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South Park and Philosophy: You Know, I Learned Something Today (The Blackwell Philosophy & Pop Culture Series) Paperback – November 14, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With a firm belief in the power of satire, and a number of complicated questions-including the morals of laughing at a ten-year-old's racist, sexually active hand-puppet-author and philosophy professor Arp presents an accessible collection of 22 essays on Comedy Central's controversial, long-running cartoon series South Park. Drawing on the usual suspects-Plato, Aristotle, Freud and Sartre among them-the contributors gleefully argue that the fiercely juvenile and politically incorrect show speaks to some of the most important issues of our-or any-time. In the first entry, William W. Young III draws comparisons between moralizing condemnation of South Park and the charges "leveled against Western philosophy since its beginnings" in a section titled "Oh my God! They Killed Socrates! You Bastards!" Other essays take on the "ethics of amusement" in the face of a Virgin Mary statue bleeding from a wholly inappropriate place, the existential crisis suggested by the Kenny's recurrent death and what a school mascot election between "a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich" says about America's two-party political system. Though the laundry list of philosophical issues-gender and sexuality, personal identity, the problem of evil, religious pluralism, the ethics of belief-feels familiar, and some of the writers' attempts at lowbrow humor can be embarrassingly off-mark, it's a serious but inviting roundup that high-minded South Park fans, as well as pop-philosophy devotees, will find worthwhile.
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"Twenty-two philosophers can’t be wrong. Here to confirm suspicions that a relevant subtext exists beneath the potty-mouthed facade of Comedy Central’s “South Park” (now in its 10th season) is this indispensable collection of thought-provoking essays." Boston Herald, January 5, 2007.

“Move over, Kant. South Park and Philosophy embodies a new categorical imperative: Read this collection, laugh, and think.”
Nick Gillespie, Editor-in-Chief of Reason magazine

“Give Cartman some hemlock to drink so he can join Socrates for a meeting of the minds! Troubled by such philosophical conundrums as free will and determinism or the existence of God? Worry no more. Here you will find the way, the truth, and the light. Or not. Either way, if this book can’t interest this generation in philosophy, then we’re all screwed.”
Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, and the author of Why Darwin Matters

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Blackwell Publishing; 1 edition (December 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1405161604
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405161602
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #939,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I received my PhD in Philosophy from Saint Louis University in the 2004-2005 school year, then was a philosophy professor for a couple of years before doing a postdoc in ontologies (in the information science sense; to learn more about ontology, see the Wikipedia page for a start), which led me into the work I do now. My interests include: Western philosophy in general, philosophy and popular culture, ontology, and data modeling. I have done a lot of teaching, researching, presenting, editing, and publishing in the areas mentioned above, and in other areas, too.

See my website at:

I am author of Scenario Visualization: An Evolutionary Account of Creative Problem Solving (MIT Press, 2008); co-author of Building Ontologies with Basic Formal Ontology (MIT Press, in preparation), Philosophy DeMYSTiFieD (McGraw-Hill, 2011), Critical Thinking: An Introduction to Reasoning Well (Continuum Press, 2011), and What's Good on TV? Teaching Ethics through Television (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011); editor of 1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think (Simon & Schuster, 2013), South Park and Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2006), Tattoos-Philosophy for Everyone: I Ink, Therefore I Am (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), Psych and Philosophy (Open Court, 2013), Homeland and Philosophy (Open Court, 2014), The Devil and Philosophy (Open Court, 2014), and Aquinas' Proofs for God's Existence in the 21st Century (Rodopi, 2015); co-editor of Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), Philosophy of Biology: An Anthology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), Information and Living Systems: Philosophical and Scientific Perspectives (MIT Press, 2011), Contemporary Debates in Bioethics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), Batman and Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), Breaking Bad and Philosophy (Open Court, 2012), The Good Wife and Philosophy (Open Court, 2013), The Philosophy of Ang Lee (University Press of Kentucky, 2013), The Philosophy of J.J. Abrams (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), and Philosophical Approaches to the Devil and Related Ideas (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 78 people found the following review helpful By DonAthos on January 14, 2007
Format: Paperback
South Park and Philosophy is a mixed bag.

Myself, I'm a fan of both topics--as are probably you--and I was interested to see some professionals dissect the philosophy as presented in South Park. After all, as any fan of the series knows, South Park is awash in ideas and debate.

A few of the essays included are pretty good--they present a light overview of some philosophical argument and then show how South Park has approached it over the years it's run.

