South Park is definitely on a roll when it comes to controversy over its 23rd season - which has only aired two episodes so far! After the premiere episode "Mexican Joker" took aim at the culture of fear in America today, the second episode, "Band in China" has managed to live up to its name. The episode (which sees the characters of South Park weigh ethical principles against the prospect of making money in China), has been scrubbed from the Chinese Internet and streaming sites, after previously being available to viewers in the region. And, in doing so, the Chinese government may have just proven the very point that South Park's creators were trying to make.
"A cursory perusal through China's highly regulated Internet landscape shows the show conspicuously absent everywhere it recently had a presence. A search of the Twitter-like social media service Weibo turns up not a single mention of South Park among the billions of past posts. On streaming service Youku, owned by Internet giant Alibaba, all links to clips, episodes and even full seasons of the show are now dead. And on Baidu's Tieba, China's largest online discussions platform, the threads and sub-threads related to South Park are nonfunctional. If users manually type in the URL for what was formerly the South Park thread, a message appears saying that, "According to the relevant law and regulation, this section is temporarily not open."
The episode in question, "Band in China", follows a two-pronged storyline, in which Randy Marsh (now the enterprising owner of the "Tegrity Farms" marijuana business) gets the idea to open up the Chinese market to legal weed sales. Meanwhile, Randy's son Stan and some friends start a heavy metal band, only to be "discovered" and have their record label retool the band into a concept more friendly to the Chinese market.
The underlying subtext of the episode takes hard aim at Hollywood's emerging practice of shaping content according to China's censorship tastes. Given the very public exposures of China's authoritative hold on its people, content censorship can often go to absurd lengths - a fact South Park heavily mocks, in a scene where we see Winnie the Pooh and Piglet locked in Chinese jail, simply because of a popular meme comparing China's president Xi to Pooh. More biting cameos characters from major Disney franchises - and South Park's evil version of Mickey Mouse / Disney's Boss is even a major part of the storyline.
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's criticism of Hollywood seems to be summed up best in one scene, where Stan's band is trying to understand why to change their act for Chinese markets. As the record executive explains: "You have to lower your ideals of freedom, if you want to suck on the warm teat of China."
South Park "Band in China" is still available to stream in US markets.