Courtesy of Kenny in one of his various states of death.

Courtesy of
Kenny in one of his various states of death.

By Christopher Kim, Contributing Writer

We’ve all seen or heard about it. Something outlandish happens to kill Kenny; Stan and Kyle repeat the infamous lines, and life for the South Park residents moves on. Kenny magically reappears the next episode to meet his cyclical destiny of absurd death. As fans and the casual viewers of the series are aware of, this running gag happens in most of the 18 seasons.

For those that are not familiar with the series, South Park is a show centered on social commentary, abiding by the doctrine that everything and anything is up to be ridiculed. That means enlightened politicians like Rosie O’Donnell, the questionable foibles of Tom Cruise, whale killers, and even the creators themselves are up for an old fashioned roasting. The creators of the controversial show, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, call themselves “equal opportunity offenders” and reject any notion of putting forth an ideological standard.

In a segment dubbed “A Fireside Chat With Matt and Trey” featured in the beginning of episode four of season one, Matt Stone and Trey Parker were asked by the interviewer, “Why does Kenny die in every episode?” After a brief glance and smile towards each other, they facetiously respond, “Because he’s poor!”

So I went around the campus to ask what other students thought about the running gag. Angel Benjumea, a General Studies major, said, “It was funny at first and then it became a cult-like tradition.” Hanna Marmol, a Fine Arts major, also said, “Kenny mainly dies for the humor, but I also think there’s an underlying purpose. My friends once told me that Kenny is based off a childhood friend of the creators.” Mario Cuevas, a General Studies major said, “South park is a social commentary that comedically addresses sensitive topics without adhering to political correctness. With that in mind, I think it has something to do with that.”

Sewanou Capochichi, a General Studies major, said, “Kenny dies because he can’t express himself. He needs help and no one helps him. Maybe thats why he dies all the time.”

Kenny, like many other characters on the show such as Randy, Sharon, Stan, Shelly, and Kyle to name a few, is the product of inspiration from a childhood friend of Trey Parker named Kenny. In an interview conducted at the Paley Center in 2000, Trey Parker reveals the real Kenny wore the exact same orange jacket that muffled his speech. He also happens to be the poorest kid in the group just like in South Park.

After researching and analyzing South Park and its intelligently comical commentary nature, there are many parallels to be drawn from the running gag to middle class America’s attitude on the poor. It appears that society’s concern snowballs only when witnessing the persecution of the poor, as exemplified by Stan and Kyle’s brief moment of outrage after seeing Kenny’s brutal deaths. After this short outburst, the majority of people go back to their daily lives and forget about the ineffective philanthropic efforts, personal and systemic influences governing the economically impoverished. Because of American society’s general ineptitude to truly and collectively address and remedy the situation, the poor always remain poor and Kenny is resurrected to die again. The poor will always be in the background and poor Kenny will never be able to speak for himself.

The United States Census Bureau reports the official poverty rate for 2013 was 14.5%, 5% down from 2012. 45.3 Million people are living in poverty. The poverty rate for children under the age of 18 is 19.9%, down 2.9% from 2012.

Posted all over Facebook and other social media platforms, there is an infamous social, and rather informal, experiment conducted with a man wearing a sign that expletively stated something along the lines of, “Screw the poor.” He was bombarded by scathing remarks and people telling him the ideal way to help the poor. The next time he was out on the streets, he was holding a sign that stated, “Help the poor.” Like a marooned ship trapped in the tumultuous sea looking for a beacon of light, his desperate search yielded no results.

This may seem to be harsh criticism and certainly not towards all of the populace, but some definite questions must be answered. Are we the brunt of the joke? Are we the cause for the longevity of the running gag? Do we kill Kenny?