Cartman and Kyle make a trip to Jerusalem in last week’s episode of South Park, the longstanding animated series on the Comedy Central network known for its crude language, surreal comedy and social commentary.
Why do the boys leave snowy Colorado and show up in the Holy City on a stage in front of thousands of Jews, Christians and Muslims? Well, it’s kind of a weird story.
Cartman pulls a prank on Kyle (who is Jewish) by dressing up a cow with a curly red wig and painting red polka dots on it. He manages to convince some of the kids at South Park Elementary that cows, like people, can be ginger. Kyle doesn’t fall for it, and admonishes Cartman, “Even the dumbest lie can have big consequences.”
Of course, the devious and manipulative Cartman brushes off the warning. But before long, a trio of Haredi Jews from Jerusalem show up in the principal’s office urgently asking to see the red heifer — the extremely rare animal that was used in Temple times for a purification ritual, and which is also associated with a prophecy about the end of days. “The fate of the world is at stake!” they tell Kyle.
Kyle takes them to the cow, and all hell breaks loose when the rabbis see that a group of Muslims have beat them to the punch. Jews, Muslims and Christians — all of whom have prophetic traditions about the red heifer — gather at an Airport Hilton to hash out terms for Armageddon.
The series’ writers’ absurdist humor has them agreeing on the use of non-ballistic nuclear weapons and the decapitation of prisoners of war. Then suddenly, it occurs to the delegates that the ginger cow has brought the three religions together. Perhaps the prophecy is not about the end of days, but rather about the end of war!
The Jewish, Muslim and Christian masses all gather in Jerusalem for the sacrifice of the miraculous cow (in this case, by dropping it from a helicopter), and to herald an era of peace. The symbols of the three religions morph in to the logo for the hard rock band Van Halen, which plays for days as the crowd revels in a new age of global peace.
In the meantime, back in South Park, Cartman threatens to reveal the truth about the ginger cow. Kyle warns him not to, saying, “Nothing is more important for humanity than peace in the Middle East.” But Cartman being Cartman, he threatens to spill the beans unless Kyle does the sophomoric things he tells him to. Kyle sucks it up (quite literally, as Cartman forces him to eat his farts) and allows himself to be blackmailed. He even shaves his head and declares himself a martyr for the sake of world peace.
If the story isn’t absurd enough, it takes an even more bizarre twist at the end of the episode when the boys show up on stage in Jerusalem to be honored by the interreligious crowd. Suffice it to say that world peace doesn’t last longer than a few Van Halen songs.
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are known for taking less than a week to turn out episodes, which allows them to be thematically au courant should they choose to be. Perhaps we can take the airing of the “Ginger Cow” episode just as world powers were gathering to negotiate over Iran’s nuclear program as a reminder that when it comes to dealing the intractable issues of the Middle East, there is no disguising the fact that there are no miraculous solutions.