What South Park Teaches Us About Economics – Wisecrack Edition

What South Park Teaches Us About Economics – Wisecrack Edition


Hey Wisecrack, Jared again. South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker
sure do make us laugh — but they make something else, too: a metric crap-ton of money. It’s a tale as old as time: create a stop-motion
animated Christmas card, nab a Comedy Central series, a movie, an Oscar nomination, yadda
yadda yadda, enjoy a collective net worth of eight-hundred million dollars. Yet despite being an ad-supported, business
like some other people we know, South Park has never been afraid to bite the hand that
feeds it. So let’s take a look at how Stone and Parker
lampoon the financial world across four of our favorite South Park adventures. Cash rules everything around us, in this Wisecrack
Edition on Economics in South Park. In “Gnomes,” the sleepy town of South
Park readies itself for a classic David-and-Goliath battle- a real showdown between massive corporate
coffee chain Harbucks and the homegrown, mom-and-pop coffee shop, Tweek Brothers. South Park challenges our natural bias towards
the little guy by demonstrating, hey, sometimes, the little guy is actually a total asshole. And in South Park, this particular asshole
isn’t above keeping his own son hopped up on caffeine or exploiting children for the
media if it helps his business stay afloat. The very notion that a small business might
be driven by impure capitalist motive is a message we’re not used to hearing. And the townspeople of South Park aren’t
ready for it, either, which is why the Tweek and Harbucks rivalry is neatly stereotyped
as just another innocent family business versus: In fact, throughout the episode, most arguments
in favor of big business are immaturely shouted down not with reason or facts, but, well,
with immature shouting. So who’s the real bully, here? “Gnomes” demonstrates how bald-faced appeals
to emotion can be used to disguise the cold, hard mechanisms of profit. Although he may be a staple of the community
who charms people with his folksy marketing, Mr. Tweek proves himself to be an even more
cutthroat capitalist than his rival. And it isn’t long before the pre-teen protagonists
of South Park become convenient pawns in his agenda, as they’re forced to pass his anti-corporate
words off as their own. Without knowing much about Mr. Tweek’s true
business practices or even about the superior quality of the Harbucks coffee, the people
of South Park demonstrate a programmatic response that boils down simply to “small business
good. Big corporation bad.” And does it matter if the big corporation
is actually an ethical business and if the children in question are foul-mouthed hellraisers? F**k no, it doesn’t. And that’s thanks to a principle called
the backfire effect, which says the presentation of any new and contrary information will be
dismissed outright if it threatens your basic belief structure. Try arguing with people on facebook about
politics. We’re confident you’ll change their minds! The “Gnomes” episode of South Park lampoons
this idea of hardwired biases by demonstrating small businesses, just like small children,
can be just as scummy as their larger counterparts, they’re just not as prolific about it. Because, after all, as the underpants gnomes
of the episode adorably demonstrate, both small and large businesses are geared towards
making a profit – even if there might be some…ambiguity about the path towards that objective. Where the “Gnomes” episode satirizes exploitation
of children for emotional sympathy, “Cash for Gold” satirizes the exploitation of
the elderly for massive profit. And how better to demonstrate this con in
action than by way of the Home Shopping Network? In this episode, Stan learns his grandpa has
routinely fallen victim to television scams that are draining his retirement funds. Meanwhile, Cartman’s rank opportunism drives
him to take advantage of those same scams to feed his insatiable greed. From these two angles, “Cash for Gold”
examines both the predator and the prey through the lens of value theory. There are different theories of value out
there, you’ve probably heard the kind dictated by “supply and demand”. But value might not necessarily be a financial
value, but instead be rooted in a social, emotional, or historical value. And, much like financial value, these alternatives
can be situational and fluid, hinging on a variety of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Let’s take a look at some examples. After Stan’s grandpa gives Stan a bolo tie
that was bought off the TV for $6000, Stan almost immediately learns the very same tie
is worth $15 at the local appraiser. Then, after pursuing third and fourth opinions,
Stan watches the bolo tie diminish in financial value, right before his eyes, until it is
worth no more than a seven-layer burrito at Taco Bell. To answer Stan’s question, this episode introduces
us to multiple forms of value, beginning with the market value displayed on the Home Shopping
Network. As Dean, the Home Shopping Network host, uses
his authority to convince his elderly viewers they’re getting amazing deals, those same
viewers reliably line Dean’s pockets, even though what he’s selling is, in the frame
of material or resale value, pretty much a piece of crap. This disconnect is the very mechanism that
drives any great scam: high perceived value married to low actual value. Where a purely labor-oriented view of economics
might consider the work that went into producing an item, South Park here exhibits a more nuanced
idea – one that proposes value is determined, not by quality or by effort of production,
but by the nature of supply and demand. And, boy, does Dean know how to drive and
exploit that demand. And later, when Stan urges Dean to commit
suicide, Dean is able to conceptualize his life’s work only in the monetary figure
it might draw in a lawsuit: two-point-seven-million dollars. For Dean, there is literally no useful value
beyond the financial frame of value — just how much cash he can squeeze from people’s
wallets. However, we clearly see the impact of emotional
value when Stan’s grandpa tells the story of his dog. Through this monologue, we learn Grandpa’s
reckless purchases have little to do with the perceived market value of the items in
question. No, Grandpa is trying to add emotional and
historical value to himself — by creating memories and sentimental connections that
will last long past his death. Elsewhere in the story, we learn these fluid
