I have conflicting feelings about something that happened this evening: South Park ran an episode in which Cartman pretended to have Tourette Syndrome.
I’m afraid that this may make my life and the lives of a lot of other people with TS more difficult for a while. I’ve mentioned this to a few people in the last week since I found out that the episode was coming out, and they’ve been dubious. Here is my reasoning: one of the biggest difficulties that people with Tourette face is the worry and reality of not being believed by other people when they try to explain their tics. In days past I’ve had people (including police officers) tell me that I was faking the TS in order to get away with socially inappropriate behavior. I specifically can remember an officer telling me (this was years ago) “Yeah right kid, I watch LA law. Now shut up!” And LA Law was an adult show, and the character on the show wasn’t faking. South Park’s target audience is the exact age group that would be most likely to pretend to have Tourette because it sounds fun. The fact that Cartman is full of it isn’t going to help that perception one itsy bit.
On the flip side however, I’ll be the first to admit that Tourette (and often South Park) can be funny. The Tourette Syndrome Association put out a preemptive press release which honestly sounded a bit like a dorky kid complaining about being picked on.
The release says among other things “We are actually surprised it took the creators so long to use TS as comedy fodder in this program, since no disability, illness or controversial topic is off limits to them,”
The problem with the way this is said is that the TSA makes it sound like a bad thing. Whether it is Judit Ungar (the TSA president)’s cup of tea as comedy goes or not, this is what South Park does. The argument being made essentially is that this episode is in bad taste. I have not yet seen it for reasons I’ll discuss soon, but I can already tell you that it is indeed in bad taste. How do I know this? We’re talking about South Park. I cannot think of an episode that wasn’t in bad taste. That is the source of their comedy. Tourette Syndrome is hardly being singled out for special treatment. If GLAAD got upset every time South Park mocked gays, they would have to hire someone full time just to write press releases about South Park.
I could wish that if South Park just had to do a TS episode, they could have gotten more creative than having Cartman fake having Tourette so he could say bad words. For the gods’ sake, I had a tic about Flying Penis Man. There has to be more comedy to be found in Tourette than in having an already foul-mouthed six year old be, well foul-mouthed.
So on the one hand, this could make things unpleasant, especially for school kids with TS who’ve already got a good bit on their plate. On the other hand, this is the sort of thing that South Park does, the sort of thing that sometimes makes South Park brilliant. I feel strongly that if I’m going to laugh when Matt and Trey are putting some other segment of the population on the chopping block, I’d better not be too pissed when they put us Touretters there too.