Comedy Central’s controversial animated series – “South Park” – has resumed airing episodes of its 16th season. The show is set in the eternally snowy fictional town of South Park, Colorado and centers around the antics of four elementary school aged boys: Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman and Kenny McCormick. South Park’s latest episode “A Nightmare on Face Time” , which aired on October 24, 2012, was a Halloween themed episode. The episode revolved around Stan’s father – Randy – purchasing a Blockbuster Video franchise. Randy enlists the help of Stan, Sharon (Randy’s wife/Stan’s mother)  and Shelly (Randy’s daughter/Stan’s sister)  to run the franchise’s daily operations. However, the family detests working at Blockbuster because it is a failing business, and never has any customers. Additionally, the family explains to Randy that few people rent movies from Blockbuster because of the advent of RedBox, Netflix, Hulu and other methods of streaming movies online. The failure of the business has a negative effect on Randy, who begins to see, and converse with, ghosts. The family’s hatred for their Blockbuster franchise culminates in Shelly burning down the building. Shelly’s actions raise the issue of whether she committed an act of arson? Because “South Park” is set in Colorado, Colorado law applies.

The Colorado Supreme Court stated, in Copeland v. People, that: “The statute punished [Fourth Degree] arson endangering a person as a felony, and arson endangering only property as a misdemeanor: (1) A person who starts or maintains a fire or causes an explosion on his own property or that of another, and by so doing places another in danger of death or serious bodily injury or places any building or occupied structure of another in danger of damage, commits fourth degree arson. (2) Fourth degree arson is a class 4 felony if a person is thus endangered. (3) Fourth degree arson is a class 2 misdemeanor if only property is thus endangered and the value of the property is one hundred dollars or more. (4) Fourth degree arson is a class 3 misdemeanor if only property is thus endangered and the value of such property is less than one hundred dollars.”

The first element, of starting a fire placing another person in danger of death or serious injury or placing in building in danger, is met because of the circumstances surrounding Shelly’s actions. Immediately prior to Shelly’s setting fire to the building, she is seen pouring gasoline onto the movie shelves in the Blockbuster. Randy then walks up behind Shelly and questions her actions, but Shelly claims that she is doing nothing. Additionally, Shelly subsequently lights a match and throws the match onto the gasoline. After setting the fire, Shelly continues to pour gasoline onto the fire, enhancing the fire’s strength. The aggregation of these actions shows Shelly’s intent to cause damage to the building, and perhaps injure her father.

The second, third and fourth sections of the arson statute are used to determine the severity of the punishment for committing the offense. In this instance, the third and fourth elements are unlikely to be applicable.

The third and fourth sections of the statute apply to situations in which the arsonist only places property in danger of being damaged. As the Colorado Supreme Court states in People v. Garcia, the language of the arson statute is not vague and not difficult to interpret. Additionally, the Colorado Supreme Court stated that the third and fourth sections, of the fourth degree arson statute, apply in situations where only a danger to property exists and there is no danger to human life. Additionally, if there is no danger to human life, and only danger to property, then the arsonist shall be charged with a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony. When applying these principles to Shelly’s burning of the Blockbuster franchise, it is unlikely that Shelly will be charged with misdemeanor arson. The fact that Randy was still present within the building, when Shelly set the fire, shows that Randy’s life was placed in danger by Shelly’s actions. Thus, because Randy’s life, as well as the Blockbuster franchise, was endangered the third and fourth sections cannot be applied to Shelly’s actions.

Finally, the second section of the statute is likely applicable because Shelly placed Randy’s life in danger. The Copeland case states that for fourth degree arson, intent to endanger the safety of another is not necessary. However, it is sufficient if the safety of another is endangered by conduct that is dangerous. Once Shelly set the fire to the Blockbuster building, while Randy was still inside of the building, she placed his life in danger. Furthermore, even if it was not Shelly’s intent to cause harm to Randy, the fact that she placed his life in danger is sufficient to find guilt under the arson statute. Additionally, it is possible that Stan and Sharon were still present in the building, although those facts are not known for certain because Shelly only interacted with Randy prior to setting the fire.  Thus, because Shelly knowingly set fire to the Blockbuster franchise building, and subsequently placed Randy’s life in danger, it is likely that she is liable for arson in the fourth degree.

The issue of arson is raised because Shelly intentionally started a fire, and property was damaged as a result of the fire. Furthermore, human life was endangered as a result of the fire. The burning of the Blockbuster franchise is likely a message, to the viewing public, that video/DVD rentals are becoming obsolete in this new age of technology. Websites like Netflix and Hulu, allow users to view movies and television shows on their computers, cell phones or gaming systems, which eliminates the need for physical copies of movies. Additionally, pricing has become a problem for Blockbuster. Blockbuster charges more for video/DVD rentals than RedBox (Blockbuster charges $1.99 or $2.99 for the first day/ RedBox charges $1.20 for the first day). As a result, more people may rent movies from RedBox because of the less expensive price. Thus, the creators of South Park are relaying a crude message that there is very little, if any, necessity for Blockbuster in this new age of technology.