Puppet Regime

Toy story: The Hasbro hazards of 'Team America: World Police'
Paramount Pictures

We want to watch a puppet vomit. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are counting on it. We want to see viscous yellow goop erupt from a puppet's throat, over and over and over and over again, and then we want to see a little more vomit. And then we--as Democrats, as Republicans, as Americans--want to watch the puppet belly flop into the pool of puppet vomit.

It's not much that we ask of the creators of South Park and their riotous new movie Team America: World Police. We want to see vomiting puppets, and blood-hemorrhaging puppets, and puppets with potty mouths. The Motion Picture Association of America didn't want us to see butt-fucking puppets. But after Parker and Stone submitted 10 different cuts of the movie in order to avoid an NC-17 rating, it turns out that we do, in fact, get to see a decent amount of puppet sodomy.

After reading that last paragraph, you may well have decided that this kind of movie isn't your bag--or perhaps you already dialed up Moviefone to find the earliest available screening. At the risk of psychoanalyzing the likes of Miss Piggy, then, maybe the relevant question is this: What are we really talking about when we talk about butt-fucking puppets?

Are we talking about terrorism? Maybe. Team America, we learn, is a top-secret counterterrorist squad. We know this because they burst out of Mount Rushmore in shiny planes and they wear pink and green cammo that makes them look like backup singers from Ted Nugent's Branson revue. The Nuge, however, never wrote a tune quite so wonderfully bombastic as the theme song that accompanies these World Police: "America, Fuck Yeah!"

If you haven't gathered already, Team America doesn't represent the "humble nation" that George W. Bush described in the 2000 presidential debates. When we first see the squad in action, they're demolishing the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe, all in the act of apprehending a band of murderous mullahs. Securing the homeland seems to involve destroying a good chunk of the world's cultural patrimony. Fuck yeah!

Laying waste to Saddam's Iraq may only have taken three weeks, but it's even easier to wreak havoc in miniature. When Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's henchmen attack the Panama Canal, we're really seeing about 1,000 gallons of water flooding a 90-foot set. The effect here is actually special, the opposite of the bloodless disasters achieved by seating a thousand CGI specialists at a thousand computer terminals and asking them to create the apocalypse. Put another way, Team America looks really fake, not fakely real.

Are Parker and Stone trying to say that the Global War on Terror is also fraudulent? You could conclude that from watching the way the World Police cluck about "WMDs," seldom spelling out the threat in complete words. (The terrorists here might as well be proliferating cooties.) Just as absurd--though far friendlier to BC'04--is the way Hans Blix (or his puppet, anyway) challenges Kim Jong Il's weapons program. "We'll write you a letter!" he reproaches--right before the Korean dictator, like Bond villains of yore, feeds the Swedish bureaucrat to a tankful of aquarium fish.

The filmmakers ultimately have less to say about the mangled locutions of the president's jihad than they do about the cinematic language of Jerry Bruckheimer. And before long, the puppet army is exploding not just the movies, but the pompous Hollywood liberals--Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn--who make them. (Unwittingly playing into the satire, Penn penned a scolding letter to the filmmakers that violated the Eminem Edict: A human can never win a war of words with a puppet.) I believe it is easy to find Hollywood activism faintly insufferable and still not endorse the Team America credo: Shut up about the war already and go back to making some more idiotic and trifling entertainment for us to parody.

As Stone said to USA Today in a recent interview, "We're just telling people to lighten up and not take themselves too seriously. Setting a puppet on fire. That's my politics."

Point taken. But it sounds a little like a vote for another four years of having our strings pulled.

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