WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for South Park's Season 23 premiere episode, "Mexican Joker."
Comedy Central's South Park is known for pushing the boundaries of humor, evolving from immature satire, parody, mom and fart jokes to clever barbs and sociopolitical statements as of late. In its 23rd season, the series' creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, continue to show absolutely no signs of slowing down, especially due to the current political climate under President Donald Trump.
The season premiere, "Mexican Joker," kicks it up a notch by mixing themes of illegal immigration, detention centers and how the police actually help create criminals while using some of Trump's policies as a narrative driver. The end result is a terrorist threat that's way more twisted than DC's Joker.
Now, DC's Clown Prince of Crime is pretty reprehensible. Readers are always battling in the comments section of comics message boards over whether or not Batman's responsible for keeping the Joker train running. And South Park dives right into that debate with Kyle making it perfectly clear that he believes poor overwatch in the justice system is what creates such monsters.
In a parallel with the real world, on South Park U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) begin taking kids from their parents and placing them into detention centers. Kyle is taken as well, with his brother Ike, and sent somewhere unknown (all as part of an Eric Cartman prank). This reflects what's happening in America with refugees and fleeing migrants, with South Park using Mexicans as the oppressed and the imprisoned. When I.C.E. realizes they messed up and Kyle is in fact a Jew, not a Mexican, they try to free him. However, he, as South Park's characters often do, educates the law enforcement agency on the errors of their way.
Kyle tells them that by separating kids from their families and putting them in detention centers, I.C.E. is making the kids hate America, perpetuating stigmas and fueling the hate machine they're trying to stop. Kyle tells them this is similar to Batman's vigilantism and overall brutal ways, which leads to the creation of monsters. He references the Joker as the prime example. According to Kyle's logic, without the Bat there'd be no Joker. Kyle warns I.C.E. they're creating a "Mexican Joker" who'll someday wreak havoc on them all.
Of course, this flies over the agents' heads as all they hear is a Mexican terrorist is alive and kicking. Kyle can't stress enough how they're missing the point, but the agents don't understand. Instead, they start performing puppet shows for the Mexican kids that depict the Mexican Joker (influenced by Cesar Romero's design) as a rapist and aggressor, hoping this will take the kids off a similar path. It's also a nod to Joker's sexual assault on Barbara Gordon in Alan Moore's Batman: The Killing Joke.
Now, it seems harsh and at times isn't funny, but this fits the stereotype many people have of refugees in America and across the world. And as I.C.E tries to find their Joker, we see so many Easter eggs paying homage to Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson's take on the character viewers may start to believe there's a Mexican Joker really hiding somewhere in the camp.
A Joker does emerge later on, who perpetrates mass bombings of homegrown marijuana fields. At that point, I.C.E. goes into overdrive thinking it's one of the Mexican kids who escaped, or possibly other Mexicans that haven't been placed in internment camps. The hunt goes off the rails, however, leading to the head of I.C.E. killing his workers out of fear. And when he escapes, it's obvious he's going to become a Jim Gordon-like character to find the bomber, who's later revealed to be Randy Marsh who's angry at how weed's being grown back home.
It's a tough episode to digest but one of the functions of art is to make us uncomfortable with what's happening in reality. The I.C.E agents' mantra was to imprison Mexicans so they could secure their jobs and "Make America Great Again!" -- a campaign we're all too familiar with. Sadly, they just couldn't connect to Kyle's point that a lack of compassion and empathy, plus fear of what we don't understand, makes us terrorists and breeds hate in all corners. DC's Joker may be a physical symbol of chaos and anarchy, but South Park's Joker is a philosophical reminder of one of humanity's biggest flaws, which continues to be problematic to this day: xenophobia.
Starring Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park Season 23 currently airs at 10 pm ET/PT on Comedy Central.