Eric Cartman

By:Eric Seger
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Biography

Eric Cartman is a fictional character created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone in the animated series “South Park”. He was born in August of 1997 when the first episode of the crudely humored and constantly pushing the envelope series aired. In South Park, Eric Cartman has grown up without a father in a home with his mother, in a rural/suburban neighborhood in Colorado. He is overweight for a kid perpetually stuck at 9 years old (Eric seems to be in 3rd and 4th grade almost all of the time no one really ages in the series).
His home life consists of doing basically whatever he pleases from roaming around town on his own to demanding that his mother buy him things on a daily basis. Throughout Eric’s life he has been through a lot of strange phases and otherwise publicly embarrassing moments, and he seems to route his shortcomings outward onto other people, which brings me to Eric’s social life. Outside of the home Eric has lead a life of mischievous endeavors and outright foolish escapades. He has done anything from convinced his friend he was a robot, to traveling to Somalia to become a pirate, and even starting a sports league for crack babies. Eric can be paralleled with an evil genius. His many schemes to make money or control the world, or convince people of certain realities, such as the episode where he claims gingers don’t have souls, drive a lot of the episodes of South Park.
While Eric always seems to be the brains behind all of the operations, he is not as socially popular as he would have you believe. His 3 best friends, Stan, Kyle and Kenny, more often than not call him “fatass” and think his ideas are quite stupid, but end up following him on his adventures anyways. All of Eric’s other friends, such as Butters, Clyde, Craig, Token and Jimmy tend to think Eric is an idiot almost all of the time, with the exception of Butters on a few occasions, but that is a different biography.
The relationship Eric has with his friends is very skewed from his perspective. Eric thinks he is the coolest thing since sliced bread, and that is mostly because for the majority of situations, his best friends, Kenny, Kyle, and Stan are all pretty passive and seem to just enjoy watching Eric do stupid stuff. To add to Eric’s complex personality, he is very bigoted for a 9 year old boy. Eric expresses lots of anti-Semitism throughout almost all of the episodes, mainly directed at his friend Kyle, who is Jewish. The irony of this is that Kyle is the most level headed person out of all of the characters, and the fact that Eric gives him the most flack for existing, says something about Eric’s insecurities as a human being.
While in school Eric is the kid who gets in the most trouble. He constantly makes fun of other kids and does absurd things to get himself in or out of situations in school, one example is when Eric was making fun of a breast cancer report that one little girl, Wendy, was giving in front of class, she confronted him and challenged him to a fight. Being internally afraid to fight the little girl, Eric tattled to his mom, then got the little girl in trouble, and told the kids at school that she must have chickened out, when that doesn’t work, and the little girl schedules another fight for them, Eric defecates on the teachers desk in order to get a detention so he doesn’t have to fight. After that, he schedules another fight knowing that she won’t show, but she does, and kicks his butt. After that Eric cries all bloodied and beaten, saying, “Now you guys don’t think I’m coooooooooool”, and his friends say, “We never thought you were cool anyways”, and instead of taking that as an insult, Eric twists that into a good thing by saying, “So you guys don’t think I’m any less cool because of that? That’s great!”, when in reality it is just his friends saying we already thought you were a loser, nothing changed. Overall the character of Eric Cartman is bigoted, brash, self centered, manipulative, spoiled, and unruly just to skim the surface of this interesting little boy’s personality.

