Tag Archive: South Park

Setting Fire in the Snow? – Arson in “South Park”

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.

A Rose By Any Other Name

The South Park episode aired on October 27, 2010 featured a meeting of the childrens’ superhero group “Coon and Friends” named after Eric Cartman’s alter ego “The Coon.”  The meeting began with a lengthy discussion on why the group is named after The Coon instead of another child’s superhero name.  Once they resolve that pressing issue, Coon and Friends set out to find out what’s behind a recent crime wave.  As the episode progresses, Coon and Friends discovers a true super hero by the name of Captain Hindsight.  Eric then decides they must convince Captain Hindsight to join Coon and Friends.  So the children attempt to beat Captain Hindsight to the scene of the next major disaster in order to convince him.  The Beyond Petroleum oil company provide that opportunity by creating a second oil leak in the Gulf.  Unfortunately Captain Hindsight beats Coon and Friends to the oil leak and employs his astonishing super power of hindsight.  After telling everyone at the oil leak what could have been done differently to prevent the leak, Captain Hindsight leaves.  As the oil leak gets bigger, the president of Beyond Petroleum apologizes and changes the company’s name to Dependable Petroleum.

It may seem far-fetched that a corporation would change its name after experiencing a large disaster but it does happen.  For example after merging with MCI, WorldCom was at the center of one of the largest corporate scandals in U.S. history.  After emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, WorldCom changed its name to MCI and moved its corporate headquarters.    Another example comes from the accounting firm that enabled the WorldCom scandal, Arthur Andersen.  After much friction between the accounting and consulting divisions Arthur Andersen and Andersen Consulting went their separate ways.  Bitter arbitration led to Anderson Consulting having to give up the Anderson name and take on the new name Accenture.  However, months later when the WorldCom scandals involving Arthur Andersen unfolded was it really a concession?  More recently Blackwater, the private security contractor plagued by scandal in Iraq, announced it would operate under the new name Xe.

The question arises, what are the legal ramifications when a corporation changes its name?  First, the corporation must amend the articles of incorporation that created the corporation in the state in which it was formed.  In Louisiana, for example, two-thirds of the voting power held by various types of shareholders must approve the name change just as when the corporation was created under La Rev Stat Ann § 12:31.  Once the proper paper work is filed with the Louisiana Secretary of State the corporation has a new name.  Another means of arranging for a new corporate name to the general public is to register a DBA (Doing Business As), otherwise known as a Trade Name, with the Secretary of State.  This is simply accomplished by filling out the appropriate form, getting it signed by an authorized corporate representative, and paying a $50 fee.

Unfortunately for corporations like Beyond Petroleum/Dependable Petroleum while the general public may be fooled, its past indiscretions do not simply go away.  The Louisiana Second Circuit addressed this point in Pro Source Roofing, Inc. v. Boucher. In Pro Source Roofing a Texas roofing company had legally changed its name in Texas, but did not update its Louisiana Contractors license until about three months later.  During that time the roofing company entered into a repair contract with an apartment owner.  The apartment owner refused to honor the contract and the roofing company sued them for breach of contract.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the apartment owner because the roofing company was not technically licensed in Louisiana under its current name.  The Louisiana Second Circuit reversed with its holding, “[t]he mere change in a corporation’s name generally does not create a new entity, nor does it affect the corporation’s property, rights or liabilities.”  Therefore, while the general public may accept Dependable Petroleum with open arms, Beyond Petroleum’s oil spill would still be its problem.

California law similarly states that corporate name changes do not affect corporate property, rights, and liabilities.  In McClellan v. Northridge Park Townhome Owners Ass’n, a licensed contractor performed earthquake repair work for a condominium complex.  After the contractor completed the project, the condominium association failed to pay for the work.  The parties entered into an arbitration proceeding in which the association filed a counterclaim, but failed to appear at the hearing.  At the hearing the arbitrator awarded the contractor a default award and denied the association’s counterclaim.  Unfortunately for the contractor the association had declared bankruptcy, dissolved, and incorporated under a new name.  In response the contractor filed a motion to amend the judgment to include the name of the new association.  Ultimately, the McClellan court held the new association liable because it was “merely a continuation of the [previous] corporation.”

While this may be comforting to know, I’ll leave you with one final example. Valujet was an infamous airline plagued by safety problems such as the May 11, 1996 crash of Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades.  After the crash Valujet faced severe financial problems and so they merged with a much smaller Airways Corporation airline to form AirTran.  Currently AirTran is the 3rd largest discount airline operating in the United States with a revenue of $2.4 billion in 2009.  The question was asked, “Who remembers Valujet?”  The answer to that question identifies one reason a corporation would change it name after expending substantial resources to develop name recognition.  After all the negative press on safety issues Valujet received few people would want to fly with them.  However, about 23.7 million people flew with AirTran last year.

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