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South Park Rides Many Waves

Be true to yourself, and you’ll likely do well no matter what the cultural climate is.

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.

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  • Anonymous

    It’s true, Parker and Stone have quite the knack for addressing relevant topics in a humorous and highly irreverent way that resonates with their audience. :) And they appear to be genuinely nice guys who give a damn.

  • Jamie Moran

    South Park’s genius is in seeing the the world through the children’s eyes. They see the insanity of the world that the adults have created and are the voice of reason among the “rabble rabble rabble.” That, and lots of poo jokes.

    But below the ridiculous plotlines and crass humor are very relevant and cringeworthy reflections of a “Me” generation that took it one step too far. How people are to blame for the expansion of WalMart, rather than the WalMart itself, for example. They are very much alphas of the “We” cycle as they started in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. I love those guys.