[Digital Simplicity] What Cartman missed when he faked Tourette syndrome

By Yang Sung-jin

Published : Jan 17, 2020 - 10:26
Updated : Jan 17, 2020 - 10:48

When Eric Cartman in the animated TV series “South Park” came up with an evil plan to fake Tourette syndrome, the chief purpose was to say whatever he wanted. He took advantage of the fact that some people with Tourette syndrome have what is called coprolalia, or involuntary swearing.

By faking Tourette syndrome, Cartman successfully got away with shouting obscenities, at least initially in the episode titled “Le Petit Tourette” aired in 2007. There’s a typical South Parkish twist in the plot, but I don’t want to go into more details for those who haven’t watched this landmark episode.

The point is, our poor Cartman didn’t know that he could have made tons of money by pretending to have the disorder -- if he had performed his masterful faking on his own YouTube channel.

A Korean YouTuber has done exactly what Cartman could not fathom at all: faking a severe case of Tourette syndrome and producing a host of YouTube videos in which he supposedly fought with the disorder to do everyday tasks such as going to a hair salon or eating instant noodles.

Many kind-hearted Korean viewers were deeply moved by the YouTuber’s videos featuring his “brave” challenges. As the Tourette-themed videos gained popularity and the number of subscribers for the channel set up last month surged to about 380,000, the creator in question was reported to have made a handsome sum of $8,000 in a month through YouTube’s monetization system.

Things began to go awry when an alleged friend of the YouTuber made a shocking revelation, claiming that he does not suffer from such severe symptoms of Tourette syndrome. When questions were raised and the dispute spread on social media, the YouTuber last week posted an apology video in which he admitted he had “exaggerated” his symptoms.

It is not yet confirmed whether the YouTuber indeed has mild Tourette syndrome or he fabricated the entire scheme with no symptoms whatsoever. If the latter is the case, his performance level is on par with Cartman’s.

Given the Korean Tourette syndrome incident, Cartman clearly missed an opportunity to get rich overnight. But his decision to focus on pursuing a slightly distorted idea of freedom of speech, in retrospect, was farsighted. For he ended up discovering his true self -- a self filled with so many unspeakable truths that it must be controlled through self-censorship.

For sociologist Erving Goffman known for his dramaturgical approach, Cartman’s performance of a swearing kid with Tourette syndrome is nothing outlandish or deviant. According to this social interaction theory, human life is like a play in which people constantly take on different roles. Just like a drama stage, when people act on the front stage, they try to manipulate others’ impression of them, a technique called “impression management.”

When people retreat to the back stage, or private areas where they are not scrutinized by other people, they can be their true selves (though there is still a long-running academic debate about whether there is a true self at all).

If Goffman’s theory is applied to Cartman, he simply played the new role of a boy with Tourette syndrome in an animated theater, and his impression management was, as always, impeccable and his behavior on the back stage was unsurprisingly despicable.

Who could blame Cartman and the Korean YouTuber? Both simply played their somewhat fictional selves. After all, people often go out of their ways to beautify their public image on social media. Just look at the incredibly beautiful and amazingly good-natured people on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you believe the much-doctored photos and heavily edited videos accurately reflect people’s true selves, I recommend you watch the “South Park” episode mentioned above and observe Cartman’s flawless impression management. In an era of social media, seeing is not believing.

By Yang Sung-jin (insight@heraldcorp.com)

The writer is multimedia editor of The Korea Herald. -- Ed.

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