As both a political junkie and a fan of comedy, I like seeing mainstream TV shows poke fun at politics and society while making references to things that relatively-informed people would understand.
Setting aside the political bias of each show, let’s look at quality and type of humor. It really depends on who you are and what kind of humor you like, but both shows generally satirize society by being vulgar or by discussing matters that are deemed inappropriate to discuss in public. A lot of the times, this is effective and generally attracts a big audience.
South Park is the more vulgar of the two. Family Guy, attempting to emulate their success, is also trying to be nuts but appears less genuine than their competition. They go vulgar for the sake of being vulgar and have no purpose to their jokes. Not that I have anything against gag humor, but Family Guy exhausts this technique to the point of predictable and unfunny. (In fact, one of my favorite Family Guy episodes is the “Stewie and Brian” episode where they had forty minutes of two great characters stuck in a bank vault and no cuts or flashbacks or gags.)
Politically, the shows are very different. Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, is Brian Griffin; he uses his real voice and most of the character is based off him in real life. While I admire that MacFarlane is able to criticize himself and acknowledges his self-righteousness, he is liberal to the bone. He adopts the mentality of “I know what’s best for you” in almost all of his shows. He had two big political episodes, the first with Rush Limbaugh which I actually liked because both political sides were ridiculed.
The second is the Tea Party episode was hilarious and as someone who kind of likes the Tea Party and the small government they stand for, I could not help but laugh at the liberal rhetoric and assumptions made by people who do not really understand the implications of the free market and how they better benefit people. It was one-sided, and that’s fine. I expect nothing less from Hollywood TV shows.
South Park, on the other hand, is a totally different ball game. It’s main goal is to be funny, but what almost always turns out to be so damn hilarious all the time is satirical humor poking fun at how dumb society is. Almost always, there are some rare exceptions, South Park has a libertarian message; people are stupid, and government is no exception. From Big Gay Al and the Boy Scouts, to Douche vs. Turd (mocking the pointlessness of voting in the 2004 Kerry/Bush elections), anti-government messages are no stranger to the show.
I wouldn’t say the show has a libertarian agenda. I don’t think the Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the two creators, deliberately set out writing the show with the goal of converting its audience. Then again, I don’t think the duo can really help themselves. Trey Parker, the show’s main writer and director, is a member of the Libertarian Party. Matt Stone, the other creator was once quoted saying, “I hate conservatives, but I really fucking hate liberals.” This was, I think, in response to this sense of responsibility liberal-minded people have in that they think they have all the answers to the world’s problems and people are too dumb to think for themselves.
The main reasons as to why I prefer South Park to Family Guy are because of the use of humor. Like I said, I’m tired of gag humor and flashbacks. Also, the Family Guy show itself is getting tiresome, the newer seasons have definitely lost the show’s original edge; the show is no longer original. South Park still remains both funny and original in their use of humor to satirize society and its behavior. Their ways of expressing themselves are unconventional by Hollywood standards and by being so offensive and refusing to change, they are the biggest anti-censorship TV organization that I can think of.
This is all, of course, just an opinion. Both shows are still very popular and it really depends on what you like to deem one better than another. Besides, anything that makes politics mainstream is okay in my books.
Nazzy S. is an editor for The Libertarian.