Section 1: Empathic Arguments
1. The Concerned Parents
- The Question: Why would you demand the firing of an excellent teacher over what seems such a small matter?
- The temptation is to caricature these parents as ignorant, hyper-religious yahoos, real life versions of Dana Carvey's "Church Lady" or Ned Flanders.
- "Siege Mentality": the fierceness of the attack on Sydney McGee grows from the feeling, among devout Christian parents, that they are in a constant, losing battle against popular music, television, youth culture, and the internet, which constantly devalue their beliefs and undermine their ability to instill proper values in their children.
- Parents feel intense bitterness and resentment because society labels them "Bible-thumpers," "nutjobs," etc. for their efforts to preserve their values for their children.
- Parents have an intense fear that their children, who are out of their protection and supervision at public school, are having their values undermined by fellow students and teachers.
- Given these fears, parents place tremendous trust in teachers to respect their values; when a teacher shows their child inappropriate sexual material, parents experience it as a deep betrayal of that trust.
2. Sympathetic/Apathetic Parents
- The Question: Why would you allow these fundamentalists to hijack public education in this town?
- Thinner argument: We are expressing tolerance and sympathy for a marginalized minority.
- More likely argument: It is impossible to beat the evangelicals on every issue. They are too influential in the community, too well organized, too numerous (these parents' cause will be taken up by the entire population of devout Christians in the community, regardless of whether these people have chilren at Wilma Fisher or not). We have to pick our battles, and this battle is not worth it.
3. School Administration
- The Question: Why would crumble so quickly and fire your a teacher in response to the demands of a few upset parents?
- The temptations are to accuse the school of throwing Ms. McGee under the bus to appease the fundamentalists and avoid trouble.
- It is necessary to fire Ms. McGee to demonstrate responsiveness to the values of the community, to restore the school's credibility in the eyes of the parents, and to punish her for breach of professional duties
4. Empathic Appeal to Concerned Parents
- My theory: if the Concerned Parents can be convinced to drop their crusade against Ms. McGee, the Sympathetic/Apathetic Parents and the School Administration would gladly return Ms. McGee's job to her.
- Ms. McGee did not allow those children to see the naked statues out of malice toward their parents; it was an innocent mistake rather than conscious effort to undermine parents' values.
- The children adore her and want to learn from her. Ms. McGee is an outstanding art teacher and, whatever one thinks of her mistake, it's better for the children to have her in the classroom than out of it.
- Proportionality: even if one thinks that Ms. McGee was dead wrong for failing to warn parents about the nude artwork, one cannot justify inflicting on her the devastating financial and emotional consequences of this firing, based on that single mistake.
5. The "Rove Figure"
- Rove wants to seem a big, important man in his child's eyes, so he gets Ms. McGee fired to show his power to his child.
- Rove resents Ms. McGee for being better educated, haughty, pretentious, liberal, and a Kerry voter.
Section 2: Plot Synopsis
Scene 1: Schoolâs Argument
The fifth graders of South Park Elementary, including Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman, are in art class. Instead of Ms. McGee, a new art teacher, Ms. Adkins, greets the children and announces sheâll be their art teacher now. Stan asks why, and Ms. Adkins tells the children about the parentsâ complaints against Ms. McGee and the schoolâs decision to fire her. Kyle demands an explanation for the firing. Ms. Adkins presents the school administrationâs argument.
The scene ends with Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny angrily discussing Ms. McGeeâs firing.
Scene 2: Chefâs Spooked
The children go to Chef to complain about Ms. McGeeâs firing. In response to their requests that he sing them a song involving making sweet love down by the fireplace (note to non-South Park fans, Chef frequently sings the children songs about making sweet love down by the fireplace), Chef nervously accuses the kids of making up crazy stories. When the kids persist Chef yells at them, warning them that theyâll get him fired, and telling them to get the hell away from him before anyone hears. The kidsâ discontent grows.
Scene 3: The Broflovskis
Kyle comes home. Mr. and Mrs. Broflovski are on the couch watching television. Kyle starts to relay the news of Ms. McGeeâs dismissal, but his parents tell him that they already know all about it because the principal called a special-purpose PTA meeting to get the parentsâ approval before firing McGee. Kyle asks whether they stood up for Ms. McGee and made the sort of impassioned pleas to save her job that he himself would make. No, they didnât. First, they attempt to justify their acquiescence as tolerance. Kyle is having none of it. Privately, Mr. Broflovski fesses up to Kyle and delivers the the âpick your battlesâ argument.
Scene 4: The Marshes
Stan comes home and discusses Ms. McGeeâs firing with his parents. Unlike the Broflovskis, they stood up for Ms. McGee in the best way they knew how: by calling the concerned parents ignorant fundamentalist hillbillies. Stanâs father explains that vicious name-calling in the purpose of social change is the âspirit of the Sixties.â Nevertheless, their efforts were unsuccessful, and ABCâs primetime lineup is far more important these days than pursuing doomed but socially just causes to their bitter end.
