The “South Park” episode “Band in China” makes a pretty strong argument about the danger that Chinese censorship poses to American artistic freedom. It works quite well as an editorial; the problem is that it isn’t particularly funny. And that’s a shame, because “South Park” often reaches its comical high points when it has righteous outrage in its heart.
If “Band in China” manages to raise awareness about China’s increasing control over American art, then I suppose its impact will be salutary. Then again, because it isn’t especially funny or memorable, the odds are that it will fade into obscurity and not do much good or ill of any kind.
“Band in China” starts with Randy Marsh (Trey Parker) deciding to go to China after realizing that he can get rich by selling the marijuana from his Tegridy Farms to the 1.4 billion people who live there. He is promptly arrested when he lands, of course, but the episode doesn’t spend too much time lingering on his inevitably bleak stay in a Chinese prison. Its focus is on how other American businesses like Google, the NBA and Disney (especially Disney) have the same idea as Randy — to make billions by opening themselves up to the lucrative Chinese marketplace — and are willing to bend themselves to the demands of the Chinese government in order to do so.
The B plot reinforces this point (a refreshing departure from last week’s episode “Mexican Joker,” which had two storylines that were basically unrelated to each other). When Stan (Parker), Butters (Matt Stone), Timmy (Parker) and Kenny (Stone) form a successful death metal band, they are recruited by a Hollywood agent who wants to turn their story into a biopic. Their excitement turns to dismay, however, as they learn about the lengthy list of topics they are forbidden to cover because the Chinese government would disapprove of them: The Dalai Lama, organ transplants (referencing accusations that China is harvesting organs from Uighur Muslims and the Falun Gong), homosexuality (Chinese censors have long targeted pro-gay rights material) and Winnie the Pooh.