and disparate notions of value call into question the true value of nearly everything. We see the perceived cultural value of an
Academy Award evaporate, as it’s simply melted down to be resold in new forms. Stan’s gift to his grandfather — a framed
photo of Grandpa with his beloved dog — arguably has astronomic emotional value but low market
value. And Grandpa’s $6000 gift to Stan is ultimately
written off as being: But just how loose is that relationship between
labor and profit? That question sits at the foundation of “Go
Fund Yourself,” an episode in which the South Park kids launch a successful brand
that doesn’t even bother to put a business behind it. In fact, the official slogan of their company
is… Their business, which ultimately calls itself the Washington Redskins,
draws its success from the bastardization of modern Kickstarter culture, accepting monetary
donations in exchange for no effort at all. Throughout the episode, South Park suggests
that, in the advent of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the success of a brand or company
can now be rooted purely in its appearance rather than in its function. One of the central arguments of this episode
is that what a business does is less valuable to that business than the relative power of
its brand. When Stan sets off to find “the perfect
startup name,” this moment carries more import than any objective pursued by Cartman’s,
uh, “leadership.” The episode’s thesis mirrors an argument
by philosopher Jean Baudrillard, who argued in 1981’s Simulacra and Simulation that
all previous definitions of “value” had been woefully inadequate. Baudrillard’s work presented that value
isn’t determined by how much work has gone into making something, or by the nature of
its materials, or by its overall usefulness — no, value is determined purely as the
appearance of value. In other words, according to Baudrillard,
an item or brand is only valued as it exists as an image in relation to other things that
are also images. Value, then, is determined only in the relationship
that exists between things or among a set of things. Through this frame, it’s more important
for a business to have a great brand than it is to make great stuff. It’s more important to be trendy for investors
than it is to make fat stacks of cash. Uber being worth billions of dollars while
still losing billions of dollars? Yeah, Baudrillard more or less predicted that
decades ago. In “Go Fund Yourself,” the South Park
kids take this concept of value to absurd heights. Much like the protagonists of HBO’s Entourage,
they embrace idea that the ultimate success lies in not doing anything at all — just:
“Start up, cash in, sell out, bro down”. But, we still gotta love ‘em. Because, like so many in the real world, the
South Park kids are just squirrels trying to get a nut. Today’s economy is awash with side-hustles, independent contractors, and guest lecturers. But economic power lies not with them, says South Park. It sits with the fat cats at the top who know how to work the system with minimal effort. Or does it? Ultimately, the kids’ Washington Redskins
venture is left in shambles because of the brand’s missteps on a social issue. Here, the episode argues that a business built
only on aesthetics has nowhere to turn — and no foundational beliefs to hold to — once
public opinion turns against it. It turns out even a business that does almost
nothing can be threatened by doing or saying or being the wrong thing at the wrong time. In South Park, that outcome leaves our young
entrepreneurs fated to the worst punishment of all… Scratch that. There is in fact a worse punishment than going
to school, and it arrives at the forefront of the episode titled, “You Have Zero Friends.” This episode examines the absurdities of our
growing social media economy. As in the “Cash for Gold” adventure, South
Park here tackles, head-on, the true meaning of value. Are our friendships and social worth measured
by our “likes” and Facebook connections? Or are they determined by the interactions
we share in what the cyberpunk community derisively refers to as “meatspace?” From the outset of the episode, our protagonists
stand, side by side, in the “meat space” and debate their respective levels of social status,
as quantified solely by their collections of online friendships. In this framing, Facebook friendships, like
money, create an easily measurable hierarchy of personal value. Cartman, unsurprisingly, sees relationships
not as intrinsically joyful but as status symbols by which to elevate some people over
others. If this calls to mind Baudrillard again, well,
it should. Because in his work, The Consumer Society,
Baudrillard warned that, instead of enhancing life, a transactional approach to relationships “leads to an individual lack, since everything possessed is relativized in relation to others” Cartman’s troubling view of relationships
begins to infect even Kyle. When Kyle’s digital farm is depleted due
to economic hardship, he turns to his long-time meat space friend, Stan. But even after Stan has offered Kyle his real-world
support, all Kyle can think about is how much his own social media cache must be suffering. Shortly thereafter, Kyle drops the sweet but
socially toxic Kip from his own roster of Facebook friends, in order to salvage his
own social standing. South Park asks, who are we, really, when
our online presence outweighs our real-world engagements? Wendy insists her relationship with Stan be
validated on the internet, and even Randy doesn’t believe in his connection with his
own son until Stan agrees to add him on Facebook. In our reality and in South Park, this disjunction
between our digital and real-world lives threatens to place a greater premium on our digital
behavior – and it makes our physical life seem less significant and less like an experience. Perhaps that’s why Kyle pushes back against
friendships with real people, like Stan and Kip, when doing so means preserving his digital
status. And while everyone else is trying to pump
up their digital lives at the expense of their meat space lives, poor Kip is desperately
trying to force his digital friendship into the meat space world by taking his laptop to
the movies. But the argument in favor of cultivation of
an online brand is as simple as it is daunting: although it may not be as authentic as the
quote-unquote “real you,” your profile, your cyber-influence casts a much wider net
than you do alone. So what ever will you do with all of that
incredible power? Hey, here’s an idea, from your very close
friends at Wisecrack… Thanks for watching guys! Peace!