Scene 5: Monday Lunch
Kyle, Stan, Cartman, and Kenny pick up their lunch trays and go over to Chefâs station. To their surprise, they find a skinny white guy in a chefâs hat behind the lunch counter. Chef has taken a job at another school, fearing that he would soon be fired. He has left the boys a note: âDear Children, Iâm leaving before your crazy cracker-ass parents get me fired me too. Good luck, Chef.â This is the last straw; the children resolve to act. After a brief huddle, Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny circulate throughout the lunchroom, spreading the wordâ¦
Scene 6: The Walkout
Back in their regular classroom, the children, led by Stan, refuse to go to their new art class, staging a walkout in the playground as a protest of the schoolâs treatment of Ms. McGee and the loss of Chef. Mr. Garrison doesnât particularly care, and is already reading an Us Magazine as the kids walk out. One child refuses to join the protesting kids and is dragged out by Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny.
Scene 7: Rove Revealed
It turns out that the kid who refused to walk out with the others is the child of the heretofore anonymous complaining parent, Carter Rove (yes, he is essentially a parody of Carl Rove). Rather than being upset by Ms. McGeeâs firing, he is proud of it, as it shows his fatherâs power and influence. The kid (little Billy Rove) tells the story of how his father, a jackass but not a religious fundamentalist, resolved to get Ms. McGee fired.
Scene 8: Concerned Parents
The Scene cuts to South Park church. Inside, Rove, with Father Maxiâs help, has gathered like 20 parents to have a meeting about this catastrophe of which Rove has just been informed. Rove begins getting the evangelicals fired up by talking about the schoolâs betrayal of their values and showing the parents poster-sized pictures of the statues the children saw. Note: these pictures are from the Dallas Museum of Artâs website and are listed as part of the museumâs permanent collection. In reality, no one knows exactly which works the children saw, but these are the likely candidates.
The discussion within the church, in which several parents and Rove participate, amounts to the Concerned Parentsâ Argument in Section 1. At then end, one of the parents asks âWell what can we do about it?â Rove knows exactly what to do about it.
Scene 9: The Walkout Fails
Cut back to the playground. Billy Rove explains how his dad took all the âreligious nutsâ to Principal Victoriaâs office and demanded that she fire Ms. McGee. Then Billy describes how Rove had everyone but his son leave the room so that he could play some hardball with the Principal, threatening to use these crazed evangelicals (and the vast memberships of their churches) to stir up the press, picket the school, and generally make it impossible to run the place. Heâll have the religious kooks of South Park, along with his golf buddies on the school board, get Principal Victoria fired, and perhaps run out of town altogether, if she doesnât get rid of Ms. McGee.
After Billy finishes his story, and exchanges insults with Stan and Kyle, their friend Craig informs them that the walkout is about to disband. Terrence and Philip is about to come on (for those who are not South Park fans, T&P is a cartoon about a pair of flatulent Canadians who fart on one anotherâs heads), and itâs a particularly compelling episode involving the pair being locked in a haunted baked beans factory. The playground rapidly empties, leaving Stan, Kyle, and Kenny (obviously Cartman has run off) to contemplate their failure.
Scene 10: The PTA Meeting
Despite Principal Victoriaâs objections (the last thing she wants to do is revisit the McGee mess), the superintendent has demanded another special PTA meeting, in view of the recent student protests, to consider reinstatement of Ms. McGee. At the new meeting, things seem to be going to plan. The concerned parents reiterate their argument and express their gratitude to the sympathetic/apathetic parents for those parentsâ support. A sympathetic parent reiterates the phony tolerance argument. Then, Mr. Marsh, and his small and angry cadre of dissenters, barges into the gymnasium to renew his verbal onslaught on the âBible-thumping rubesâ who refuse to reinstate Ms. McGee. Verbal hostility degenerates into physical hostility, and as the parents fight, Stan and the other fifth graders grab the opportunity to take the podium. The shock of Kennyâs accidental death in the melee (for non-South Park fans, Kenny dies every episode, or used to), quiets the feuding parents enough to give Stan a minute to speak from the podium. He makes the empathic argument to the concerned parents.
As between the clichÃ©d happy ending and the darker, potentially realistic ending, Iâm having trouble choosing. The happy ending would demonstrate the power of empathic argument to change minds. The concerned parents would agree to reinstatement of Ms. McGee (though not necessarily to drop their grudge against her entirely). With the concerned parents reasonably placated, the sympathetic/apathetic parents would happily vote to give Ms. McGee her job back, and the school administration would oblige them. The darker ending would be for Rove to point out that in his little speech, Stan employed the word âpenisâ as in âwhen those kids saw that statueâs penisâ and that thatâs the sort of filth everyone can expect if Ms. McGee comes back to school. Incensed anew, the concerned parents hold fast to their conviction that McGee must go; the sympathetic/apathetic parents accordingly fall in line and the school reconfirms its decision to fire Ms. McGee. Stan is left to ponder the boundless idiocy and pettiness of grown-ups.