Canadian ‘South Park’ Fans Want to Know Why Paramount Banned ‘Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride’
Twenty six years after Stan Marsh, Sparky and Big Gay Al taught South Park fans that it’s okay to be gay in the iconic episode “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride,” those followers want to know why Paramount decided to shove them all back into the closet.
Before South Park was a monolithic franchise worth $1 billion, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were Comedy Central’s ragtag, iconoclastic hellraisers challenging the conservative cultural mores of late 1990s television. In its first season, South Park went out of its way to upset the restrictively religious, Barbara Streisand and TV censors themselves on their way to becoming the most controversial series in animation — but their most pointed and praised attack was on rampant, casual and socially acceptable homophobia that was slightly more common in 1997 than it is today. “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride” wasn’t just the first South Park episode to earn an Emmy nomination — it was the only episode in the series to be honored with a nomination in the category of Outstanding TV — Individual Episode by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Flash forward to 2023, and some Canadian viewers who access the South Park catalog through Paramount+ found that the first season is missing its most lauded episode. The response of the Canucks on the South Park subreddit could be summed up as, “You’ll regret this day, friend!”
“Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride” centers around Stan’s struggle to accept his dog Sparky (hilariously played by George Clooney) after he realizes that Sparky is attracted to other male dogs. Stan attempts to convert his dog into a heterosexual hound and insults him for his pooch preferences, and Mr. Garrison’s ironic declaration that “gay people” are evil further pushes Stan to reject his pet. Sparky runs away from home and finds his way to Big Gay Al's Big Gay Animal Sanctuary, where homosexual animals are accepted and protected.
Stan goes out looking for Sparky and eventually finds the sanctuary, prompting Big Gay Al to take him on the titular boat ride and deliver a speech about how homosexuality has always existed throughout history and shouldn’t be condemned. Stan has a change of heart and convinces the rest of the town that “it’s okay to be gay,” causing the citizens of South Park to accept their gay pets back into their lives.
Paramount has given no official explanation for the episode’s absence from some subscriber’s viewing libraries, and a few users have suggested that there might be a simple technical glitch preventing some fans from watching “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride.” Over in the U.S., Max, the streaming home of South Park south of Niagara, still shows the episode as available to view.
Nevertheless, many fans in the subreddit accused Paramount of hypocritical hypersensitivity, arguing that the streamer must not understand that the message of “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride” is one of acceptance and tolerance. Naturally, the half hour installment is filled to the brim with jokes and stereotypes about gay people and it pulls no punches in portraying the ignorance and bigotry of homophobia, and many fans feel that Paramount made a narrow-minded decision to censor the material despite its message because it isn’t portrayed in a sensitive, sanitized way.
“As a gay guy I find this removal more homophobic than the episode. Considering it’s a show from the late 1990s and early 2000s and it’s fourth episode has the message ‘accept the gay people in your life’ I find that badass considering it took til the 2010s for people to accept most lgbt people,” wrote one user.
Another noted, “Do they not know a lot of LGBT groups praised the episode back in the day? It was absolutely loved by the gay community, this just seems like a ‘we're protecting you because we know your interests better than you do’ type of censorship.”
One simply stated of the removal, “Well that's gay.”