For more than 20 seasons, viewers have tuned into "South Park" for raunchy humor, bold satire, and juvenile jabs at pop culture and popular figures. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s mix of sharp satirical comedy and absurdity has struck a note with millions of viewers while aggravating others. Considering the show’s relentless depiction vulgarity centered around children characters, it has inevitably encountered pushback during its run. Despite the controversial nature of the show, the series has also secured multiple Emmys, a Peabody, and has held the title of Comedy Central’s most popular program according to Bloomberg.
While one should expect boundary-pushing depravity from "South Park," sometimes the jokes go just a bit too far. Due to the chaotic nature of the show, the characters in "South Park" have all done something terrible at one point or another, be it intentional or not. Whether it’s shocking content involving gore, child endangerment, or even child exploitation, the "South Park" cast has quite the repertoire of dark deeds that have helped to garner the show’s highly controversial reputation. With that in mind, here’s a look back at some times "South Park" characters went too far.
Cartman feeds Scott Tenorman his own parents
After he’s conned into buying an older boy’s pubic hair to supposedly jumpstart puberty, Cartman is relentlessly bullied by eighth-grader Scott Tenorman, and Eric vows to get revenge in "Scott Tenorman Must Die." Feeling the ultimate degradation, Cartman goes all out in getting back at Scott. Cartman’s plan involves training a pony to "bite off Scott’s wiener," but this is only a ruse to make Scott think he knows what’s going on.
Cartman’s real plan is revealed at his Chile Con Carnival, where a chili-noshing Scott Tenorman is informed that Cartman had arranged for Scott’s parents to be shot before he chopped them up with a hacksaw and included them in his very own chili. As Scott begins crying at the knowledge that he’s been eating his dead parents, Cartman begins licking the tears from his nemesis’ face. Mirroring the faces of many viewers, everyone who attended his Chili Con Carnival looks on, slack-jawed and horrified at what may be Cartman’s most deplorably evil action.
The entire town sacrifices Britney Spears
While Kyle, Stan, Kenny, and Cartman have done their fair share of bullying, harassment, and causing general mayhem, the town of South Park as a whole isn’t exactly guilt-free. The most egregious example of collective chaos is their treatment of pop sensation Britney Spears.
When the boys realize they can make bank by selling embarrassing pictures of Spears, they decide to get in on the paparazzi action. Once Britney realizes that the boys have scammed her into thinking she will be reunited with her child, the singer attempts to end her life. In a horrific twist, the attempt fails and leaves Britney with a half-blown off head, unable to speak and live her everyday life. While the boys feel extreme guilt for driving Britney to the edge, the town capitalizes on her pain, constantly mocking and ridiculing her for the most inconsequential of things.
In the end, it’s revealed that the harassment is all some sort of bizarre sacrificial ritual in which the town berates a preselected teen sensation to death, similar to "The Lottery." They willfully commit collective murder for "the greater good," which is, in this case, a fruitful crop harvest. Though this episode is meant to be a commentary on celebrity mistreatment, it’s still one of the most terrifying "South Park" installments to date. The town’s glee at the pop star’s downfall is horrifying, and the fact that everyone is in on it together and apparently continues the cycle for each new generation of celebrity superstars is deeply unsettling.
Butters runs a sex worker ring
When the boys discover that Butters has never kissed a girl, they find one willing to remedy the situation. The catch? Her kisses don’t come for free. Realizing that he can make quick cash selling girls’ kisses, Butters opens his own "business" doing just that. In other words, Butters becomes a pimp.
At first, Butters’ innocent and kind nature draws girls from all over South Park looking for a more welcoming work environment. Soon it’s not just schoolgirls selling innocent kisses, but adult women selling kisses and more who are attracted to Butters’ way of doing business. Of course, the popularity and power quickly go to sweet Butters’ little head, and he becomes just another stereotypically abusive pimp.
Aside from Butters becoming a massive jerk, the very fact that a literal child runs a sex work ring where other children work for him is beyond uncomfortable. Butters is usually the town do-gooder, but in this instance, he strays far from his usual naïve self and turns into a truly unlikeable person.
Cartman unleashes Cthulhu
While Cartman isn’t responsible for summoning Cthulhu, he doesn’t have any qualms about using the dark creature to kill his friends and enemies the second it’s convenient for him. In fact, after feeling betrayed by his friends, he feels vindicated in doing so. The worst part? Cartman somehow considers himself the good guy and not even someone just blowing off steam in his deluded mind.
Once Cthulhu is unleashed upon the world, Cartman is able to manipulate the creature to do his dark bidding. What exactly does Cartman do with this power? Kill Jews, hippies, and send his so-called friends to a hell-like alternate dimension. It’s terrifying enough that Cartman can manipulate Cthulhu, a cosmic horror nightmare, to do whatever he wants. But what makes Cartman’s actions really cross the line is how he utilizes Cthulu to make the world a dark and evil place, a world he perceives as "better." We’ve always known that Cartman is a monster, but apparently, even actual monsters have trouble holding their own against this devilish child.
