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Controversial 'South Park' episode takes on Trump

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GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump is no stranger to controversy.

The business man turned politician has offended a large number of people, from John McCain to Megyn Kelly. Trump's Twitter is so full of insults it reads like a Comedy Central Roast where everyone who has ever rubbed him the wrong way is a guest of honor.

On Wednesday night, South Park seemingly turned the tables on Trump, stirring up controversy over what they did to an animated, Canadian version of him.

As The New York Daily news described: "'South Park' makes Donald Trump president of Canada and rapes, kills him."

The episode called "Where My Country Gone" has been called "controversial," "graphic" and "tasteless."

The Daily Mail described the "take-down" of Trump as skirting "the borders of decency and taste and arguably crossing them."

But experts explain that pointing out whether a joke goes too far - is simply in the eye of the beholder.

"The line is a very amorphous thing," Steve Kaplan, an expert on comedy and the author of the book The Hidden Tools of Comedy explained.

"It's in different places to people at different times," Kaplan added.

Speaking specifically about satire, Dr. Jonathan Gray, a Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, explained that ethically "obviously different people will have a sense of where 'the line' that can't be crossed is."

Joe Toplyn, an Emmy-award winning TV writer and author of Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV explained whether or not a joke crosses the line depends on the audience.

"There definitely are topics that are off-limits for comedy, but what topics those are depends on what audience you're writing the comedy for," Toplyn said.

"If you're writing jokes for a show like the 'Tonight Show,' which aims to attract a mass audience, you can probably rule out jokes about rape, for example."

"If you're writing for the 'South Park' audience, you have a lot more leeway," Toplyn said explaining that he tries to only write jokes about topics acceptable for the particular audience he has in mind.

South Park's audience has become accustomed to the type of boundary-challenging vulgarity that was on display in "Where My Country Gone."

A simple online search for the words "South Park" and 'controversy' turns up endless results, including a Daily News headline outlining the "seven times 'South Park' pushed the envelope off a cliff."

As Martie Cook, a Professor and Associate Chair at Emerson College's Department of Visual and Media Affairs described, audiences are asking for comedians to push the envelope farther and farther.

"In this day and age comedy is a really interesting place in that the audience demands and expects comedy to keep crossing the line and crossing the line, so people who write comedy are out there and doing exactly that," Cook said.

Towing the line between pushing the envelope and being politically correct is "almost impossible" Cook stated.

Cook explained that despite the demand for comedians to push the envelope "often the audience comes back and says 'you just offended me.'"

"More and more the country is going back into this time of political correctness," Cook explained "comedy at its best is never politically correct."

Gray said that satire "works through excess, and thus when it's at its best it's often crossing lines."

"The point of satire can be to make us consider what truly is offensive the momentary violation of a rule of conduct, or the satirical target itself. If you show me something 'satirical' that doesn't offend anyone, you have shown me something that is not satirical," Gray explained.

"Now, that's not to excuse offense, or to be entirely laissez-faire, but for me the ultimate test is whether the satire actually had something to say, said it in a way that perhaps couldn't easily be said by other means and/or to an audience that otherwise wouldn't listen, and whether its purpose is noble," Gray added.

"Good comedy reflects society, good comedians look at what's going on and raise questions through humor," Cook explained.

As Cook explained it, politicians are not immune from the same questioning the rest of society faces in comedy.

"This is America and we have free speech and if you're going to step into the public eye you can become the butt of comedian's jokes," Cook said.

Kaplan described Trump as "ripe for parody and satire."

Explaining why some people draw more outrage when targeted, Cook speculated that it was related to the fact that "there are people in America that we love to hate."

Some people love to hate Sarah Palin, some love to hate Clinton, some love to hate Donald Trump, Cook said.

"When you love to hate somebody and the joke is aimed at them its funnier because you're ready to open your heart to a nasty joke about somebody you don't like - but then if somebody makes the same joke about your mother it's not so funny."

"Whoever the joke is about, you have to be careful that any punch line you write makes a point that most of your audience will agree with," Toplyn explained.

"For example, that scene in 'South Park' apparently depicted Donald Trump being raped to death. Viewers who believe that Donald Trump deserves to be raped to death probably laughed. Other viewers probably didn't."

Cook noted that some late night television "touches on politics" frequently. "I think that's just comedy writers looking at society and raising questions, in this particular episode I can see exactly what they're trying to say and do it, at the end of the day they're raising a question about Donald Trump as president."

"I support their right as comedy writers to raise questions and look at issues." Cook said.

"I don't think the American public has any doubt, South Park has its own style, did this go a little too far on this style? Yes," Cook said, adding that "their message was probably received loud and clear."

As Kaplan described, there are some ways of approaching material that are more clever than others, noting another comedian may have "found a different way to way to comically eviscerate [Trump] opposed to graphically eviscerating him."

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"Killing raping Donald Trump, there's a funnier way to deal with him," Kaplan said.

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