In the months after Al Gore released his apolitical, urgent documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, which outlined the looming horrors of climate change, some audiences were quick to laugh him off as an alarmist. Back then, climate change was hardly a partisan worry, it was simply something many people on both sides chose to ignore. A few months after the documentary premiered at Sundance Film Festival, South Park aired its episode, “ManBearPig,” in which a whiny, self-absorbed caricature of Gore leads the kids on a wild goose chase for what appears to be an imaginary beast.
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The implications were clear then. Trey Parker and Matt Stone were unconvinced by Gore’s warning.
Well, 12 years later, South Park has returned to say it was wrong. As fires rage across California—that the LA Fire Chief has admitted is the result of climate change—ManBearPig is back.
Over the last two episodes, Parker and Stone have attempted to correct the mistake they made over a decade ago, as the boys beg Gore to help them fight the destruction of ManBearPig. While in 2006’s South Park climate change was some silly myth, now it’s a very real horror that most people still choose to ignore.
The boys are able to track down Gore who forces them to admit they were wrong before he helps them face a very real ManBearPig. While the episodes paint Gore in a more sympathetic light than it did 12 years ago, the guy is still insufferably smug, reveling in how right he was back in 2006.
In one scene in a Red Lobster, a man loudly critiques the shaky science surrounding ManBearPig as the beast itself tears people apart in the restaurant behind him.
South Park has never been one to say it was wrong. It’s a show that will gladly stand by its depictions of everything from suicide to terrorist attacks and the prophet Muhammad. So, to admit it was wrong about its take on climate change 12 years ago is a surprising sign of maturity.
And South Park continued the apology into this week, as ManBearPig continues to ravage the small Colorado town. Most people in South Park are too busy playing Red Dead Redemption 2 to worry about the murder and destruction—and even the school shootings that continue to happen in the background. Others are busy attending group meetings that pose the question: Should I Start to Worry? One man says that he’s pretty sure ManBearPig killed his family and destroyed his house. Should he start to worry?
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Here, the joke is on Parker and Stone as much as its on anyone who continues to question the reality and severity of climate change. In 2006, their take on the issue seemed reasonable—funny even. Why are we busying ourselves chasing this imaginary thing? But where Parker and Stone have realized how wrong they were in 2006, today conservatives still continue to question the legitimacy of climate change.
In this two-episode arc, Parker and Stone go back even further than 2006, to place the blame on another generation. At the end of last week’s episode, Stan’s grandpa reveals that ManBearPig is terrorizing South Park because of a deal he made with the beast many years ago. This week, they go into depth about what exactly happened. He tells Stan that he didn’t think he’d live to see the consequences of his actions. Of course, Stan’s grandpa is a proxy for an older generation which traded the environment for cool cars and a comfortable life.
Grimly, the gang turns to Satan to help them fight ManBearPig. Why would Satan help them? Well, humans have been doing his work for them lately. Unfortunately, ManBearPig kicks the shit out of Satan (who ends up going to heaven?). All hope seems lost. But, in the last minute, Sgt. Yates returns to help the boys take on ManBearPig. “It’s never to late to start trying to do the right thing,” he says, which is as much Parker and Stone’s apology as it is a call to action for people still reluctant to do anything about climate change.
In the end, the solution is pretty easy. They sign some papers and make a deal with ManBearPig, but here’s the deal: If he’s going to stop terrorizing the town, they have to give up soy sauce and Red Dead Redemption 2…
But, there’s no way that’s going to happen.
Instead they agree to continue to ignore ManBearPig for five more years until he returns even stronger.
Yes, there’s that classic South Park-ian cynicism. Fighting climate change would mean real sacrifice on a mass scale. It would mean a significant change of lifestyle for everyone in the United States—the country with the biggest carbon footprint in the world. Parker and Stone are as guilty as anyone else for ignoring the problem. But, as they said, it’s never too late to get super serial about the problem. Until it is.