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The South Park Episode That Aged So Poorly The Writers Had To Apologize

"South Park" has grown to become one of the most irreverent and influential satires of our time. Having aired for over two decades, the series has managed to keep its finger on the pulse of modern pop culture by regularly producing episodes back to back just as major news events or celebrity scandals are breaking. 

This strategy has managed to keep "South Park" relevant even after so many years on the air. Not only is the show still successful after over 20 seasons, but it's also flourishing, with its creators having signed a jaw-dropping $900 million deal with ViacomCBS (via Bloomberg). 

However, the success of the series has not come without its share of controversy. While "South Park" has regularly been criticized for going too far when taking down its celebrity targets or for being too vulgar, the creators have rarely apologized or backtracked on their creations. Still, there's one episode that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone seemingly felt the need to address in particular.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone regret minimizing climate change

In 2006, "South Park" aired an episode titled "ManBearPig." With the hype surrounding Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," Trey Parker and Matt Stone crafted an episode set on taking the former vice president of the United States down a peg. To satirize the politician and climate activist, they reimagined Gore touring around the country and giving talks about a fictional monster called ManBearPig. Despite the skepticism he regularly receives, Gore continues to exclaim and insist that the creature is real and a threat to us all.

While the episode still has some funny moments, it's aged increasingly poorly as the evidence for climate change has stacked up over the years (via NASA). For this reason, never afraid to turn the harsh light onto themselves, the "South Park" creators reversed course by making an episode called "Time to Get Cereal," where ManBearPig is shown to be just as real and dangerous as Gore warned. Though the episode doesn't contain an outright apology, it does feature characters feeling bad about how they didn't take Gore seriously and how they shouldn't have made fun of him so needlessly. While that might not be enough for those who took issue with "ManBearPig," it's likely the best they're going to get from the "South Park" creators.

Al Gore offered his own thoughts on the ManBearPig saga

Although the "South Park" follow-up to "ManBearPig" doesn't contain any outright apologies to the real-life Al Gore, the former vice president does seem to be glad that the show addressed the issue at all. During a 2018 appearance on "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah," Gore was asked about the saga by a member of the audience. For his part, Gore seemed to take it all in stride and appeared to accept the follow-up episode as an apology in and of itself. 

"Honestly, I was so impressed," Gore said about "Time to Get Cereal," specifically bringing up the fact that the episode saw the character's acknowledging the existence of ManBearPig. "I don't know these guys, Matt and Trey, and I kind of thought they were nihilists of sorts ... but funny nihilists," Gore continued. "And when they came out with this new thing, and they had the kids come and seek me out to help them, but my character forces them to apologize. And they all say, 'Oh we're so sorry, Al Gore, ManBearPig is real!' I thought it was a hell of a statement by 'South Park' and I appreciated it a lot."

Not only did Gore clearly express his gratitude, but his laughter throughout his statement implies that he maintains a good sense of humor regarding the whole ordeal. And as it turns out, Gore isn't the only person who appreciates that Trey Parker and Matt Stone revisited the issue. 

Most fans are glad the creators changed course

On the r/southpark subreddit, fans discussed the history of the episode and the later reversal from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. "The weird thing is that ManBearPig is supposed to be an allegory for climate change, but real climate change also exists in the world of South Park," observed u/Nonesuch1221 in a thread on the subject.

The character absolutely has a complicated legacy over the course of the series. However, another "South Park" fan weighed in to help clarify matters. "If I'm not mistaken, at that time, Trey and Matt didn't believe climate change was real," wrote another user. "They also thought that Al Gore was an egotistical moron who makes everything about himself, and climate change was the new thing he was doing for attention and validation," the user concluded. "Since then, they've apologized to him."

Why it's important that South Park addressed the issue

Well, that certainly helps to sort things out. It probably doesn't help matters that a large swathe of "South Park" viewers are preteens and teenagers, meaning they could have easily missed the nuance of such a charged political issue on their first viewings, as pointed out by The Daily Beast. Along with other risque animated series like "Family Guy" and "Beavis and Butt-Head," there has long been controversy around the idea of younger people engaging with such content. But while those who originally saw the episode may have not received the right message, the fact that "South Park" reversed course shows that the debate is more nuanced than it first appears. 

All in all, it's nice to see Trey Parker and Matt Stone show some contrition regarding the issue, as it suggests that they're not afraid to own up to their past mistakes. And that's a pretty good lesson for people of all ages to learn.