100 thoughts on “What South Park Teaches Us About Economics – Wisecrack Edition

  1. I mean yes value is determined by supply and demand. This means that if you can generate artificial demand then something that has no value to anyone or most people could be sold for quite a lot. It also means that because businesses only sell to make a profit that value is also determined in part by the price of the inputs. You have to sell your products for more than you paid for them. Therefore value is determined by the price of inputs and the demand for such things(regardless of whether they have any particular use) I mean economic value anyway. All other value is subjective.

  2. The economic message here is we value stuff comparatively for example if we have 3 items ranked at $5 $10 $20 respectively if we get rid of the $20 item the $5 $10 items will increase in price because comparatively they’re worth more in value and when we are going through hardship we reach to those close to us to help

  3. I don't get why my leftist friends don't like South Park when it makes so many comments on the failings of capitalism.

  4. 5:50 You can even see this in the gun industry. I once saw a shotgun selling for more than 10 grand, made in this century all by hand buy. Meanwhile, Glocks & AK's can $700-$1000. You can throw either weapon in swamps, bogs, marshes & fens, bury it in the sand & snow, run a truck over either & it still does it's jobs. Can expensive shotgun due that? I doubt it, but I've been wrong before. Go for 'tegrity, LOL.

  5. The only REAL problem with America is the rich aren't nearly rich enough. They are obviously superior and deserve EVERYTHING while the rest of us live and die in the gutter

  6. 8:49 This seems to be glorified panhandling, AKA begging for alms. It should be noted that in Colorado panhandling is illegal but that ain't here nor there. The company that Stanley & his friends create makes it clear they won't produce goods & services(quality or mediocre)& yet people still give them money. Have we actually reached this level of idiocy in the real world? This question ain't rhetorical. Even crooks make money by putting a gun to your head, they ain't worried about producing anything. In any event, the world keeps getting weirder.

  7. Is in not true that the most expensive value-added costs does not come from intangible things such as brand power? If you look up a chart for profit margins by sector household products is on the lower end. It is possible the products you consume recreationally are a product of brand recognition, but that's such a small part of the economy that I hope Baudrillard mentioned the small scope or did not mean to make any general statements about economies based on that.

  8. Episodes used:
    Gnomes: S2 – Ep 17
    Cash for Gold: S16 – Ep2
    Go Fund Yourself: S18 – Ep1
    You have 0 friends: S14 – Ep4

  9. If a South Park producer is reading the comment I have an idea for an episode: Cartman comes to terms with gratuities, AKA tipping. He comes up with a scam that involves gratuities which becomes very lucrative. Stan & Kyle are hanging out, the former answers the phone, & Cartman's on the other end. He's laughing so hard from his success that the only word he can get out is "gratuities." He says it like he does "authority." However, the scam spirals out control & because of tipping South Park regresses to the barter system. An upheaval occurs & people start using cash again. I don't care about royalties, I just wanna see what happens with this idea.

