Friday, October 23, 2009

Token, the token.

When analyzing this next character, we actually don't need to go further than his name: Token Black.

A comment on tokenism, the creators of South Park added a black student to the show in season four. He's now always seen in group scenes and has an occasional witty or sassy line or two, but rarely has much substantial presence with the exception of episodes that center around racism or plots where his blackness is key (i.e. Cartman being charged with a hate crime, or Stan's realization about the "n word"). He's self-aware of how out of place he is, but still wants to be a part of the group--essentially, resigned desperation turning into an attempt to make the best of an unfortunate situation.

I would argue that Token is a positive representation. While he's the lone black student, we're supposed to be fully aware of this discrepancy, and revel in its ridiculousness. His name makes that clear. The writers weren't adding him to be racist saying: "hey, we make fun of Jews, fat kids, and the poor--let's attack black kids too!" Rather, Token is there to make a point, and subtly make fun of those who do think like the previous statement.

In this clip, Token "magically" discovers that he can play the bass. He's never picked one up before or had a single lesson, but all black people can play bass--that's just obvious! He's only doing this to help the white kids in his class. While it's not as degrading an example as most magic engross, many of the same rules apply:


  1. i think that it's also interesting that Token is the only rich kid in town because normally, white people are viewed as being upper middle class/upper class and black people as being from "the hood," but the writers clearly made a point in doing this. In the episode "Here Comes the Neighborhood," Token arranges for many rich families to come to South Park so he doesn't feel so estranged and the families all happen to be black. But not black doctors and lawyers, but rather entertainers, such as Snoop Dog and Will Smith.

  2. That episode has a spectacular affront at the end of it if you'll remember the dialogue goes something like this:

    Townspeople: We finally got rid of all them rich folk, those cash chuckers.
    Mr. Garrison: I say we sell all their houses and get rich.
    Townspeople: Wouldn't that make us no better than them.
    Mr. Garrison: Sure, but at least we got rid of all those Ni*gers.

    This interchange is an interesting example of where South Parks criticality lies -- each layer of meaning tends to reference itself -- only when each is deconstructed is it condensed to a single or true narrative, it becomes (as in this case) a satire of a satire of a satire.

    While this process of deconstruction seems like a transparent one, I would question whether or not it is ultimately positive. While it does little to further the myths it deconstructs and uses satire to explore media methodology, its form is almost often offensive and almost always insensitive. It's important that we not make any base assumptions or assignments of value while talking about these issues or we might fall into a kind of repressive tolerance -- an ambivalence we are, in our appraisal, trying to overcome.