Perspective one: Trait and Skill approach

Of all of the overlying themes of Eric’s personality throughout the 15 year series, one thing that sticks out most is Eric’s completely skewed perception on how others view him, his subjective reality is way off from what people actually think; his meta-accuracy is horrible, and his accuracy when it comes to perceiving others is pretty shabby as well. Time and time again Eric begins his escapades under the pretenses that everyone else thinks it’s cool, and in judging that others think he is cool, he gains an extremely false sense of confidence and cockiness in almost any situation.
In a recent episode from this year, after the poorest kid in school, Eric’s friend Kenny gets sent to a foster home, Eric becomes the poorest kid in school, and this is absolutely devastating to Eric because he spends a lot of his time ranking on Kenny about being the poorest kid in school. Now in turn Eric believes that everyone else thinks he is a loser because he is the poorest kid in school, when in reality no one cares at all. But Eric, being the over reacting extremist that he is, goes home and yells at his mom for being poor, and calls the police on his mother so he can be sent to a foster home. Upon being sent to a foster home he goes to a new school where he is no longer the poorest kid in school, and begins to sing and dance to make fun of the poor kid at the new school. Eric of course thinks he is “really cool” and is having a blast picking on this kid, but amidst his heinous act, other kids at the school ask Kenny(who also got transferred to this school), “Did he act like this at your old school?”, and Kenny shakes his head and replies, “yea”.
This is just one of countless examples of how Eric fails in meta-accuracy, and he would be a completely different character if he realized what others actually thought of him instead of creating his own reality in every situation. It also does not help that Eric rarely ever steps back and self observes. Granted, Eric generally knows how Kyle feels about him and perceives him, which interestingly enough might lead to an explanation as to why Eric dislikes Kyle so much, because Kyle is the only character who can really get to Eric and thoroughly piss him off.
Eric is also very poor at accurately perceiving others. Although not as poor as he is at meta-accuracy. Going back to Kyle, Stan, and Kenny, his best friends, which he should exhibit the highest degree of accuracy with, he does not. More often than not, Kyle will be the voice of reason in most situations, and Eric will just write him off on the pretenses that he is an a-hole or Jewish, never actually considering Kyle’s inner motives for the things he says, which are most of the time very level headed and rational.
Gordon Allport's personal dispositions in the Trait and Skill Approach can explain many of Eric's Behaviors as well. It is interesting to look at how Eric's Cardinal dispositions (his ruling passions), and his central dispositions (his fundamental qualities), act together to create the person he is. Deep down Eric's ruling passions are for food, for manipulative power over his friends, and his passion for making money. His central dispositions consist of his manipulative nature, his arrogance, his extreme insecurities, and his complete lack of empathy and tolerance just to name a few. Together these dispositions make him who he is, an extremely unique person. If he had no drive to make money, a lot of his adventures would never happen to begin with because that cardinal disposition is not there, also, on the flip side, if his central disposition of his complete lack of empathy and tolerance weren't there and he had a conscience, we would never see him creating a basketball league for crack babies, which shows us the relationship between a cardinal disposition (making money) and a central disposition (no empathy or tolerance).
Henry Murray's Trait and Skill Approach theory on motivation explains how we all have four core needs; the need for affiliation, which is the need to please others and be surrounded by others; the need for achievement, which is the need to succeed at the goals set for ones self, the need for exhibition, which is the need to entertain and amuse others, and the need for power, which is the need for control and positions of dominance.
We can see the need for affiliation in Eric when he cries about not being cool when he gets beaten up by Wendy in front of the entire school, because he yearns for their acceptance and realizes that it is jeopardized and he cries because of it. We can see the need for achievement in Eric on almost every adventure he begins, whether it is trying to get the hippies out of South Park, or run a successful business, when he fails, he gets very upset. The need for exhibition is an obvious one for Eric, he loves being the center of attention at school when making fun of other kids, and makes sure everyone hears him when he's got a "good joke" in his eyes. The need for power is seen time and time again when Eric decides to create companies such as controlling the KFC black market trade, or running a business for people to get revenge on their parents. In all Eric exhibits all of Murray's needs at one point or another and they are a good predictor of what he will do in most situations.