Mr. Garrison tries to pressure his father into an uncomfortable relationship
Frankly, it’s amazing that Mr. Garrison has been allowed around children for as long as he has. With his candid talk about sex, he’s crossed the line far too many times to count. But without a doubt, Mr. Garrison attempting to guilt trip his own father into sexually assaulting him takes the cake for the most shocking and inappropriate thing he’s ever done.
In "World Wide Recorder Concert," we learn that Mr. Garrison has a troubled relationship with his father. Throughout the entire episode, Mr. Garrison reacts in extreme turmoil toward him, leading the audience to believe his father sexually abused him. Apparently, this isn’t actually the case at all. While this should be a good discovery, in Mr. Garrison’s warped mind, this isn’t the source of his troubles.
What’s really been eating at Mr. Garrison is much worse, if that’s even possible. In an unsettling turn of events, Mr. Garrison’s trauma actually results from his father having never molested his son, making Mr. Garrison believe he is unloved. The rest of the episode is devoted to Mr. Garrison, and even Mr. Garrison’s mother, pressuring his father into sexually assaulting him to "remedy" the situation. Like the audience, Mr. Garrison’s father is understandably confused and horrified.
Cartman injects Kyle with HIV
Like most kids, Cartman is a bit apprehensive when he learns he needs to have his tonsils removed. However, after some reassurance from his mother and the promise of ice cream following the procedure, Cartman willingly goes to the operating table. Unfortunately, his tonsils are removed when he wakes up, but he is also accidentally given a tainted blood transfusion and infected with HIV.
Kyle finds this development to be a hilarious dose of irony and a dose of revenge to Cartman, who regularly treats him poorly. Kyle is unable to contain his laughter, which quickly gets under Cartman’s skin. Cartman decides to serve Kyle a dose of revenge and actually infects Kyle with his HIV by giving him a dose of his own blood while he’s asleep.
Cartman has committed countless horrors in the past, many of which were directed at Kyle specifically. The two definitely don’t get along, often bickering throughout the series. Of course, Cartman’s blatant antisemitism and evil schemes are typically the roots of these arguments, but in this, Kyle’s lack of empathy toward Cartman’s illness can easily be seen as antagonistic. Laughing at someone acquiring HIV, even Cartman, is cruel.
That being said, Cartman’s reaction is entirely off the rails. We’ve seen how monstrous he can be when agitated, but willfully injecting Kyle with HIV, a disease with no known cure, is beyond evil. If it wasn’t clear before, Cartman is someone you definitely don’t want as your enemy.
Cartman runs a twisted sports league
After a PSA featuring Sarah McLachlan inspires Kyle to volunteer in the ward for babies born to drug-addicted parents at a local hospital, he notices Cartman has already started volunteering there. But Cartman is not there for philanthropic reasons. Instead, Kyle finds out that Eric and a few acquaintances have been filming the babies addicted to hard drugs as they fight over some crack. While Kyle tries to repeatedly find ways to help the babies using their new organization, Cartman makes every effort to keep the babies or their families from getting any of the money from his so-called Crack Baby Athletics Association.
Modeling their business after college sports programs that make billions of dollars without directly compensating their student-athletes, Cartman asks the president of the University of Colorado at Boulder how he maintains his "slave workforce." Taken aback, the university president refuses to acknowledge that he uses slave labor and kicks Cartman out of his office, but he’s undeterred. Seeing the trajectory of how college sports are monetized, he intends on helping create CBAA video games. Believing that he is the most ruthless businessman around, he signs a deal with EA Games to make a CBAA game series, licensing their players’ likenesses — but is tricked into signing over the rights to the whole sports league, losing out on his exploitation-powered gravy train.
Randy starts the Covid-19 pandemic
In the "South Park Pandemic Special," Randy decides that what the town needs after COVID-19 ravages South Park is a sale from Tegrity Farms. Randy has developed a new strain of marijuana for the occasion, calling it the "Pandemic Special." As the special is being sold, reports come on the news that scientists are tracking down the origins of COVID-19. When they say that they have tracked the disease back to a certain pangolin in Wuhan, this makes Randy have a flashback to when he had sex with a pangolin at Mickey Mouse’s urging in Wuhan months prior.
After a frantic call to Mickey, Randy admits that he came back from China sick but thought that he just had the flu. Knowing that he caused the COVID-19 outbreak in South Park, Randy tries to use his own DNA as a form of vaccine by carefully spreading the same DNA-carrying fluid that he deposited in the pangolin into each dose of the Pandemic Special.
Infecting everyone with COVID-19 due to his drug-addled sexual escapades in China is undoubtedly a new low for Randy. And while it’s known that Randy is a scientist, it seems pretty clear that the town’s most belligerent geologist should not be the one to formulate, test, and distribute his own vaccine to an unwitting public.
