Editor’s note: Story contains language that may be objectionable to some. CNS does not use the official name of Washington’s NFL team. Where it appears in a title or quote, we have substituted “NFL Team” in parenthesis.
WASHINGTON – In the latest episode of the crazy animated show South Park, which aired Wednesday night, animated versions of Bill Cosby, Taylor Swift and a hologram of Kurt Cobain were featured in a show titled “The Washington (NFL Team) Go F— Yourselves Holiday Special.”
It wasn’t the first time South Park featured the Washington football team in an episode. Earlier this season, main character Eric Cartman and his gang used the NFL team’s name to promote a made up company, and by the end of the episode, everyone, including ISIS, was mad at them.
And they aren’t the only popular show to touch on the subject.
Jason Jones, a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, orchestrated a confrontation between Washington football team fans and Native Americans. It was awkward.
Stephen Colbert and John Oliver have also poked fun at the team’s name, a name many consider to be offensive towards Native Americans.
Each of these shows, satirical in nature, has a large following among young viewers. A 2012 Pew Poll found that 43 percent of The Colbert Report’s viewers were younger than 30, and 39 percent of The Daily Show’s viewers were younger than 30.
But could these shows actually alter young people’s perceptions, or are they simply reflecting views already held by younger Americans — essentially playing to their audience?
“That’s the million dollar question, right?” said Sophia McClennen, a professor of international affairs and comparative literature at Penn State University, and author of “Colbert’s America: Satire and Democracy.”
“From a research standpoint, we can’t specifically measure ‘what did you think before the show and what did you think after the show,’ unless we have the benefit of literally being able to run some kind of poll that would know what the show is going to cover, before the show covered it,” McClennen said.
That’s a little difficult to do. However, predicting how the average young adult approaches certain viewpoints isn’t so difficult.
“Millennials are far more progressive in their politics…” McClennen said. “They are far more sensitive to these sorts of identity politics issues. They are not comfortable with racism, they are not comfortable with derogatory names, they tend to be more open and supportive of women’s rights. So, they are already on board with the idea that Washington is using an offensive name for its football team.”
According to two Pew polls, young adults do tend to be more tolerant about certain social issues. For example, a 2013 survey found that 70 percent of young adults believed gay marriage should be accepted in society, and a different 2014 survey found that 63 percent of millennials believed marijuana should be legal, both much higher percentages than the older population.
Sung Min Kim, 23, a student at the University of Maryland, is against the Washington team’s name. He’s not a fan of the team, but said he really doesn’t have anything against the team itself.
Kim has been a fan of South Park since high school, and he watched the first South Park episode featuring the name. He believes that even if it’s a small number of people who are offended, it doesn’t diminish their argument in any way.
“South Park is a very widely watched show,” Kim said. “If anything, it has probably raised awareness. If a person didn’t know anything about the (NFL Team) name, or why it’s offensive, and saw that episode, they would probably search Google.”
Patrick Ayerie, 18, doesn’t believe the name should change. He understands why the name is controversial, but argues that the team has had the same name for 80 years.
“I think it’s obviously a little insensitive,” Ayerie said. “It’s ignorant because it’s basically based on the color of (Native Americans’) skins. That’s a stereotype. But, it’s been in so long, that I think it’s more of like, ‘why change it,’ because I haven’t heard a lot of outspeak from the Native American community themselves, rather than just politicians and also people not of the Native American background claiming that it is offensive.”
Amber Day is an associate professor of English and cultural studies at Bryant University, and an expert in satire. Similarly to McClennen, she believes that it would be difficult to gauge how a particular episode’s stance on a social or political issue influences its audience. But, she does believe these satirical shows offer a different stance that isn’t generally available in the mainstream.
“I think what these programs do, if they are persuasive, and if they are making a case for something, or looking at it from an angle that regular news media is not investigating it from, that they do a good job of starting to sort of shift the conversation a little bit, adding to that conversation in different ways,” Day said. “Whether it’s introducing terms that have not been used before, or a point of analysis that hasn’t sort of been in the mainstream debate already, I think they do a good job of doing that, and often, for good.”
Even some of the team’s fans have become uncomfortable with the name.
Fred Evans, a 25-year-old car salesman from Cary, North Carolina, lived in the Washington area until 2008. He has a photo of himself in a Washington football team hat taken on the day he was born, and remains a diehard fan of the team. But, ultimately, Evans believes it’s time for a change.
“The fact of the matter is, a whole group of people, who are minorities, and who have been, for lack of a better word, s— on ever since white men decided Europe wasn’t big enough for us, are being stigmatized in the worst type of ways,” Evans said. “If someone is going to tell me that something offends them, who am I to say it doesn’t?”
Evans is a big fan of The Daily Show, and thought the derogatory name episode was hilarious, a “perfect combination of awkward and blind pride.” But he says that the episode itself didn’t really have much of an effect on his beliefs personally, and doesn’t believe it would on the average viewer, either.
“Both sides are so entrenched in their beliefs, it will either piss you off, or make you say ‘Look everyone, if Jon says it, it must be true,’” Evans said.
The Washington football team was contacted for comment on this story, but could not be reached.