  10. You’ve summarized a SP episode. Good for you. Also, your heads up establishment arse. . Like money breh?! Ha ha sucka

  11. I forgot how fucking hilarious that episode was. Old South Park is an absolutely untouchable juggernaut of genius sarcasm and comedic timing. There's nothing better than Old South Park (seasons 1 – 9). NOTHING.

  12. A video on South Parks economics that doesn't involve Margaritaville, Goobacks, or Crack Baby Athletic Association? NANI!?

  13. We need more heros like you defending the poor little giant corporations running this world from the poor evil slave deplorables.

  14. No one who actually understands online debate is trying to convince the person with whom he/she is debating. The real audience is the neutral who might be passing by.

  15. Where is "Something Wall-Mart This Way Comes"? A pretty interesting examination of the relationship between Big Box retailers and the people who shop there or try desperately to avoid them.

  16. It's not called the "backfire effect" it's called cognitive dissonance. I'm not sure if you are patronizing your audience or have never heard of it?

  17. Just one thing.

    Capitalism isn't about making money at all costs. Everyone in the world wants to make more money. Some are more scrupulous than others.

    Capitalism is just an economic system with little to no regulations. The only regulating going on in true capitalism is the potential customer voting with his wallet. This really isn't good for potential businessmen because if their product sucks, their business will fail.

  18. I used to have hundreds of friends on Facebook but the vast majority of them was people I didn't even know or heard of so about 5 years ago I slimmed down and got rid of the vast majority of those friends down to about 20 to people I did know. People from school I used to know. That sort of thing. Actually social media is a complete waste of time when you think about it.

  19. I feel that the "Canada on Strike" should be featured here(!?) or possibly the "First Contact" episode…

  20. So you skipped margaritaville? That one episode almost covered all of these…"Randy Marsh: [On austerity] “We must stop frivolous spending! Instead of paying for cable, let us watch clouds! Instead of buying clothes, wear but sheets from thine beds! Cut spending to only the bare essentials! Water and bread and margaritas.”

  21. I teach High School economics, and I actually use the episode Margaritaville in my teaching in the financial sector and economic schools

  22. Think economics is HARD ?
    It's hard as Colorado mountains !

    You had to use Call to Adventure by Kevin McLeod, uh? :p

  23. I wish YouTube would recommend videos that I actually want to see instead of this garbage, but they only believe in tolerance for one group of folks. Please do not continue to upload content to YouTube, as this website supports hate. You feed a monster when you upload content to this website or view the ads. Please use a trusted ad-blocker to avoid financing Google's support of hate. Thank you, and do have a nice day.

  24. I love the fact I have zero Facebook friends.

    I will not look for you, I will not find you, and I won't kill you.

  25. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand it's gone! where the fuck was that episode at? WHY THE FUCK DIDN'T YOU COVER THAT YOU GOOD FOR NOTHING PIECE OF FUCKSAUCE

  26. That is what I said about/heard those that of 10:20 that the image of is more than top of the line to those that live in the economic world; a world that they can control…that is why their should be UBI https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1f-8hR4LtQScpYhLfjv1Uel1iDtPKaPFtUvl1HAMZaOo/edit#gid=0&range=J1442

  27. Problem with, just explaining economic value of a thing with " supply and demand " meanwhile there is theory of value is variable in economics. Homo economicus usually answers to this with; " Yeah, you wouldn't buy a bottle of water here for a 14ct diamond but will you, if you were in desert?"

  28. I told my grandparents, and now my parents, that if they want to give me a gift, just take that money and put it away for their retirement.  I would much rather not have to fund their retirement in the future, opposed to getting a gift now.

  29. They should teach a lesson on a controvesial issue and make the whole season breaking it down per episodes. Idk if this would be very entertaining for mass audiences, but i would love it

  30. Of course American Pie's favorite hilarious and religious Comedy Central cartoon South Park expand their humor by teaches us way more economics then those other Comedy Central cartoon.

  31. elon musk guys. elon musk. same deal, invent nothing, do nothing, just be an image, maybe produce some realy shit junk, and there you go. profit. if you got the "face".

  32. I enjoy your videos and find them very insightful, however I think your analysis of these episodes as a critique of capitalism is slightly misguided, considering both the creators of this series have libertarian leanings.

  33. Value is solely subjective and unmeasurable by numbers and can only be observed by tha value rankings each person places for each thing to reach their most valued ends. Price and market value is different than value, and value does not exist inherently but is percieved differently by different people

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *