I have a confession. For all my self-proclaimed desire to rise above the profane, I absolutely love South Park. While the majority of this last season has been a bit of a disappointment for me, the creators of South Park offered up a true gem recently with the episode, “Ginger Cow. “ For most, I suspect this episode made little sense, but for those who are “in the know” this episode felt like an inside joke between the writers and its religious viewership.
For anyone who doesn’t know, the ginger cow is a real thing, although in more proper circles its called a red heifer. While I can’t speak for other religions, in Judaism the red heifer is a special sacrifice meant to purify the whole of Israel. The process for the cow’s sacrifice is complex, and to our modern sensibilities strange.The laws of the red heifer are often used as an example of laws that can’t be explained, and anyone that reads these laws can’t help but shake their head, laugh, and/or cry. To make things a bit odder, ginger cows don’t exist (maybe we sacrificed them all?) meaning we can’t become purified. Because of this, in order for the Temple to be rebuilt, or for the messianic era to arrive, a ginger cow would need to be born. And yes, there are people out there working on genetically producing one.
South Park’s usage of the red heifer was ingenious. It had enough truth in it to be offensive, but the topic is one that allows us to laugh at ourselves alongside the rest of the world. While the red heifer was an inside joke, the episode also featured a theme that many can appreciate. The coming of the ginger cow brings with it a never-before-seen peace in the Middle East. Unfortunately, when the different faiths learn that the prophecy they wanted was false, the peace crumbles. Here, the writers are making very interesting statements about the situation in the Middle East. South Park has the violence end because of the fulfillment of a prophecy that on its own doesn’t change anything, then when the prophecy is found to be false the fighting begins again. They are essentially calling out all the different parties in the Middle East conflict, saying that since something as simple as a ginger cow could solve the problems between them, their fighting is unnecessary, yet this idea is either reinforced or countered by their warring again by the end of the episode. On a simple level, this shows that the parties are fighting for no reason. Yet, it could be making a different statement—one that I am more prone to agree with—in that it shows that there really isn’t a simple solution to the situation, that putting a Band-Aid on the problems would only result in a temporary peace.
Of course, I might just be reading my own ideas into the episode. Either way, “Ginger Cow” was an excellent episode, and a classic example of what makes South Park so great. And it has Van Halen.