Matt Stone and Trey Parker Interview with Charlie Rose Reveals Zen Buddhism at the Heart of South Park

I really enjoyed this interview between Matt Stone and Trey Parker and Charlie Rose.  Not only was it fun and interesting, but Trey Parker said something that vindicates the very title of my book. The Zen of South Park.

He said:

“The people screaming on this side, and the people screaming on that side are the same people.” After watching South Park, “all in all, at the end of the day they’ll be a little more Zen Buddhist.”

Well, if calling my book The Zen of South Park doesn’t make more sense than putting peanut-butter and jelly in the same jar, I don’t know what does.

What did you think of the interview?

Want a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park?

Enjoy posts on specific South Park episodes.

Zen Talk: A Reminder to Live in the Moment

“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”

Everyone needs a good ol’ reminder to live in the present, and that is just what this quote is. Be in the moment of what you’re doing.

It’s very hard to pay attention to the things that you’re doing because our lives are inundated with stimuli and distractions, whether from television, work, life planning or what have you. Our own thoughts preclude our ability to live in the moment – rather than pay attention to the meal in front of us, we think about that look Suzy at work was making when we were talking to Joe. But why? Why can’t we take a nice walk and enjoy the sites and smells around us rather than dwell on the past or plan for the future.

Live in the moment and enjoy life.

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Similarly, enjoy more Zen Talk.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 211-216 Speaks of Familiar Things and a Single Community

When verse 213 says that “men belonged to a single community,” is it saying that at one point we were all the same and only later separated or is it just referring to a single community? I’m not clear because of what follows it: God sent them messengers and the Book. If Book is a reference to originally sending the Bible, then it wasn’t to everyone, it was to the Israelites. Similarly, if Book refers to the Quran then there wasn’t one community at the time. So what is this reference to a single community? Is it a state of nature kind of thing?

I also find verse 216 particularly interesting. Bad things (e.g. fighting) is good for us and things that please us aren’t good for us. Only God knows. I find this particularly interesting because people often insist that certain things are or aren’t good for us – marijuana, sex, skiing, television, fat, etc. – and though we seek to find out and solve these riddles, many of our actual conclusions come down to moral or cultural judgments. E.g. Fat is ugly and bad (it’s not); marijuana is bad for you and should be illegal (worse things are legal); sex is wrong before marriage (for much of human history the convention didn’t exist – was the procreation wrong?), etc. Only God knows what’s really good and bad for us, so why do we keep trying to push our views on others?

Thanks for being a part of Quran Read-A-Long and leaving your thoughts with us, answering some of my questions and elaborating on other parts of these verses that I missed.

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read More Quran Read-A-Long.

The Cow 211-216

211. Ask the children of Israel how many a clear sign We had given them. But if one changes the favor of God after having received it, then remember, God is severe in revenge. 212. Enamored are the unbelievers in the life of this world, and scoff at the faithful. But those who keep from evil and follow the straight path will have a higher place than they on the Day of Reckoning; for God gives in measure without number whomsoever He will. 213. Men belonged to a single community, and God sent them messengers to give them happy tidings and warnings, and sent the Book with them containing the truth to judge between them in matters of dispute; but only those who received it differed after receiving clear proofs, on account of waywardness (and jealousies) among them. Then God by His dispensation showed those who believed the way to the truth about which they were differing; for God shows whom He please the path that is straight. 214. Do you think you will find your way to Paradise even though you have not known what the others before you have gone through? They had suffered affliction and loss, and were shaken and tossed about so that even the Apostle had to cry out with his followers: “When will the help of God arrive?” Remember, the help of God is ever at hand. 215. They ask you of what they should give in charity. Tell them: “What you can spare of your wealth as should benefit the parents, the relatives, the orphans, the needy, the wayfarers, for God is not unaware of the good deeds that you do.” 216. Enjoined on you is fighting, and this you abhor. You may dislike a thing yet it may be good for you; or a thing may haply please you but may be bad for you. Only God has knowledge, and you do not know.

The Boys Uncover the Cough Syrup Conspiracy in South Park Episode 811, “Quest for Ratings”

In this episode, the boys have a South Park Elementary television show, and they’re competing with Craig’s show for ratings. If they can’t do better than he does in teh ratings their show will be canceled and they will all fail. At first, they dramatically alter what they’re giving their viewers, adding all kinds of ridiculous elements and making fun of local area news.

They decide that they need to do some real investigating in order to break a real news story, and for inspiration they drink a bunch of cough syrup and trip balls. What they end up uncovering is that everyone is doing cough syrup – how they come to this conclusion is something that you’ll need to watch the episode to find out.

I think the episode is a good commentary about a. the terrible quality of local news, b. the unnecessary emphasis on television ratings and how that can destroy a show’s integrity and actual quality and c. the crappy television that children like to watch…and why.

What did you think of this episode?

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read about other South Park episodes.

Fancast Proves Great News for Avid Television Watchers – Read This, Then Check it Out for Yourself

If you’re like me there are more tevision shows out there than you have the ability to remember to watch. The other day I found myself crying, “What!?” when a friend turned me onto a new site called Fancast that pretty much solved this problem for me.

What There Was

We all know places online where we can watch television for free. A lot of these places are more trouble than they’re worth: the streaming takes forever or blips, the quality is crummy, they’re getting shut-down for some kind of copyright infringement. I stopped watching tv online in the hopes of something better one day coming along. It has.

What Came Along

Fancast is quickly becoming one of the largest spots on the internet for watching all of our favorite television shows hassle-free and in great quality. Now, as a blog about South Park, you’d think I’d have trouble giving props to a site whose South Park section is a bit shy of stellar. However, as most great South Park fans know, the official South Park Studios site provides every episode of South Park for free so that’s already no trouble to watch. But what about all the other great tv out there?

Shows I Want to Be Watching

I love a whole bunch of other shows, like Dexter, Heroes, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the Tudors, Family Guy, the Simpsons, Burn Notice, Two and a Half Men and others. Frankly, I never thought there was so much tv that I wanted to watch, but there is. I hardly ever remember to watch it all and when my girlfriend wants to watch something else, I often have to yield my remote control (after all, I do get it 98.4% of the time).

How Fancast Has Awesomed Up My TV Watching

With Fancast I never really miss these shows anymore so whether the lady has taken the remote, the show is from a station I don’t get (Showtime or HBO) or I just forget it’s on, I can always go check out Fancast which keeps all of my personal favorites in a list and you know what else – it even sends me reminders when it gets new episodes of my favorite shows! Thus, even if I forget about the program, Fancast has me covered.

Fancast also makes it really easy to get into new shows that I’ve been dying to try out like Californication, because I can just start at the beginning and watch right through. Moreover, sometimes I can convince my wonderful woman to miss Gossip Girl and let me finish watching Monday Night Football because I can guarantee her the reliability of the new episode being on in good quality on Fancast the next day.

Summary – A Vote on Prop Fancast

I know I’m rambling but I love to share a good thing. Just say I’m spreading the gospel.

What are your favorite shows? Have you tried out Fancast? What did you think?

To watch full episodes of hundreds of shows, click HERE – don’t forget to come back and tell me what you thought!

Topical Tuesday: How Historical Should Historical Fiction Be?

I’m going to have to preface this with the qualification that I’m a historian by training, specializing in Judaism, Christianity and comparative religion. This makes me, for all intents and purposes, a little biased when it comes to my opinions on the necessary degree of historicity of historical fiction.

The Benefits of Historical Fiction

But this doesn’t mean I’m not a fan. It actually means I love historical fiction, because I think, when done well, historical fiction can provide a flavor and understanding of a time and place that is missed amidst facts and theories and trying to understand the whys of history. Historical fiction allows us to imagine dimensions of historical circumstances not previously thought about by creating characters with personalities and lives that before were only a series of dates and events.

Moreover, by including a complex story in a finite amount of space the disconnected facts can more easily be visualized as a multitude of simultaneously occurring factors and motivations that coalesced in that which we consider to be the relevant moments. That reflects history better than many history classes can. Though this is often the goal of historians – to properly blend the whys and hows in order to arrive at the historical circumstances in question – historical fiction allows far more people to achieve this outcome and see the beauty of the events as the historian might wish for them to be seen.

Good Historical Fiction

There are some television shows right now that I think do a particularly great job: Mad Men and The Tudors, to name but two (The Tudors is a complicated issue though). One book that I found to be particularly well done historical fiction was The Last Jew. Another excellent one was Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore, written as a lost gospel and the parts of Jesus’ life that are entirely absent in the Bible. Truly excellent stuff.

How Historical It Should Be

That said, I expect an incredibly high level of competence and understanding on the part of the author before s/he undertakes a project of historical fiction. A veritable expert s/he must be. I think it’s fine to invent people that don’t exist and conversations that didn’t happen amongst people that did, and to create new events so long as they don’t distort history. It’s a difficult line to walk.

I think that the characters who were real should reflect all current and respected scholarship on the personality of that character, though interpretive liberties are obviously acceptable so long as the character does not become someone else. If, in the Tudors, Henry VIII were portrayed as a courteous, non-self-centered, timid fellow, I would be pretty put off. Historical fiction should seek to better explain and bolster what we do know and our understanding of the people or era under discussion – as well as to entertain of course. Changing known historical events, which isn’t to say embellishing, is unacceptable.

I also think that all historical fiction should come with an explanation by the author of what’s being done: the goal, what’s being changed and what liberties taken, what’s not, why these decisions were made, and anything the reader should know to be able to differentiate between history and historical fiction. There’s nothing I hate more (hyperbole) than someone with a poor knowledge of history (or religion) reading historical fiction and then thinking that what they read is all true and having no way to differentiate the true from the invented. Case in point, The DaVinci Code.

First of all, horrible book – so bad I wanted to rip my own head off. Worse still, that a friend of mine thought he understood the fine points of Christian theology and the truth behind Christianity and the Church after reading this book. Yes, we are told up front that places and works of art are being described as they are, but I don’t think that helped everyone. Even if it was a sufficient explanation, the book itself sucked: three page chapters with suspense that turns out to be nothing at the end of every one. I thought I was reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps again.

But that’s more than enough from me for now. What do you think about historical fiction? What’s important to you and how historical should it be? What are your favorite works of historical fiction and why?

Check out Chandler’s different take on the matter HERE.

To read some other Topical Tuesday posts, click HERE. To read Fun with the Bible, click HERE.

“Sexual Harassment Panda” is South Park episode 306

This episode has a great lesson. No, it’s not particularly concerned with religion, but they can’t all be. It is about greed and the problem this country has with lawyers.

Look, I know some lawyers and even people who are going to become lawyers. Good people. Well intentioned. However, in America, we are obsessed with suing people over frickin’ everything and it’s a really unhealthy practice.

Just today I was watching a commercial where a man stands there and tells you that if you’ve fallen or if anything bad has ever happened to you then you may be entitled to money. As he speaks, a list of bad things that can happen to people is running beside him so you can find out if any of whatever happened to you qualifies. This man and his associates are ambulance chasers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure that some of his clients truly do deserve the money they get because they’ve been injured unfairly or in ways that were others’ fault. However, this man, as an ambulance chaser, just wants to get a piece of the action. Moreover, everyone who calls him does not deserve what they’re asking for.

That’s what “Sexual Harassment Panda” is all about. When we sue people, especially public institutions, that money has to come form somewhere, and sometimes it’s right out of our own pockets. That’s why Sexual Harassment Panda becomes Don’t Sue People Panda by the end of the episode and give us this message:

“When you sue somebody it hurts everyone. You sue for money, but where do you think that money comes from? From the schools, from taxes, from the state. From you. There’s no such thing as free money. When you sue somebody you take money away from parks and schools and charities and put it in your own pockets, and that makes me a sad panda.”

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read about other South Park episodes.