At least that’s the story from “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
In his New York Times media column, David Carr wrote,
The success of “South Park” is a stark lesson in the fundamentals of entertainment: if you tell stories that people want to hear, the audience will find you.
This is true no matter how fundamentally the paradigms shift, or how many platforms evolve.
“South Park” thrived the tail end of a “Me” cycle and it and Parker and Stone’s other works are doing quite well in our current “We” cycle. (For those of you unfamiliar with these “me” and “we” terms, they come from the book, Pendulum, written by my colleague Michael R. Drew and Roy H. Williams. Pendulum posits that we as a society move inexorably back and forth on an invisible pendulum and that our value judgments shift with predictable regularity. We alternate between 40-year cycles of “Me” thinking, such as hero-worship or undiluted freedom of expression, to 40-year “We” cycles, when we think in terms of community, small actions and togetherness. Our current “We” cycle began about a decade ago.)
As Stone said in the column, “We’ve been doing it long enough to figure out that content will ride on top of whatever wave comes along.” He was referring to how media and entertainment are distributed and how that’s changed, but also how they’ve managed to be successful over the course of almost a couple of decades.
The answer is that they are funny guys who have a keen business sense (they’ve just begun their own production company), who know that it’s not about them. They’ve succeeded in mocking cultural icons and inanities – which never goes out of style – and yet they’ve managed to make it not about the work, rather than their own personalities. This plays to an audience no matter what the era.
And as creators and businesspeople, they were smart enough to negotiate their deals so that they own what they produce, for the most part. This is something that any entrepreneur who’s seeking to build an audience through a platform and to create a book that will broaden his reach, should know. Your content should be shared – but in a way that you can benefit from it. If you’re giving away content on your platform, people will still want to hear what you have to say in person.
You can ride society’s waves by trusting in what you do, making it about the work, and offering people the transparency of your beliefs.