If any cultural, political, or technological phenomenon of the past couple of decades hasn’t been lampooned by South Park, it probably didn’t happen. But the 21st century has brought forth so much nonsense that even Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of that at once crude and multidimensionally satirical cartoon show, have had to expand into feature films and even onto Broadway to ridicule it all. The latest project takes the humbler but undeniably more relevant form of a Youtube series, and one modeled on the form of ultra-local television news. Sassy Justice comes hosted by anchor Fred Sassy, a flamboyant “consumer advocate” for the people of Cheyenne, Wyoming — and one possessed, come to think of it, of an oddly familiar face.
Fred Sassy is based on Sassy Trump, a creation of voice actor Peter Serafinowicz. Despite his formidable skills as an impressionist, the trouble Serafinowicz had nailing the sound and manner of the current U.S. President gave him the idea of dubbing over real footage of the man with deliberately invented character voices. This led to an interest in deepfakes, videos created using digital likenesses of real people without their actual participation.
The increasingly convincing look of these productions once had a lot of people spooked, as you’ll recall if you can cast your mind back to 2019. Deepfakes thus made perfect subject matter for a Parker-Stone project, but not long after they began collaborating with Serafinowicz on a deepfake-saturated Fred Sassy movie, the coronavirus pandemic put an end to production. From the ashes of that project rises Sassy Justice, which premiered last month.
This first episode (with a clip playlist here) also provides a glimpse of the surely enormous all-deepfake cast to come. Uncanny versions of Al Gore, Mark Zuckerberg (now a dialysis-center magnate), and Julie Andrews (as computer technician “Lou Xiang,” a reference that if you get, you get) all make appearances, as do those of White House regulars Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and even Donald Trump, on whose voice Serafinowicz seems to have made progress. But “it’s impossible for a human to accurately mimic someone else’s voice to 100 percent,” as Sassy is assured by a Zoom interviewee, the oft-imitated actor Michael Caine — or is it? Less able than ever to tell real from the fake, let alone the deepfake, “we’re all going to have to trust our gut, that inner voice,” as Sassy advises in the episode’s final segment. “It’s all we have now.” But then, all effective satire is a little frightening.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.