Today’s guest blogger is Kush Tavakoli, a friend of mine from college. After we graduated his job happened to be in my home town of Atlanta so whenever I came home, it was great to always have him there. What’s more is that he’s become an integral part of the writing process for The Zen of South Park. He’s going to talk here about his thoughts regarding the book and his experiences working on it. Feel free to leave comments and questions for him or send him an email at email@example.com. Without further ado, here he is:
It is difficult for a work of non-fiction to have an emotional pinball machine effect on the reader. Religion is an old subject; Christianity, in particular, pervades every aspect of Western Civilization, and even texts that are pointedly anti-religious seem to necessitate religion as a foil to create their own meaning. The complexity of the issue of religion is such that many, upon reading the book, will have their own preconceived notions on the subject.
In a sense, every person is a potential reader for a book on religion, because every person has beliefs that shape the way that he or she perceives and interacts with the world. I was a potential reader. As I read and edited the text, I felt the jerking about of my own proclivities (as Solomon calls them) in response to the messages he elucidates and expounds upon. Given the fact that we have such preconceived notions, why do we have this pinball feeling upon reading a book that we might think can have little effect on an outlook on life, whatever outlook that is for us, that we have spent so much time considering, testing and revising, and ultimately believing in?
Part of this reaction is Solomon’s use of South Park as the medium for this discussion. In our long conversations on the subject matter, his use of South Park as the driving force for the book was not just because of its outrageous use of religious subjects, imagery, and topics; it was because South Park actually deals with religion in a much more subtle, sensitive manner than we might discern on our own, because he had a genuine appreciation for their viewpoints, and because it provided a manner for him to explore and convey his own opinions through the underlying points made throughout the book.
South Park is outrageous. The use of the word “sensitive” in the paragraph above did not refer to pillow talk sensitivity, but to the type of sensitivity one might have performing an autopsy. What may look like violent mutilation of subjects as serious as pedophilia, crucifixion, global warming, homosexuality, and family, upon reading of The Zen of South Park, looks like careful removal and examination of critical organs of a living entity. For a child to know that a heart is not shaped like a heart requires the picture of a heart; for an adult to sketch the heart requires the curiosity and discipline to extract and examine a heart for the first time. For the viewer, witnessing these gross surgical operations performed by a seemingly unsqueamish doctor results in knee-jerk reactions to the subject matter that more theological or purely rational examinations might not inspire.
It isn’t just that South Park is outrageous that results in these types of reactions. The complexity of the operations performed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone are such that it is difficult, given the assumed attention span of the reader and the associated publisher’s requirements for the length of the book, to break them down, expose them technically, and convey their meaning – briefly. Solomon is able to do this, but the speed with which the points are addressed is such that in a few sentences, the reader might react with vehemence to one point, only to find him or herself in staunch agreement later in the paragraph.
Even reading other nonfiction with the speed to point and outrageousness of subject provided by Solomon’s analysis of South Park, the reader might still not experience the feeling of being bandied about quite so forcefully if not for the gravity of the subject. As mentioned before, every reader has thoughts and opinions on religion. However consciously pursued and actively coalesced, and with what degree of conviction, may vary from person to person, but we all have notions, ideologies, beliefs, religion; some framework for understanding the world around us, that this book will, to some degree, challenge. This challenge provides that force.
When Solomon asked me to comment on his book in the context of my own thoughts on this subject, my first thought was on the specific experiences that have shaped my views on religion, but what I have realized is that the uniqueness of my experience is not as relevant as the fact that I have had an experience, and coming to this conclusion, I can only expect that we all have an experience. South Park is a challenge, and in many ways, reading this book is an acceptance of a greater challenge: to explore these issues in such technical detail that we are fully exposed to our own spiritual anatomy. Whether this challenge results in the rethinking of our beliefs, exposing notions hidden buried in consciousness, or a rough confirmation, the challenge is worth accepting.