Sunday, February 1, 2009

just a daywalker

He said it between forkfuls of lasagna and Caesar salad.

“So, did you get kicked today?”

I stared at my uncle over my wine-glass and tried to form a coherent response. He chewed, nonchalant. I felt the awkward discomfiture of someone on the cusp of an inside joke, but a glance around the table told me no one else was getting it, either. And then came the epiphany, personified in my mind’s eye as Eric Cartman’s flabby face. I made a physically improbable snort-laugh noise into my Merlot.

Last year, as one of many convenient distractions from my studies, I became a South Park fan. In an online stash of old episodes, nestled in 2005’s Season Nine, I discovered the infamous #9.11: “Ginger Kids”. I clicked. And proceeded to erupt in sporadic giggles for the next twenty-three minutes.

The episode begins as perpetually malevolent Eric Cartman delivers a hate speech for his class presentation. “Ginger kids,” he counsels his schoolmates, “are born with a disease which causes very light skin, red hair, and freckles. This disease is called Gingervitis, and it occurs because ginger kids have no souls.” He compares the ginger gene to vampirism, because gingers are cursed and must avoid sunlight. He says that Judas was a redhead, and what did Judas do? He killed Jesus.

When red-haired Kyle objects with fury, saying he doesn’t have to stay out of the sun, Cartman explains that Kyle is in a separate category of “daywalkers,” people with red hair but lacking light skin and freckles. The other children agree. Ginger kids are promptly barred from the cafeteria; they shuffle sadly into the hallway with their paper-bag lunches.

You can blast South Park all you want. It’s crude, it’s crass. But it often says what everyone else is too afraid to say – with politically incorrect metaphors, of course. Personally, I’m convinced it’s all in good leftist fun.

In this case, the thinly-veiled comparison to racism stems from so-called gingerism, a discriminatory phenomenon prevalent in the UK but virtually unheard of in Canada. Sure, I’ve been called ‘carrot-top’ and ‘ginger’. But affectionately – never as insults. And admittedly, I’ve lived it up; for Halloween I’ve dressed up as Pippi, Little Red Riding Hood, and an authentically kilted Scot. Red hair is a built-in costume accessory. I’ve felt that it sets me apart, in a way, but I’ve never actually felt ashamed.

This past November, three years after the episode aired, a fourteen-year-old boy from Courtenay, BC created a Facebook group to promote an event. “National Kick a Ginger Day,” designated as November 20, 2008, attracted over 4,700 members. Its tagline? “Get them steel toes ready!” The friend who sent me the link thought it was pretty funny. I did, too.

Problem was, some kids really did get kicked. One 13-year-old recalls being hit at least 80 times. Some came home with bruises. Some refused to go to school at all, frightened by threats all week preceding the infamous date. And Canada… well, Canada freaked out. Teachers, school administrators and anti-bullying activists across the nation saw red (sorry, it was too easy).

So, the group was shut down. The teen issued a public apology, after a little friendly nudging from the local police department. Screenshots of hateful Facebook posts flashed between South Park clips on CBC. Poor misguided children, influenced by a terrible TV show!

No one in the real world seems to acknowledge that by the end of the episode, the situation reverses itself. Cartman gets a taste of his own medicine; the rest of the gang sneak into his room at night, dye his hair red, bleach his skin, and tattoo henna freckles on his face. Upon awakening, Cartman promptly proclaims gingers to be a superior race and founds a Red Power movement. But no, South Park is bad. It corrupts our children.

I'm not saying that little kids should be watching it. But... come on.

I survived the day miraculously kick-free. No pokes, no nudges, not a single friendly tap, even. And until Uncle Mark spoke up I’d forgotten completely about the occasion. I guess I’m not a real ginger kid – I’m just a second-class daywalker, not good enough for people’s shoes.

No comments:

Post a Comment