Most of the essays, however, don't do such a good job. A sadly high number of the authors (a collection of Associate Professors, and a few full ones) seemingly have only seen one episode of South Park, and so they write based on that very limited knowledge. Some of the essays are just explanations of a philosophical argument, with only South Park character names or quotes put in to pander to the reader. Allow me to cite a couple of the worse offenders:

John Scott Gray, writing about voting and democracy in South Park, breaks apart his discussion (almost exclusively about "Douches and Turds") with subtitles, the first of which being "Douches and Turds, Y'all." Alright, understandable subtitle. Acceptable. But note the others: "Yeah, Boy...Getting, Keeping and Using the Right to Vote"; "Gettin' Schooled at College, Dawg"; "Yo...Your Candidate is In the House"; "The C to the H to the O to the I to the C to the E"; "You Wanna Third Party, G?"; and, best of all, "Stability in the Political Ghetto, My Homey."

It's obvious that Gray neither watches South Park, nor even understands its place in the culture. Whatever South Park is, it isn't "gangsta'", and it wouldn't take watching that many episodes to get that...
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kelly L. Norman VINE VOICE on April 22, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've read a few of the "South Park illuminates the world" books, and this is the only one that satisfies the thinking fan without being too awestruck and hyperbolic. Not only because it's a great apologia for the most juvenile jokes in the TV series, but because it links Trey Parker & Matt Stone to a whole plethora of philosophers (if philosophers don't come in plethoras, I think they should). The only part in whichI didn't see the connection was in the ideas of Catherine McKennon, which is linked somehow with the episode in which a new racy style girls' clothing shop becomes all the rage of the third graders. But that might be because McKennon is on a totally different planet from me, philosophically. On the other hand, that reflects one of the good points about this book, and about South Park itself: even if you're offended by some of this, you might learn something today.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By T. Lawson on June 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
But then so could a lot of other things. Like the government... people's attitudes... the taste of a lot of tacos...

You can't really help it; some things fall expectations.

When you look at this book's cover, you brace yourself for hilarious comedy. If you read enough you know that there was a book for the Simpsons relating the show to philosophy. It was just South Park's turn.

Now, it's true that the individual writers could've gone more in depth with a few topics. Personally, I feel like the "gender and sexuality" chapter should've been MUCH longer. But it did explain relevant aspects of philosophy in terms the layman could understand. I mean, come on, what better concept is there than using South Park to relate to philosophy? It bares the bones on a lot of terminology and historical (as well as contemporary) figures in the field and it even lets you feel like you're smart for watching South Park (because it's SO philosophical, really!)

I may sound sarcastic, but I'm a fan of the show. There's a reason why they resort to that humor a lot of the time - you've just got to poke fun at both sides in the most extremist of fashions.

The book is divided into chapters, whereupon those chapters are written by different people, Arp himself included. Different writing styles, different lengths to the chapters, and always a unique voice that keeps in mind how absurd the series is - and loves it.

If you're a fan and you'd like to know more about philosophy, pick up the book - it wouldn't hurt. Philosophy majors might see things wrong with the book, but come on, 261 pages can't honestly harness all philosophy has to offer. And it's South Park. There's only so much material you can milk out of it to compare to Nietzsche.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. Carpenter on January 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
Walter DeRoeck says,

"I was thrilled when I got this book, as I am a longtime South Park fan. The philosophy dealing with South Park is very interesting. Of course, I was expecting this book to be about what other philosophers thought of Matt and Trey's ideas through South Park. The great news is that I was right.

Honestly, I do think that the book has MORE to do with South Park and Philosophy than any other book on South Park and Philosophy. The chapters are written by the likes of people doing work in philosophy, political science, literature, and musicology, with South Park playing a huge role in each section. The synopses of the episodes are anything but piss-poor.

The authors have an obviously thorough knowledge of South Park, giving very complete analyses. Especially elucidating is the chapter relating to the "Vote or Die, Bitch" episode; the author must have watched it many times.

Also the way the author handled the "Gay Marriage" section is thought-provoking. In fact, that chapter presents one of the fairest and most elucidating analyses of gay marriage I have ever read.

What I like most about the book, however, is the fact that the authors were not just using the South Park name to sell some books.

In short: the book is great, and has everything to do with South Park; the sections are accurate and true to the show; and the authors didn't twist things around to make things say what they wanted them to. It's a must read for any South Park fan."
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