team ever to have a penalty saved in a Wembley final. Moments like these, and a hundred more besides, are what long ago established the FA Cup final among the most fondly remembered, and hungrily anticipated dates in the entire soccer calendar, in countries all over the world.

Happy birthday, Peter Capaldi!

Today is Peter Capaldi’s 57th birthday! In honor of the latest Doctor’s birthday, Doctor Who FAQ author Dave Thompson has written a birthday post, detailing his thoughts on Capaldi’s portrayal of the famous television character.


by Dave Thompson

The odds were always stacked against the Twelfth Doctor.

For a start, was he the Twelfth Doctor? Even before John Hurt’s “War Doctor” came along to throw out the numbering once and for all, the very fact that the tenth had been doubled was already throwing the chronology a bit.

Add to this the fact that Peter Capaldi’s reign not only followed that of the bafflingly popular Matt Smith’s, but also the show’s own (frankly untoppable) fiftieth birthday celebrations; add to that, the continued sense that show runner Steven Moffat has now switched his default setting to Unnecessarily Convoluted Storytelling mode; and add to that, the mold-breaking emergence of the first Doctor in a decade who isn’t simply older than the show, he’s also older than any of his predecessors (William Hartnell was 55 when he debuted the role; Capaldi was 56) . . . that’s a lot of baggage to carry.

As he commences filming on his second season, however, Capaldi has already conquered the most important task of all. He has convinced us that he is the Doctor, and not just within the realms of his personal, vociferous, fan club (the fate of at least two, and possible four of his predecessors).

A performance that is uniquely his own has also, and utterly without contradiction, been described as an amalgam of every Doctor who came first; First’s irascibility; Second’s humor; Third’s occasional resemblance to the magician who performed at your best friend’s fifth birthday party; Four’s uniquely alien outlook; Five’s . . . well, we’re still waiting for five to show up. But Six’s irascibility, Seven’s sense of mystery; Eight’s . . . okay, eight is still absent as well. But Eccleston’s toughness, Tennant’s charm and Smith’s flapping silliness can all be extracted from Capaldi’s DNA; and he has required all those qualities, too.

It is redundant to suggest that Moffat’s career as a writer is locked in irreversible decline, particularly where Doctor Who is concerned. But the truth is . . . true. The first three stories that he wrote for the series, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances two-parter, The Girl In The Fireplace and Blink are routinely, and rightly, regarded as not simply the best tales told since the show returned in 2005, but among the best in its entire fifty year lifespan.

Subsequent creations could not maintain that quality, and often seemed set on upending it altogether; while the man who cast such razor-sharp eyes across simple human relationships via earlier creations Joking Apart, Coupling (both, tellingly, nominally sitcoms) and Jekyll is also responsible for foisting upon us some of the most cringe inducing romantic interests of the modern age: less Doctor Who, and more Who Cares?

That current companion Clara’s dalliance with “PE teacher” Danny Pink represents the most stultifying of them all was possibly the most heart-stoppingly dull of them all. Perhaps there are sound psychological reasons why the last ten year’s worth of Doctor’s companions have chosen to fall for the dullest blade in the knife box, but at least Mickey (Rose’s put-upon paramour) and Rory (Amy Pond’s pet rock) came good in the end, while even Donna’s ill-fated fiancé at least had the cojones to be working for the opposition all along.

The watery Pink, on the other hand, existed solely to provide the Doctor with an opportunity to indulge in further Mickey/Ricky mix-ups, this time by insisting that the math teacher taught PE; to push Clara into a series of emotional crises that were the least believable element of the entire series (and in a run that included the Moon being revealed as an egg; the legend of Robin Hood as an alien-induced hallucination; and trees as global fire-fighters, that’s quite an achievement); and to die, which we will get to in a moment.

Even more damagingly, not once were we offered any indication as to why Clara should care so much for the man. His persona is seen from just two perspectives – the Doctor’s scorn and disdain (which, unlike Ten’s constant mockery of Mickey, was not feigned), and his own tiresome PTSD induced sense of self-pity. Not once are we given even a hint as to why Clara should care any more for this bullying, over-possessive lunk than a fish would for a bicycle. Only once the season finale passed by did we understand why Pink was even part of the story to begin with.

It was so they could remake that whole Ianto/Cyber-girlfriend storyline from an old episode of Torchwood, of course. That, and the now inevitable insistence upon imbibing finales with a tissue box full of wearying lachrymosity. As if the death of Osgood, UNIT’s inhaler-wielding, scarf-toting hardcore queen of nerdish delight, was not shattering enough for the average viewer. As if the return of the Master, in the form of a fresh Mistress of Uber-camp Madness, was not breathtaking enough for the most trigger-happy channel-surfer. As if… as if we cared.

