Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Radiohead Week, Day #1: “We’re That Band, Radiohead”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 10, 2007

Just wait until Robert Smith of The Cure week

As you know from reading my blog yesterday, as well as from existing in the free world, Radiohead semi-officially released a new album today. Consequently, it seems only fair to devote the next week here at IITS to the band. Don’t worry, it’s not gonna be something lame like me going through and reviewing all of their albums (which you should probably know pretty well), and it’s not gonna be something even lamer like long pontifications on why they’re the best band since Sliced Bread: The Band (which you should also probably know pretty well). Just gonna share some thoughs on certain moments of the last decade and a half of the band’s existence, some personal vignettes relating to the band, maybe a haiku or two. Oh, and mp3s of a whole lot of underrated tracks of theirs, of course.

First up: the classic South Park episode “Scott Tenorman Must Die”. Since premiering in 2001, STMD has become one of the most beloved and well-known South Park eps, even ranking #8 in Comedy Central’s 2004 countdown of SP fan-favorites. The episode’s rep can mostly be attributed to two things. Firstly it cemented Cartman as possibly the most evil character in TV history. Before his feud with Scott Tenorman, Cartman had been whiny, selfish, sexist, anti-semitic, cruel, and just outright bad, but I don’t think he ever quite approached pure evil the way he did here. Hell, even Wendy Testaburger had sent a possible rival for Stan’s affections on a rocket into the sun, nothing Cartman had done had been nearly that terrible.

But oh man, Scott Tenorman. In case you somehow managed to avoid this episode all your life, here’s the rundown (feel free to skip forward two paragraphs otherwise)–Cartman swears revenge on South Park 9th grader Scott Tenorman after he swindles Cartman for $16.22 by selling him his pubes (Cartman mistakenly thinks owning pubes is just as good as possessing them), but his several successive attempts to get satisfaction backfire and end up leaving him more and more humiliated. Eventually, he hatches a grand scheme to get Scott to come to his “Chili Con Carnival,” in which he claims to have trained a donkey to bite off Scott’s dick. Scott also has plans, though, and gets every teenager in town to contribute their pubes to his chili submission, which Cartman will have to eat.

The day comes and they eat each others’ chili, but before Scott can get the last laugh on Cartman, he reveals that he was in fact well aware of Scott’s plan, and switched his chili with Chef’s submission at the last second. What’s more, he reveals that the chili Scott has just eaten is actually the flesh of Scott’s dead parents, who Cartman tricked into trespassing onto private property and got shot by the property’s hick owner. Thus, Cartman becomes arguably the only eight year old in TV history to offer the immortal taunt: “Nyah nyah nyah nyah, nyah nyah, I made you eat your parents!” It looks something like this:

Even the normally unimpressed Stan and Kyle have to kind of give it up for Cartman on this one. “Dude,” says an utterly shellshocked Kyle, “I think it might be best for us to never piss off Cartman again.”

But of course, that’s only half of it. In addition to this Satanic fruition, STMD also boasts the guest appearance of the titular 9th grader’s favorite band: Radiohead. Doing recon work on Scott at the advice of Ned and Uncle Jimbo, Cartman learns of his foe’s love for the ‘Head, and decides to use them in his plot to foil Tenorman. At first he fakes an MTV broadcast of the band talking about how much they hate Scott, which he quickly sees through. Cartman then decides to actually get Radiohead to come to South Park, which he does by writing them a letter pretending that Scott is deathly ill (with ass cancer, specifically), and only wishes to meet the band before he dies. The band finally shows up at the very end of the episode, after Cartman’s dirty deed has been done…

The truly amazing thing about Radiohead’s appearance in this episode is the way Trey Parker & Matt Stone designed it in relation to the public’s general understanding of the band, which is to say, that most people don’t really know anything about them, aside from the fact that they did the song “Creep” and are generally some pretty depressed dudes. So the beginning of the episode plays with this limited info a bit, with Jimbo not even recognizing the term “Radiohead,” until Cartman sings him a few bars of “Creep” (joined in by a vox-impaired Ned). Then, when the band gets Cartman’s letter about Scott’s ailment, they are moved to tears (see above) by the boy’s story, and immediately cancel what they’re doing to join Scott in his misery (“Didn’t you hear the letter? This poor kid has cancer! In his ass!“).

Just as often, though, the episode plays on the fact that no one really knows for sure who these guys are, a hilarious representation of the sort of “other” status that Radiohead has in American rock music. Cartman’s letter to the band, which Thom Yorke reads aloud, begins with Cartman identifying himself as a “young, supple eight-year-old boy” (which causes Thom just a split-second’s hesitation, barely perceivable but ridiculously funny) as if for all he knows, Radiohead (or all British bands, or all British people) are openly pedophilic.

Then, once they finally do show up in South Park amidst the chili-cannibalism confusion (“Uh…excuse me?”), Stan asks “Who are you?,” not recognizing them despite the fact that Cartman already told him they’d be showing up at some point (and though there probably aren’t many British quintets walking around South Park, much less famous ones). Johnny’s classic response, “We’re that band…Radiohead,” drives this point even further, referring to themselves as they imagine most of the people in South Park do (“Oh right, that band”). Then, they respond to Scott’s sobbing over his parents’ demise:

  • Ed (elbowing Johnny): “Geez, what a little crybaby!”
  • Colin: “You gonna cry all day, crybaby?”
  • Thom: “You know, everyone has problems, it doesn’t mean you have to go and be a little crybaby about it.”
  • Ed: “C’mon guys, let’s go, this kid is totally not cool.”
  • Thom: “Yeah, that’s the most uncool kid I’ve ever met.”
  • Phil: “Little crybaby.”

This vision of Radiohead as tough-love “Man Up!” types at possibly the most eye-wideningly disturbing moment in the history of the show is one of the most perverse strokes of genuis I’ve ever seen the show pull off. It’s arguably even more surprising a turn than Cartman’s final revelation, though I can never say for certain, having had both endings ruined for me before ever actually getting to seeing the episode (damn you 2001 and your lack of YouTube!!) Nevertheless, it’s a truly hysterical example of one of the world’s most unlikely megastar bands playing with what little public image they’d achieved, and surely marks one of the all-time great celebrity voice cameos in Cartoon history.

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