11:32 pm Nov. 18, 20112
Has it only been six years since Team America: World Police was excreted onto the big screen? It feels a lot longer, possibly because “South Park” co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s proudly juvenile musical comedy is so proudly superficial. That’s part of its charm: The film takes equal time to skewer both Dubya-era conservatives and empty-headed “unpatriotic” armchair liberals because, well, all loud people are dumb, OK?
Team America, which screened Friday as part of BAM’s “Puppets on Film” program, is a totally dated meta-cultural artifact, a film that exists within its own bubble of patently absurd references. It’s hard not to laugh wonderingly at the lyrics to love ballad “The End of an Act,” in which one character sings about how much he misses his lover while complaining about how awful Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor was. Who even remembers Pearl Harbor now that Michael Bay has released two Bad Boys films and three Transformers pictures? More importantly, how did a film that’s as dated as Team America inspire a sardonically self-hating turn of phrase as catchy and by-now instantly recognizable as “America, fuck yeah,” the refrain from the film’s theme song?
Parker and Stone’s scatological musical exists in its own pocket-universe of self-referentiality. This is a world where Michael Bay-style super-soldiers battle evil terrorists like Kim Jong-Il and the Derkaderkastanians while fending off cowardly P.R. blitzes from bleeding-heart celebrities like Alec Baldwin and Matt Damon.
Parker and Stone’s usual brand of un-PC humor is more extreme than usual in Team America because here, unlike “South Park,” there’s no voice of reason. In “South Park,” Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny often draw attention to and shun the ridiculous double standards set by both adults and peers alike. In Team America, actors are all self-righteous F.A.G.s (Film Actors Guild members), Kim Jong-Il threatens the world with a catastrophe he describes as being as bad as “9/11 times 2356,” and the only person who can help a “G.I. Joe”-style group of American commandos to save the world from anti-American militants is a Broadway actor.
I mean, Team America is a film that substitutes actors with the jerky puppets used for the “Thunderbirds” kids show of the ‘60s. Frequent close-ups of slack-jawed marionettes (“Look—this is my serious face”) and inappropriately long takes that show characters waddling along while their feet don’t touch the ground only underscore an obvious point: there is no verisimilitude here, only wanton silliness.
Gary Johnston (Parker), a successful young actor starring in Lease: The Musical, goes from singing hit songs like “Everyone Has AIDS” to working for Team America, a counter-terrorist group that kills first and asks questions never (“We lost I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E.! Repeat: we have no I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E.!”).
Team America is based out of Mount Rushmore. They fly around in action-figure-friendly jets, submersibles and Hummers. They don’t understand the meaning of the world “subtlety:” Gary’s undercover make-up for a mission in Derkaderkastan is blackface and black cotton balls that are peppered haphazardly all over his face. In an attempt to stop the Derkaderkastanis, who speak a nonsensical baby-talk language (“Dirka Allah Mohammed Jihad!”), Team America destroys half of Cairo, including the Sphinx and several pyramids. Which is especially funny considering that their motto, writ large on the side of their helicopter is “We Protect, We Serve, We Care.”
There isn’t a tonally serious bone in Team America’s body, which is perhaps why its moderate stance can be selectively misinterpreted as either a pro- or anti-War on Terror film. The film is exclusively populated by mouth-breathing lunatics who are mocked with equal gusto. The terrorists talk about how much they love balls (“I like you. You have balls. I like balls.”) while Sean Penn boasts about having visited beautiful pre-Gulf War II Iraq and the egotistical Kim Jong-Il serenades himself with his own lisp-accented version of “I’m So Lonely.”
Even Gary’s big speech at the end of the film, the cathartic, soap box-style declaration that Parker and Stone fan now anticipates at the end of every South Park episode, is mostly incoherent. In it, Gary paraphrases a drunk that tells him that the world is full of three kinds of people: “dicks, pussies and assholes.” “Pussies think everyone can get along,” the lush explains, “and dicks just want to fuck all the time without thinkin’ it through. But then you got your assholes, Chuck. And all the assholes want is to shit all over everything.”
But wait a minute: does that mean that Parker and Stone are saying that the War on Terror was a necessary evil? Yes and no. The fact that Saddam Hussein isn’t featured in the film but Kim Jong-Il is speaks volumes about how politically pointed Team America is. Parker and Stone have made a point of never taking themselves too seriously. And in this case, that means stopping themselves before Team America’s polemical political lampooning ever gets too heavy. Team America is a farce, as can be seen in the scene where puppets of Danny Glover and a mustachioed Sean Penn are mauled by deadly black panthers, who in reality are just black house cats. As the tabbies sever limbs and nip at wooden veins, we have to remind ourselves: it’s all in bad taste, it’s all in bad taste, it’s all in bad taste.
So, in a weird way, “America, fuck yeah” has become a catch-all phrase not just for anti-American sentiment but for how surreally bombastic the American political landscape is currently. The rule seems to be that he who speaks loudest is paid the most attention, so it’s only fitting that Parker and Stone cut through all the white noise with a big wet fart.