South Park explains the economic meltdown

Growing up in the seventies, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were part of the first generation to get its civics lessons from animated shows. Considering the incredible power of Schoolhouse Rock, it's hardly surprising that, years later, the two South Park creators would use their own program to explain the complexities of religion, government and the economy.

Of course, South Park's take on the issues tends to be a little twisted. Their analysis of the 2000 election scandal, for example, had a kindergarten classroom unable to to choose a leader because of an indecisive little girl named "Flora" (any confusion with the state of Florida is, of course, completely intentional). Similarly, their take on censorship involved a town full of concerned parents physically catapulting themselves at the headquarters of a television network to protest its airing of an offensive program.

It's hardly surprising, then, that Parker and Stone's version of the current economic meltdown is irreverent, outrageous and painfully apt. In South Park's March 25 episode, the citizens of the town, convinced that they have angered the economy, convert to an Old Testament-style theocracy. Meanwhile, one of the show's protagonists tries to return a margarita blender that his father bought on an installment plan. In the process, he has to take his case all the way to the federal government, where he learns how the Treasury determines the value of toxic loans:

Admit it: deep down, you always knew that Geithner's plan involved a kazoo and a cleaver. (Click here to see the whole show.)

While some members of the Schoolhouse Rock generation are creating explanatory videos, far more of them are using the handy little items. For example, Mercury Research and Consulting's prediction market videos, while somewhat clunky, are clear, concise and compelling explanations of fairly complex concepts:

More recently, Jonathan Jarvis' "The Crisis of Credit" video illustrated the subprime meltdown in an entertaining, compelling ten minutes. When I first saw it, I was surprised to discover that it was among the most-watched videos on YouTube:

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

Jarvis' "Crisis of Credit" is also available on the Good Magazine site. Founded in 2006, Good makes impressive use of visual tools to educate its readers, demonstrating everything from underwater cable to fuel efficiency in clear, easy-to-read infographics. The site is currently featuring a collection of financial crisis graphs.

Once upon a time, the general perception was that exciting, playful visuals were the enemy of serious analysis. However, between Good, South Park, and The Simpsons, it's clear that video has become the predominant tool for quick education. Even the staid, conservative New York Times is increasingly resorting to it!

Finally, lest we forget to honor the pioneers, let's pay a little obeisance to the the late, great Schoolhouse Rock:

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