Capaldi triumphed over all of these things; and so did Clara, at least when she wasn’t being shoehorned into awkward clinches (and, via the Christmas special, even more awkward flashbacks) with the Pink thing. 

Indeed, no matter how high Capaldi soared as the season progressed, Clara soared likewise. Unquestionably, her sheer force of character convinced us that, at last, the Doctor had unearthed a force of nature capable of equalling even Rose (or Jo Grant, for any older viewers still watching). And capable, too, of delivering lines with such beguiling intensity that an entire generation is destined to melt every time they hear the words “run, you clever boy . . .” Or see a soufflé.

As an overall series, it wasn’t the best. At least three episodes (Into the Dalek, Kill the Moon, In the Forest of the Night) rank among the weakest deployed since the show returned, and it may or may not be coincidental that two of those were at least partially stymied by the frankly absurd science that underpinned them. Yes, we know it’s all make-believe, but if you’re setting a story on what claims to be the Earth that the rest of us live on, then make sure that basic physics don’t undermine the whole thing.

Of the others, Flatline, Time Heist and Mummy on the Orient Express were bold enough to withstand multiple rewatchings; Deep Breath was rewarding upon subsequent viewings; Robot of Sherwood was this year’s Dinosaurs on a Spaceship; The Caretaker was a glorious romp; Listen was a frankly terrifying notion that writer Moffat then castrated by trying too hard; and then it was time for the season finale.

Dark Water/Death In Heaven was the two-parter in which we finally learned the reason why past stories had been interrupted by Mary Poppins, before Poppins herself became . . . Well, cynics could point out that Missy is less a reincarnation of the Master than she is a pantomime revision of Moriarty, and there is truth to that. But she is also (like Moriarty) one of Moffat’s all-time classic villains; frighteningly insane, incalculably evil, and absolutely unmissable. The moment when she sweeps herself so elegantly backwards and calls out for “Doctor Chang” . . . if you didn’t have a Demented Nanny fixation before that, you do now.

And Capaldi? Capaldi matched her every step of the way, to emerge as strong a Doctor as he ought to be, and as likable a Doctor as he clearly doesn’t care to be. And, even better, unlike his last three regenerations, the man can’t even flirt properly.

Although you know that on the playground the following day, once the cries of ”exterminate” and “delete” had been exhausted, more than one juvenile would-be Lothario zoomed in on the girl of his dreams and declared “you look nice. Have you washed?”

Happy birthday, Peter Capaldi. And happy birthday, Doctor. May there be many, many more.


Listen: Dave Thompson talks with BBC Radio Suffolk

BBC Radio Suffolk chats with Dave Thompson about his new book, Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin!

>>Listen Here<<

Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin follows the iconic singer through his heights of fame with classic rock giant 00120813Led Zeppelin, his second life as a multimillion-selling solo artist, and his more idiosyncratic pursuits. A wealth of former associates lend their voices and recollections to an account that steps far beyond the tried and tested tales of Zeppelin’s life and times.

This all-new biography details Plant’s early years as an unknown in Birmingham, England, with fresh depth and insight. It likewise tells the Zeppelin story from new and unexpected angles, focusing on Plant’s contributions to the band’s success and on the toll/effect of that success on him as a performer and an individual.

After drummer John Bonham died in 1980 and Zeppelin broke up, Plant went solo two years later, in time becoming the only former band member to maintain an unbroken career to this day. His single-mindedness in meeting this challenge might well be his greatest personal attribute, enabling him to push forward without regard for his past or any related expectations. Dave Thompson shows how it is Plant’s determination alone that ensured Zeppelin reunions would not become a routine part of the classic rock furniture, as he created a body of work that in so many ways artistically rivals what he recorded with the band.

Interview with Dave Thompson

The Cleveland Music Examiner posed a few questions about Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin. Read more of Dave’s responses here!

Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin by Dave Thompson

Rock journalist Dave Thompson doesn’t care how many women Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plantseduced in the Seventies, or what drugs he might’ve consumed during the band’s halcyon years headlining arenas around the 00120813world.

In his latest well-researched biography, “Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed The Zeppelin” (Backbeat books), Thompson focuses strictly on the music. More specifically, he hones in why Plant was as integral to Zeppelin’s sound as guitarist Jimmy Page, and how the determined singer forged his own distinct path as a soloist after the seminal quartet splintered.

Thanks for talking with us, Mr. Thompson! So, could you tell us a bit about the back-and-forth approach you took for “Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin?” One would think it’d be off-putting, but it works well, and the chapters dovetail nicely between Plant’s past and present.

