South Park’s Cartman’s Stance on Winning Debates

As I was laying in bed the other night getting ready to fall asleep, an episode of South Park came on Comedy Central and caught my eye. While this particular TV show usually catches my interest because I want a good laugh, this time I watched it because of it’s relevance to what we have been talking about in Public Address.

In this particular episode, the students of South Park are split into two teams and are then assigned one side of a controversial issue within the South Park community to debate. As with all South Park episodes, the subject of debate is inherently ridiculous, but that is beside the point. The focus of this blog is the way in which Cartman approaches the debate, and how everyone who reads this feels about it. Below is the link to a brief clip of said approach:

While Cartman’s method towards winning debates is unethical, cruel, and probably inappropriate for most academic and professional settings, I think that he raises a very solid point. In class, we have learned a lot about the importance of ethos (or credibility) when addressing the public in order to validate main points and earn the respect of the audience. For our purposes, the use of ethos was to strengthen our speeches, and a lack of ethos in our speeches meant the audience could not be persuaded or impressed.

Cartman clearly had this knowledge of the power of ethos, but rather than using ethos to strengthen his own stance, he used it in a backhanded way so that his opposition would lose their credibility entirely, and Cartman’s team would then win the debate. I think that Cartman’s method of attacking his opponents credibility is an effective way to get a leg up on them and strengthen his side. Further, we have all seen the many political commercials or radio ads that come out around election time, and many of them do the exact same thing. Further, I must admit that this tactic is risky, and through its use one is likely to start a credibility war with the full wrath of the opposition coming right back, full circle. This means that someone who wants to use this method better have a pretty clean background so that there is not much dirt to be dug up. Regardless, I think that Cartman is right, and if you can effectively take down the credibility of your opponent you will win in the end. What do you think?

-Kevin Schneider


6 comments so far

  1. brownk19 on

    I think that the tactics of attacking ones creditability is an effective way to win an argument. I think this works well in a public debate format and is a great tool. However, when it comes to politicians commercial ads I do not think they are effective at all. Personally, I usually change the channel when this style of advertising comes up. I think it reflects poorly on the politician who is trying to take creditability away from another politician. Instead of attacking your opponent, why do you not give me reasons why I should vote for you? Why do I want to hear about the other person? As much as it can be effective to tear down someone’s creditability, I think that the way politicians attack one another these days is pointless. Everyone these days has some sort of dirt behind them, so instead of revealing that why don’t you reveal how you should be the one I vote for.

  2. dupublicaddress on

    While attacking an opponent’s credibility is commonly done and may work, I believe that it is far too easy to lose sight of your own credibility and stance. As Kyle mentioned, this approach reflects poorly on the politician using it. All you are left with at the end of those commercials is a bunch of mudslinging and they have wasted the opportunity to push their platform and establish a bond with their audience. If politicians would just focus on their own credibility by establishing strong platforms, then they will establish a strong defense even if their opponent chooses to engage in the mudslinging. Some politicians believe that they have to respond in kind because they will appear weak if they do not, but I believe most voters feel much more goodwill toward a politician who has the confidence to go above such pettiness. It’s refreshing. There are many more ways to “attack” one’s opponent (using any rhetorical strategy like making yourself appear to be more “patriotic” by emphasizing your involvement with military, etc. through pathos and logos) without having to be so overtly aggressive.

    Giana Gregga

  3. samuele40 on

    Yeah, mudslinging is an old and effective tactic for winning a debate. Despite the fact that it seems underhanded and, well, wrong it definitely works and is used today. As others have said above, this has been especially used in political debates through out the years. For example, in the Ohio gubernatorial election before this last one. The candidate fighting against strickland accused the governor of associating with NAMBLA, or the North American Man/Boy Love Association. While strickland did vote on an issue that NAMBLA happened to vote the same way on. I think that it is interesting how Blackwell (opposition to Strickland) used this kernel of info and blew it up into something way bigger than what it actually was. Fortunately, he did not win and people laughed his argument off. The point is, while mudslinging, and undermining someone’s credibility is effective sometimes it can also make you come across as a jackass who can’t really argue in support of themselves. If you want to sling mud and talk shit, be careful, it very well might work but if you don’t do it well it will backfire on you, unless your audience is particularly dumb or full of vitriol.

  4. irene531 on

    I agree that this strategy of attacking an opponent’s credibility is effective especially in a debate setting. The problem politician commercials is that it is commonly known to the public that facts are manipulated and is usually part of the truth. In addition, if people are really interested in finding the truth, they have time to research the information. Because of this, I agree with Kyle that politicians that play the “dirt-finding” game can loose their integrity and seem immature. However in Cartman’s case, he is in a debate setting that does not allow people time to research their facts. The audience would only find out that a puppy was not set on fire with research after the debate is won. Therefore, using this tactic can be effective in a fast-paced situation. However, above all, I agree with Giana that people should focus on building their own credibility and finding ways to strengthen their argument because there is always a chance that attacking someone else can come back to bite in the end.


  5. jdavis0136 on

    Attacking the credibility of ones opponent is a popular, and many times, effective use of swinging an argument or debate in your direction. I love South Park for there ability to incorporate common incidents within news, sports or pop-culture into their show. This scene with Cartmen is a perfect example of 1. how far people will go to win 2. the possible effectiveness of destroying ones credibility. As mentioned in the previous comments, attacking ones credibility can back fire and has the possibility of hurting yourself more then your opponent. This South Park example is an extreme interpretation, but stuff like this happens all the time. You see it everyday. Of course its most popular form is in political smear campaigns, but it is also found in the news, comical television, really any form of social media. This South Park scene is an excellent example of how the subjects taught in our public speaking class can be interpreted in the real world.

  6. heeryp on

    I agree with what Kevin said in his initial blog and I agree with mostly everything everyone else has commented on. When I see shows like South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy, etc., I try to see them as the writers’ opinions on society. Essentially, nearly every episode has some sort of social critique which – even though it normally gets lost in the bizarre and ridiculous humor of the show – is actually quite a brilliant way to get a point across. When I watch this clip, I can’t help but thinking about every political debate and advertisement I have ever seen. This is essentially what every commercial encouraging people to vote for a candidate does. Instead of focusing on what they want to do or have the ability to do, people focus on what the other person can’t do or has done that makes them unworthy.
    It is kind of ironic, but I feel like many politicians throughout history think like Cartman in this episode. They know that they are gifted orally and have the ability to persuade an audience into believing that the other candidate is less worthy. Therefore, South Park’s social critique here highlights the fact that more often then not the better orator/propaganda user often is the winning candidate even though what they are saying/doing may not be the better choice for the good of the people.

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