This is an archival story that predates current editorial management.
This archival content was written, edited, and published prior to LAist's acquisition by its current owner, Southern California Public Radio ("SCPR"). Content, such as language choice and subject matter, in archival articles therefore may not align with SCPR's current editorial standards. To learn more about those standards and why we make this distinction, please click here.
Did 'South Park' Intentionally Turn Viewers' Amazon Alexas Into Foul-Mouthed Parrots?
South Park returned for its 21st (!) season on Wednesday, and it dove headfirst into the topic of white supremacy. In the episode, white nationalists have turned their eye to Amazon and Google, saying that “smart products” like the Echo are taking their jobs. While the message got a bit muddled at times, the show took some sharp jabs at the group’s displaced sense of frustration (and their penchant for waving Confederate flags).
The show includes a side plot in which Cartman becomes obsessed with the Amazon Alexa, as well as personal assistants like the Google Home. He’s not really using them for any practical purposes; rather, Cartman and the gang get their kicks by having the devices say words like “balls” and “crabs” (remember the halcyon days when you’d spell out risqué words on your calculator?). At one point Cartman plays the devices off each other, making one teach the other to spew forth a collection of juvenile stuff.
This may all sound like familiar territory for South Park. But what also happened was that the episode had a real effect on viewers' Alexas (Google Home and other devices were also reportedly being influenced). In instructing Alexa to add “big hairy balls to my shopping list,” Cartman also instructed viewer’s Alexas to…you get the idea. Here was some of the evidence posted online:
This brings up the question: did Matt Stone and Trey Parker do this on purpose? Surely, even if that wasn’t the original intention, the writers and producers must have known that there’d be a consequence. It goes without saying that the show has toyed with fans before, like when they April Fool-ed everyone in 1998 by not revealing who Cartman’s father was (despite the hype and speculation).
We reached out to Comedy Central to see if the whole Alexa thing was, indeed, intentional; we have yet to hear back as of publication.
On another note, the episode does freak us out a little by reminding us that the devices are just sitting there, listening (and possibly thinking about us as we sleep). Remember when authorities in Arkansas tried to get evidence from an Echo for a murder case? That was weird.