“South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker seem to live by Abbie Hoffman’s famous saying that “sacred cow makes the tastiest hamburger.” Last night’s episode featured the controversial topic of teaching evolution in public schools. The kids’ teacher, Ms. Garrison (who was Mr. Garrison until a sex-change operation last season) refused to teach evolution, claiming it was immoral. So what did the principal of South Park Elementary do? Why, bring in Richard Dawkins, noted atheist, scientist, author, and evolution proponent.
Normally, “South Park” prefers to skewer pop culture icons like Tom Cruise or Barbra Streisand. That’s why their “casting” of Dawkins was such a surprise. Although Dawkins is a well-known academic, he’s not an immediately recognizable figure. Dawkins showed up at first in the fourth-grade classroom speaking intelligently about evolution and science, but in the world of this show, no one stays normal for long. Initially, he fought with Ms. Garrison about the merits of evolution. Then, he fell in love with her.
One of the joys of “South Park” is that no one is safe, and no one ever gets the moral high ground. Mr. Garrison’s sex change meant that he was no longer a homosexual man but a heterosexual woman, and now the character has been recast as a Church Lady figure who condemns everyone else’s behavior. A man who had a black-leather-clad lover named Mr. Slave is now a prudish, prissy woman looking for a husband. When first told she is required to teach evolution, she tells the children that they’re the descendants of apes who mated with deformed squirrels.
Lest Stone and Parker look like they’re taking a side in the evolution debate, they make both teachers out to look like fools. By starting out calm, rational, and scientific, Dawkins is set up as the foil for shrieking, hysterical Garrison. Having the two ideological rivals fall in love somehow makes perfect sense in “South Park” logic. Now the test is to see whether Dawkins’ book sales go up.
Watch part of the episode–including Dawkins teaching evolution–here: