Hi Jared, thanks for reading and responding. Excellent question.
To use your example specifically, I will defer to a piece on Medium titled How ‘South Park’ Helped Empower The ‘Alt-Right’ to answer the bulk of your question.
In that piece, Lindsey Weedston does an excellent job of breaking this topic down. She explains how “In the South Park universe, it’s cool and — more specifically — an act of heroic anti-establishment rebellion to defy “political correctness” and mistreat the most marginalized in society.”
She also integrates how the effects of music, movies & media play into this, including the icnoic 80s film ‘Wall Street,’ which she claims “inadvertently kicked off the “greed is good” movement” that “openly celebrated Reagan-era unbridled capitalism at the expense of the poor and disenfranchised.”
Similarly, the “welfare queen” trope that Reagan purposely created and exaggerated some 43 years ago is still — today in 2019 — the unearned stigma, the albatross, of many black women regardless of their economic class & wealth, or their station in life, or whether (or not) they’re actually welfare recipients.
Given the whole anti-PC movement that’s been brewing for decades (i.e., what I think you’re referring to when you say “criticisms of social justice activists”), I think it’s important to distinguish what is actually meant by “political correctness” in the first place.
After many years of trying to define exactly what the term means, it seems that overall, Americans agree “PC” refers to the belief system that language and practices which may offend those who are not necessarily protected under American political systems (like regarding matters of sex, race, ability, gender, etc.) should be eliminated from our language and practices. Or — less formally and more succinctly — many say “PC” simply means “trying not to be an asshole.”
America as a society has always (at least throughout my lifetime), generally agreed that being an asshole to the less fortunate, a.k.a., “the least of these,” is not good. Not virtuous. With the uprising of Trumpism & Trump loyalists, the pendulum swings the other way, thus going backwards in time (to some indiscriminate or perhaps fabricated, bygone era that no one can seem to identify by name), despite the fact that Americans have already collectively decided we are an inclusive, welcoming, non-hostile country. This is one reason why Trump’s approval ratings remain so low. (But I digress.)
Lindsey Weedston also points out the levels of assholery that South Park has sunk to, including, “mocking disabled people, disrespecting every religion Trey and Matt could think of, airing an episode with repeated use of the n-word, viciously mocking and condemning trans people, making a hero out of a virulently anti-Semitic character, and generally holding itself up as the show that “offends” people, regardless of who those people may be.”
It doesn’t seem right to me that the people holding 90% of the power and wealth in this country would embrace bullying of those who have less, are marginalized, or live in unprotected minority groups. And, not only do the wealthiest 10% embrace, but they also model this behavior as “heroic.”
The only reason this behavior is acceptable among them is because they are privileged in every possible way. They’ve never experienced the daily microaggressions that marginalized communities experience on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis. If they ever did, they might have learned to foster some empathy along the way. Same goes for those who follow blindly, even at their own detriment (which they consistently fail to understand).
Trump-enablers may not be privileged at all intersections, they might be poor/working class for example, but the “heroes” they look up to, by golly, are not PC, and dammit, they don’t think they should have to be, either. (That is, until they suddenly find themselves the parent of a transgender child, for example.)
Sad, but often that’s what it takes: something that big to get our attention — to experience life through the lens of someone who actually is marginalized and fears for their life every single day by just trying to live authentically.
When you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem for you personally, that’s precisely what is meant by privilege in America.
People with unchecked privilege seem to overuse terms like “social justice warrior,” and “virtue-signalling” as slurs of the anti-PC movement, as if those were bad things. (Something I wrote about in another piece called “On ‘Virtue-Signalling: Decomposing The Stale, Sophomoric Slur of Pseudo-intellectuals.”)
So ultimately, yes, I would say people like Trey Parker and Matt Stone are definitely punching down through the use of their anti-PC cartoon. And though I don’t know I’d ever recommend censoring South Park (it’s their right to create what they deem as satire as much as anyone else’s right), that still doesn’t mean they get to be automatically excluded from the repercussions of being assholes.