The “Gnomes” refers to the seventeenth episode in the second season of the South Park series. The series follows Stan, Kenny, Cartman, Kyle, and Mr. Tweek’s son after writing a report according to Mr. Garrison’s instructions. Harbucks plans to start selling coffee in South Park, threatening Mr. Tweek’s coffee shop and prompting him to fight Harbucks (Brady, Stone, & Parker, 1998). “Gnomes” is a show that utilizes libertarianism to dismantle anti-capitalistic arguments often considered politically correct. Libertarianism refers to a philosophy based on radical freedom and supports free markets and unrestrained economic activity (Cantor, 2007). “Gnomes” provides a vigorous defense of free markets and capitalism by showing that Mr. Tweek is manipulative while pointing out the demerit of large corporations.
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The Dark Side of Capitalism
The episode ironically brings to light the arrogance and mishandling of public relations by large corporations who often think their products’ superiority can alone guarantee their success. John Postem, a Harbucks’ representative, is gruff and blunt and does not respect Mr. Tweek. Postem thinks he can bluntly state bare economic truths and escape the judging eyes of ordinary people. He suggests that Mr. Tweek and the South Park community get used to capitalism because it is typical of the world they live in (Brady et al., 1998). By pointing out the potential dark side of capitalistic organizations, “Gnome” slightly offends those who support free markets.
Mr. Tweek’s Canny Motives and Self Interest
As a philosophy, libertarianism originates from the Scottish Enlightenment thinking, with scholars like Adam Smith arguing that government intervention reduction and free trade are necessary to economic progress and prosperity. Libertarianism supports unconditional freedom in multiple life aspects and defies the political correctness of many. Libertarians oppose all economic planning forms and want individuals to pursue self-interest as they deem fit to promote the public good (Cantor, 2007). “Gnomes” uses libertarianism to reject anti-capitalist views, celebrate free markets, and defend Hollywood’s most despised institution, capitalism or the corporation.
“Gnomes” shows that Mr. Tweek has self-interest like many corporations, and interestingly, he uses cannier business strategies to promote his coffee shop than Harbucks in several ways. Firstly, corporations are not better at advertising than small enterprises, as evidenced by Mr. Tweek’s promotion savvy. Anti-capitalists assert that large companies drive small firms out of the market by exploiting their advertising power. However, “Gnomes” depicts Mr. Tweek outwitting a big corporation by using a perfect slogan that promotes his coffee as simpler, appealing to the nostalgic customers who envision an old and unpretentious America. The episode constantly attempts to show Mr. Tweek’s advertising which is just as good as any big corporation (Cantor, 2007). For example, Mr. Tweek repeatedly launched commercials accompanied by soothing guitar music to appeal to his customers.
Secondly, “Gnomes” undermines the idea that Harbucks is morally inferior to Mr. Tweek. The episode shows that Mr. Tweek is worse than Harbucks as he overcaffeinated his son, resulting in the boy’s hyper nervousness. Furthermore, when faced with Harbucks’ threat, Mr. Tweek seeks sympathy by using his son because he alludes that he may sell his son into slavery. Such a statement depicts his greed as bigger than that of Harbucks. Interestingly, Mr. Tweek resorts to fighting Harbucks politically by lobbying the government to block Harbucks’ entry into South Park. Thus, “Gnomes” portrays the opposition towards large corporations as a sorry episode of businessmen who seek restrictive protectionism, the kind condemned by Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (Brady et al., 1998). Furthermore, “Gnomes” shows that monopoly occurs when governments engage in protectionism and restrict free markets.
Thirdly, Mr. Tweek succeeds in convincing government officials to ban Harbucks’ entry into South Park by exaggerating and overinflating anti-capitalistic arguments. As a result, the mayor sponsors Proposition 10, which will ban Harbucks from the South Park coffee market if passed. Proposition 10 succeeds in showing that the media is biased against capitalistic corporations and the public’s manipulation into anti-business attitudes. Moderators describe the boys as starry-eyed, and innocent while Postem is depicted as smelly, fat, and a big corporate guy (Cantor, 2007). The promotion of voting for Proposition 10 manipulates children to advance its agenda.
In a libertarian spirit, the boys proclaimed that big corporations are not evil because they provide things like computers and cars after changing their minds. Furthermore, the boys argued that corporate powerhouses should be allowed to conduct business in all parts since they grew from small firms through effective management. When the people of South Park tasted Harbucks’ coffee, they decided that it was better than Mr. Tweek’s (Brady et al., 1998). “Gnomes” concludes by indicating that it is fair for businesses to compete in the markets where the best products will win.
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Ordinary citizens misinterpret capitalism as theft by focusing on what businesses gain without considering how they benefit from such companies. Business is entirely mysterious to people, as evidenced by the enigmatic three stages: phases 1, 2, and 3. “Gnomes” uses the invisible hand to argue for capitalism and free markets (Cantor, 2007). When businesses seek to maximize their interest, they also promote the public interest by offering services and goods people want.
In conclusion, “Gnomes” defends capitalism by using the example of Mr. Tweek’s actions after a threat from Harbucks. It is wise to have deep suspicion about people who condemn private profit pursuit in the name of the public good. For instance, Mr. Tweek is hypocritical as he seeks self-interest under the disguise of the public good. In contrast, big corporations pursue their profit and provide services and goods that people want. “Gnomes” rationally justifies the free market and embodies a libertarian philosophy by challenging the issues that no one wants to discuss.
Brady, P. (Writer), Stone, M. (Writer)., & Parker, T. (Director). (1998). Gnomes [Television series episode]. In T. Parker & M. Stone (Producers), South Park. Culver City, CA: South Park Studios.
Cantor, P. A. (2007). The invisible gnomes and the invisible hand: South Park and libertarian philosophy. In R. Arp (Ed.), South Park and philosophy: You know I learned something today (pp. 97-112). Blackwell Publishing.