Cartman lies his way into the Special Olympics
As Jimmy and Timmy train to compete in the Special Olympics, Eric gets an insidious idea: Once he figures out that there’s a $1000 prize for the top athlete, he decides it would be a cinch to pretend to be disabled in order to get the top spot. The odd thing is that as Cartman studies at the library and makes faces at himself in the mirror, the people around him don’t seem to have much of a problem with what he’s doing. Kyle initially objects, but Cartman simply taunts Kyle, saying he knows he won’t tell on him since that would make Kyle a tattletale. Stranger still is how Eric’s mother reacts. After denying her permission, she agrees to help Eric after he pleads with her about walking a mile in the shoes of disabled people.
Cartman focuses so much on the concept of his plan that he doesn’t consider that Special Olympics competitors are actually trained. Karma and his inability to plan ahead ensures that Eric gets his comeuppance in the end. Watching this episode, it’s little wonder that Cartman ends up doing so many reprehensible things when he receives so little pushback from the people around him.
Randy Marsh shows questionable magic to children
As the kids are introduced to the world of illegal Magic: The Gathering matches being played by roosters in the basements of restaurants, Randy misinterprets what the boys mean when they refer to the activity using the phrase "Cock Magic." Having been very involved in a very different scene of the same name while in college, Randy believes that his youth pastime is making a comeback.
This inspires Randy to brush up on his old magic routine, complete with a live musician and the help of his little assistant. Much to the chagrin of his wife, Randy doubles down on his choice and decides to perform at a six-year-old’s birthday party. As part of his routine, he does tricks with a white cloth, a small box, and a saw, all with his pants unzipped. After feigning a catastrophic slip of the saw, Randy has a little traumatized girl in the audience reach behind her ear to pull out what had supposedly been sawed off in a bloody mess — a sure sign that the Amazingly Randy should hang up his top hat for good (and not on his pelvis).
The South Park moms start a war with Canada
In "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut," Kyle, Eric, Stan, Kenny, and Ike are all excited to see the Terrence and Phillip film, which inspires the boys to curse in quantities that only preteens trying the words out for the first time can. This shocks and horrifies the parents of South Park into calling an emergency PTA meeting. At the podium, Sheila Broflovski claims that they must attack the moral rot that has infected their children at the source: Canada.
With Sheila at the helm of a new popular movement, the adults of South Park form M.A.C., or Mothers Against Canada, and petition the United States government to start a war with Canada over their foul-mouthed cartoons. Directly because of this movement, the US captures the Canadian comedy duo and plans to execute them at a USO show. Feeling it was impolite to kidnap its citizens, Canada retaliates by engaging in an all-out war with its southern neighbor. Provoking the polite and apologetic people of Canada into fighting a bloody battle is an impressive feat, especially for moms worried about their kids’ potty mouths.
Randy convinces world leaders to nuke Finland
It all starts when Randy steals a superconducting magnet from the Large Hadron Collider to put into Stan’s Pinewood Derby car, which reaches warp speed and gets the attention of aliens. The alien that arrives is on the lam and kidnaps Randy and Stan to build a spacefaring vehicle on par with their Pinewood Derby Car. Stan kills the alien, and Randy decides to work with the US government to take the alien’s stolen space cash for themselves. But when space police come to question Randy about the whereabouts of the stolen money, he keeps quiet.
With the interplanetary fortune of Earth at stake, Randy pressures the governments of the world to keep quiet around the space cops. However, when word gets out that Finland is getting a guilty conscience, Randy has a quick talk in private with the rest of the world’s leaders. According to the CIA World Factbook, the end result of Randy’s urging is the fiery death of over 5.5 million people in a nuclear explosion.
Kyle kills Jesus
As Vatican ninjas kidnap Randy over his membership in a rabbit-worshipping cult that believes Saint Peter was a bunny, Stan is trusted with the safety of St. Peter’s descendant in "Fantastic Easter Special." Stan flees to the only person left to help him save Easter: Kyle Broflovski. After praying for guidance and help, Jesus comes to help Stan and to depose the non-rabbit pope; however, the American Catholic League president has the pope, Stan, Kyle, and Jesus arrested for blasphemy.
With Kyle and Jesus sharing a cell, Kyle inquires if Jesus has any powers that could help the situation. Jesus responds that his powers are only available to him in death. Thus he produces a shiv and hands it to Kyle, and the fourth-grader immediately knows what is being asked of him. Though Kyle obviously has qualms about being made to kill Jesus, he is assured that Jesus will resurrect himself outside their cell to save the day. That doesn’t make Jesus’ bloody screams as he stumbles around the jail cell any less disconcerting for Kyle. As Jesus lays lifeless and leaking blood on the floor, Kyle can only meekly ask, "Jesus?" as he is horrified at what he’s done.