I think—as I explained a little in the introduction—life, and a career, are not always just A-B-C-D. Things loop around. People always arrive back in the same place they were in before, but hopefully with a little more wisdom and ability to know what to do. And I was just noticing that a lot with Robert Plant. The story has been told. There are Zeppelin books out the wazoo, and there are a few good Plant books around as well. The idea always is, “Robert Plant was born…and he did this, that, and the other thing.” So boring! Because he has not lived his career in what anyone would consider a responsible manner. He’s been very much what he wants, with incredible little regard for the conventions of the music industry. When he left Zeppelin—here’s a great example—he should have done more of what Jimmy Page wanted to do, which was get together with the guys from Yes, and gone off and become The Firm or something.

You mean XYZ (ex-Yes / Zeppelin), the group Page was going to join with Yes bassist Chris Squire. Yeah, that’s probably what Plant’s manager and record company might’ve wanted. A new band, same kind of sound.

Yeah, form any of those horrible super-groups. Because the ‘80s were just littered with those ghastly four-people-from-four-huge-bands thing. And it’s like, “Why are you together? Oh, so you can be a super-group.” He should have done that, and people would have said “Hurrah!” very loudly if he had. But he didn’t want to. You’ve got to admire that. And it was with that admiration, that’s why I didn’t want to write a straightforward beginning-to-end story.

South Park FAQ

New season of South Park starts tonight! Dave Thompson, the author of the South Park FAQ travels through the lives, times, and catastrophes that have established the tiny mountain town of South Park, Colorado, as America’s favorite dysfunctional community. There are few modern animated television shows that could survive over a decade and a half and remain as funny… or as stupid… or as sick… or as depraved… today as when they started. Read an an excerpt below!


Increasingly, we live in a world where opinion is pinioned by the need not to offend, nor even risk offense, by saying—even lightheartedly— something that someone might feel belittled by. Including people who aren’t actually present when the remark is made.

The soccer manager who told his charges the old joke about a monkey and an astronaut, and was promptly accused of racism by somebody else entirely.

The teen playing a video game who made an off-the-cuff remark about shooting up a school and eating his victims’ hearts. A fellow player over- heard the exchange, and the kid was arrested and threatened with eight years in jail.

The … and so on and so forth. All it takes is one person who doesn’t understand, appreciate, or maybe even acknowledge the existence of humor (however humorless the humor might be), and it doesn’t matter if he is the only person in the world who doesn’t sneak a smirk at the gesture. One complaint is worth a thousand chuckles, and the only positive that comes out of the experience is the possibility that maybe one day, the rest of the world will tire of these petty-minded dictators and start complaining about them instead.

Which is why we love South Park so much.

For there, exaggerated political correctness and microscopically focused nitpickery are already like a red rag to a bull in the eyes of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Like Cheesy Poofs to a big-boned eighth grader.

Totalitarianism is totalitarianism, no matter how loudly you condemn the people who actually point that out, which is one of the reasons why South Park has never rested in its campaign to highlight humbuggery wherever it may dwell.

True political correctness means respecting other peoples’ right to say whatever they like, no matter how much it might offend you, because that is the only thing that guarantees your right to say whatever you want to. Chip away at other people’s right, no matter how worthy your intentions may be, simply opens the door for other, perhaps less worthy people to take the process to its logical conclusion and outlaw free speech altogether.

Matt Stone outlined South Park’s approach.

“On one hand, it’s really fun when you flip off the principal and the principal yells at you. But in general, we do the show because we want people to like it. We are entertainers. We’re trying to entertain people. At the same time, we’ve been doing it long enough to realize we’re still not a mainstream show … we’re still on cable, we still consider ourselves an alternative show.” Far more people, he acknowledged, dislike South Park than enjoy it, but unlike most television shows, that was fine. “Twenty percent of people got this joke, and they love us for it, and we’ll piss off the other 80 percent just for them.”

The very best of South Park teases, as well. But it’s a knowing tease, a worthy tease, taunting the viewer with just enough information that you think you know where the story is going … but you cannot believe anybody has the balls to take it there. Again, a lot of the targets are as ephemeral as the headlines they are drawn from, but that is not an issue. The fact that … to draw a cultural irrelevance at random from the stockpile … Honey Boo Boo is even sufficiently well known to be considered a worthy target for the South Park sniper is itself sufficient condemnation of the culture that the show so gleefully ridicules, and of course she is not alone.

To concentrate on South Park’s status as the devourer of worthless worlds, however, is to overlook its other primary purpose, to act as a mirror to what we might call everyday society. South Park itself is Anytown USA, as accurate a reflection of small-town life as any live-action television series has ever mustered, and a lot more honest as well.






Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 157 other followers