Perspective two: Defense Mechanisms

A big part of Eric’s ridiculous personality is his defense mechanisms. These defense mechanisms are a key to Eric’s survival in a lot of episodes of South Park. He needs to protect his self image and self concept; otherwise, he would be defeated in almost every situation. In multiple episodes, Eric is the opposition to most of the characters. And his use of defense mechanisms adds a good bit of humor to the situations Eric is in.
Reaction formation is seen in Eric on multiple occasions. Hiding his true feelings by over-emphasizing the opposite is something Eric does best. A great episode to convey an example of this is the episode mentioned in Eric’s biography at the beginning of this paper in which little Wendy confronts Eric to a fist fight. Internally Eric is petrified of fighting Wendy, because he is a big wimp on the inside, however outwardly to everyone he sees in school, he relentlessly tells them that Wendy is afraid to fight him and he is that she is going to chicken out. There is even a scene where Eric is begging Wendy not to fight him in the janitor’s closet and even eats his own underwear to get her to stop, and suddenly the door opens and it is Eric’s friend. Eric immediately begins saying, “you’re scared Wendy, yea walk away”, and things of the like to protect his image to his friends overhearing it. This episode shows reaction formation from both sides, and lets you into Eric’s inner character, and as a viewer you can see how important Eric’s outward image is to the other boys in school.
Another common defense mechanism Eric uses is displacement. Eric displaces a lot of anger in South Park, in fact, I believe that almost every cruel thing he does is displacement of anger, from perhaps not having a father, or being jealous of his friends and the things that they have that he does not. In a recent episode “the 1%”, Eric displaces his anger at himself for being an immature little boy and being the one kid who failed the presidential fitness test, onto his stuffed animals, Klyde frog, Polly Prissy Pants, and Rumper Tumpskin, by killing them. Countless times Eric has been angry at his mom, or angry at his friends, and that anger gets displaced onto otherwise innocent people as well. One of the most common displacement targets for Eric’s anger is onto Kyle. He never has a real reason to be angry at Kyle, however, he seems to always vent some sort of aggression or anger onto him, which never seems to stem from anything too obvious, but there are underlying causes for this type of behavior that are left up to the observer to interpret.
To contrast the defense mechanisms Eric does use, he seemingly never uses sublimation, which would take all of his dangerous urges and form them into something positive. There is such a polar difference between what sublimation is as a defense mechanism and what Eric Cartman actually does that this contrast needs to be mentioned. If Eric did use sublimation as a defense mechanism, the show would have much humor, because it relies heavily on Eric’s outrageous usually anger driven adventures. When Eric is mad that “gingers” exist, he expresses that, when he is angry that illegal immigrants come into the country, he joins the border patrol. He never finds something productive to do with his anger, he either displaces it, or takes what he is angry about and blows it up way out of proportion, to the point where he is tackling the things he is angry at on an almost global scale.
We see rationalization in Eric as well. This is an important defense mechanism for Eric because it helps him explain away some of his endeavors. He mostly uses this mechanism for disguising his true motivations. When Eric goes over to Butters’ house dressed as a robot, he tells his mom he is playing with Butters and the two boys spend more than a week together “playing robot”, or so that’s what the boys’ parents think. Eric’s true motivation is not that he likes Butters, but it is that he is trying to exploit Butters’ gullible nature and gets him to believe he is a real robot. This plan of course back fires on Eric when Butters reveals to “Awesome-o” (Eric dressed as a robot), that he has a video of Eric pretending to be Brittany Spears in his back yard. Then Eric’s motives turn from exploiting Butters’ gullibility, to finding and destroying the video Butters has. And all the while Eric and Butter’s parents believe that the two boys are simply getting along really well.

Discussion

In breaking down Eric Cartman's Personality, I began to realize what aspects really made him who he was, and without those aspects given to the character by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the show would not be as funny as it is (in my opinion). Analyzing a fictional character can sometimes lead to insight on the creators of that character, and it is interesting to think that Eric might share some of his personality with those who created him. I decided on the two perspectives that I did because I feel like they capture relevant aspects of Eric’s personality, and give the show the flair it does have.
Gordon Allport and Henry Murray's theories can both be seen in Eric and most everyone else in our culture. It is important to realize that the trait and skill approach can only accurately be used in individualistic societies like our own because they emphasize the individual and their uniqueness, where as in collectivist cultures some of Allport and Murray's findings would be irrelevant. But as far as Eric Cartman goes, they fit right in.
Without Eric’s problems with meta-accuracy and accuracy in judging others views of him and judging others for who they are, the show would not be as outrageous as it is. Because Eric is a fictional character, we can laugh at him as he completely; no filters attached, less than tastefully dissects today’s hot button issues. The reality is however, he has a lot of undesirable personality characteristics if he was to be a real person. To contrast that however, Eric is a very smart boy, if he were not he would never be able to scheme all of his master plans. None the less, he would undoubtedly be shunned out of our modern day culture for his complete lack of tolerance and compassion, not to mention he is a horrible son to his mother. But that is just it, because Eric Cartman’s personality is so completely taboo, it lures us in. We do not experience a character like Eric anywhere in real life.
To try and analyze the personality of a completely heinous fictional cartoon character might seem pointless, but it has helped to explain and dissect what it is that makes South Park funny to those who enjoy it, and character personality creation has a lot to do with it. It is Eric’s dynamic, tabooed, questionable, closed minded, inferiority complex driven character that makes him so entertaining to watch and is a big reason that South Park has been on air for as long as it has.

References

Trey Parker(writer/creator), Matt Stone(writer/creator), [online video] , 11/26/11, http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Cartman

Psych2301 lecture slides and notes