South Park Reference Gets Colorado Student Expelled in Latest Life-Imitates-Art Case

The animated TV series South Park has poked fun at many real things in Colorado over its nineteen seasons. Who can forget the Casa Bonita episode, or the show’s recent "SoDoSoPa" jab at Denver gentrification?

Because the fictional show is set in Colorado, South Park has been an entertaining, and sometimes painfully accurate, reflection of this state. In fact, the series is such a phenomenon that it occasionally influences real-life events in Colorado.

At least, that’s what happened earlier this week when a Colorado College student was expelled after they referenced racial jokes from a South Park episode on messages sent via the anonymous phone app Yik Yak.

According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, the expelled student mentioned a scene from a 2007 South Park episode in which the character Randy is playing Wheel of Fortune and is given the letters “N_GGERS” to answer the category “People Who Annoy You.” After Randy answers with the “N” word, the true answer is revealed to be “NAGGERS.”

The post was within a thread of racial comments on the Colorado College Yik Yak network that appeared in early November, including one that said, “Go back to the cotton fields.” The student who posted the South Park reference has filed an appeal and will hear back sometime after Thanksgiving break — an event sure to spark debates about campus racism, the students’ intentions and First Amendment rights.

Of course, controversy is nothing new for South Park, and this is just the latest example of a time when the show's content spilled over into the real world. Colorado has already seen a number of similar incidents in the past. Here are a handful:

1) Former Colorado Attorney General John Suthers channels South Park to stop underage drinking

In an attempt to reach the “young people,” the attorney general’s office thought it would try a new marketing tack. Namely, releasing a commercial with South Park-style animation — complete with the AG riding a skateboard and wearing a baby bib — to persuade underage Coloradans to stop drinking.

As Westword writer Joel Warner observed:
Some props are owed to Suthers and the Century Council for going out on a limb on this one — and heck, it caught our attention. Still, it's hard to ignore the fact that the idea of the ads themselves — public service announcements featuring old folks on skateboards and bemoaning the evils of alcohol that are being bankrolled by the evil alcohol distillers — almost sounds like an episode straight out of South Park.
2) South Park honored with its own burlesque show at Voodoo Playhouse

Sure, why not? This clothing-optional 2012 show, called “Going Down on South Park,” seemed a proper tribute to a TV series known for pushing boundaries. Check out Westword's entertaining photo slideshow of the event here

3) The Book of Mormon performances in Denver sell out in four hours

In 2012, the road tour of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s musical satire on Mormonism was scheduled to start in Denver at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. It became one of the hottest events of the year. When tickets went on sale, it took just four hours before the two-and-a-half-week run was completely sold out — with secondary StubHub tickets going for as much as $1,000 a pop. Such was the excitement around the musical coming to Denver that audience members even dressed up for the occasion.

4) South Park Inspired Landmarks

Fairplay is considered by many to be the model for the fictional town of South Park in the television series. As Westword mentioned in this list of South Park souvenirs
Fairplay doesn't have fictional South Park attractions like Big Gay Al's Big Gay Animal Sanctuary or Dr. Mephisto's South Park Genetic Engineering Ranch, but it does feature a historic reconstruction of a mining town called South Park City and a 29-mile burro race that takes place every July. And don't forget to say a "Hidey-ho" to Mr. Hanky, that lovable Christmas poo from the show's holiday episodes, who's hanging out in front of a house on Front Street.
5) Cartman introduces Ralphie at a CU Buffs game

In September 2014, the University of Colorado announced that a special collaboration with South Park’s creators would be unveiled at its home opening football game against Arizona State. Both Trey Parker and Matt Stone are alumni of the school, where they met while studying in CU Boulder’s film program in the early 1990’s.

So what was the surprise? A larger-than-life video introduction by Cartman himself:

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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker