Students Respect Authori-tay Of 'South Park' Class
The foul-mouthed fourth-graders from the TV show South Park have finally made it to college — as the subject of a new class.
South Park and Political Correctness is the brain child of Brooklyn College Adjunct Professor Brian Dunphy, who hopes the audacity of the series gives students an open environment for discussion.
Dunphy denies his course is a gimmick to get kids to attend class. "I found through teaching over the last four or five years that the real way to reach students of this age group is to relate to them as best as possible," he says. "They relate to humor; they relate to political correctness — because they're so aware of it."
They also relate to pop culture, Dunphy says, so why not create a class with one of his favorite TV shows? "And it works. Kids like to be entertained while they're being taught."
The frequently offensive cartoon is the jumping-off point for class discussion. "South Park is what gets us talking about the issues," Dunphy says. Because discussing politics or social issues can be difficult in an atmosphere where students are worried about offending someone, he says, isn't it better to "get the real offensive part out of the way and just have a real dialogue amongst people?"
In an episode called "Super Best Friends," for example, the characters draw the Prophet Muhammed. Dunphy notes that there were no complaints at the time — though the show first aired in July 2001. "The episode discussed religious pluralism — how every religion is good in its own way and each one learns from the other," he says.
Not much offense is taken in his class, however, despite some moments where Dunphy admits he's "taken it over the line in what [he's] trying to get them to think of." If students aren't offended in the beginning of the semester, he says, then "they're not going to be offended later."
One of his favorite episodes, titled "Best Friends Forever," was about assisted suicide. It aired as the Terry Schiavo story was unfolding and people were fighting about whether to remove the comatose woman's feeding tube. His class dissected the dialogue to uncover the arguments on both sides. "Once everyone started seeing what the messages were," Dunphy says, they saw how the writers "were offending the left and the right, because they're right in the center, pointing and laughing at each of them."
Dunphy received enthusiastic support when he proposed the course — though unorthodox — to his department. "Here was an opportunity for us to bring in a way that we want to teach them, which is to examine text critically."
"It's no different than an English class dissecting The Great Gatsby — except one uses foul-mouthed humor, the other one uses wonderful prose."
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