Prime time animation is a pop culture Petri dish – an incubator for memes long before the word meme itself migrated from the pages of the OED to the Internet. Generally, we think about this aspect of animation in terms of how shows like Family Guy, The Simpsons, and South Park very quickly incorporate current events and pop culture references into programs, frequently in ways that allow characters to rebel against what the shows posit as the politically correct nature of U.S. liberalism and the presumable dourness of feminists, queer folks, and people of color. But the pop culture Petri dish works in two directions. It's important to think about how the forms of humor that abound in primetime animation get taken up and used, particularly in the world of videogames and related forums (those stomping grounds for trolls).
Primetime animation informs game design, game play, and communications in and around games – my interviews with online gamers suggest that videogame players are avid fans of prime time animation. The accompanying clip from South Park needs to be understood within the context of sexist, racist, and intensely homophobic forms of humor that travel from the screens of our televisions, laptops and consoles to the online interactions that take place there as well. Websites like Fat,Ugly, or Slutty take comments that could easily have been written by writers for South Park or Family Guy – "fuck you kanker please get cancer and die" or "you fat fuckin tomboy go kill yourself" – and suggest that the way to counter the fact that "some players like to send creepy, disturbing, insulting, degrading and/or just plain rude messages to other online players, usually women" is to laugh them away. Fight them with humor. Feed the trolls and do it with a smile.
MIT’s Hate Speech Project was recently shown at PAX East (there are reasons why sponsor Penny Arcade should be participating in this conversation). This project chillingly demonstrates how "humor" that consistently takes women, queers, and people of color as the butt of its jokes encourages aggressive and intimidating online behaviors and creates environments that are downright hostile to us. Players primed by the humor of primetime animation dismiss objections to their behavior and its effects on women, people of color, and queers by reference, ironically, to our lack of a sense of humor, saying in effect, "stfu. jk."