When the failing economy hits South Park, Randy urges the town to adopt a strict form of anti-consumerism. Kyle preaches against Randy's teachings, becoming a Savior-like figure to all of his followers in the process. Meanwhile, Stan's attempts to return a margarita machine reveal an unsettling secret about how our government really makes important economic decisions.
Stan tries to save money by depositing it into the bank but it "disappears" moments after when the bank manager invests the money in a "money-market mutual fund." When Randy complains to the manager, he invests money in a portfolio, but the money also disappears (with the implication that the manager was transferring the money into his own account); a recession then hits the nation and South Park. At dinner, Randy explains to Stan that the economy is failing due to people spending their money on luxuries, and ironically, he continues his tirade while making himself a margarita in a Margaritaville-brand mixer, the noise of which drowns out his voice for part of the tirade.
People in South Park are struggling with the recent economic downturn, and many people on the street are castigating those whom they would blame; Cartman predictably blames the Jews, claiming they hid the money in a "Jew Cave", but Randy convinces everyone to reduce their spending to only the "bare essentials" in order to propitiate the economy, defending his own frivolous purchase by adding that the essentials include margaritas. His recommended changes make the town resemble first-century Galilee.
Kyle becomes annoyed, responding that the economy is not actually angry with them, and that they should be out spending money, and continues to preach that the economy only exists as a mental construct, and that people have lost their faith in it because of the recession. He then convinces his friends that if they want the economy to be strong, they must have faith in it. Upon hearing of this heresy, Randy and his makeshift economic council decide that they must kill Kyle. Cartman, in his desire to obtain a copy of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, says that he will deliver Kyle to Randy and his friends in exchange for the game.
In a scene resembling that of the Last Supper, Kyle and his friends go out for pizza where he laments that he feels they will not be able to get together like this anymore because he thinks one of his friends will betray him. The next day, Kyle sets up a table with a credit card machine in the town and begins "paying everybody's debts" with his American Express Platinum Card. Kyle's mother begs him to stop because he will be in debt for life, but Kyle feels he must to help everybody in the town. After paying for the debts, he passes out and the people carry him to his bed.
Soon enough, the economy takes a turn for the better. Malls and shops start opening again for business and the now debt free people start purchasing again. Randy is shown buying the new Margaritaville with a salsa dispenser ("You pour salsa into the top, and then it dispenses out the bottom!"). The news acknowledges President Barack Obama for the sacrifices he made and credits him for bringing these improvements in the economy, leaving Kyle flabbergasted.
As a subplot, Stan spends most of the episode trying to return the aforementioned Margaritaville mixer; the trendy retailer Sur La Table will not accept the return because it was bought on a payment plan. He tries to find out to whom he can return it, each person saying the debt has been packaged and sold to someone else (much like real-life mortgage-backed securities). Eventually he goes all the way to the United States Treasury, where a group of associates "consult the charts" and tell him the mixer is worth $90 trillion. One of the three treasury workers then says that another insurance company is failing and asks what they should do. They say they have to "consult the charts" again. Stan follows the men inside, and he sees a round lit-up game show style board, where the men cut off a chicken's head and let the decapitated chicken run on the board while one of them plays a tune similar to Yakety Sax on a kazoo. The chicken falls on the "bailout!" spot, so that is what the men do. In anger at the ridiculousness of the system, Stan breaks the mixer on the platform by the chicken and walks off.
Behind The Scenes
"Margaritaville" is a satire and commentary on the global recession affecting much of the industrialized world at the time of the episode's broadcast on March 25, 2009. Parker and Stone believed many viewed the economy as an important, elusive entity without truly understanding how it works, and felt it mirrored faith in religion. The duo had difficulty writing the script due to their limited familiarity with religion and Christian history, and they relied heavily on executive producer Anne Garefino for help. In describing the economic elements of the episode, they sought assistance from Stone's father, who works as an economist. The scenes in which Stan explains how his Margaritaville blender was purchased on a payment plan that was eventually combined into securities sold to the banks required particular assistance from Stone's father. Parker said the dialogue proved so difficult, they were working on the script right up until the night before the episode was first broadcast.
The Margaritaville blender itself served as a metaphor for consumerism and the tendency of Americans to buy luxuries that they do not need. Stone said, "We didn't want to make an episode where it was like, 'Oh, those Wall Street guys took our money.' It was one of those things where we all screwed up and nobody really knows what's going on, but it has something to do with buying shit like Margaritavilles." The Margaritaville also serves as a metaphor for the housing bubble. Parker himself actually owns a Margaritaville, of which he said, "It's pretty stupid because it really is just a blender".
Pop Culture References
The episode's title comes from the Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville blender featured in the episode, which serves as a metaphor for the housing bubble. "Margaritaville" is also the name of a popular 1977 song by Jimmy Buffett, who has been the butt of South Park humor in the past. In "Margaritaville", Kyle is portrayed as a Jesus-like savior who makes a tremendous sacrifice to save the economy. A dinner he has with his friends is portrayed as the Last Supper, the final meal Jesus had with his Twelve Apostles before his death. Almost inevitably Cartman takes on the role of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus (in the Last Supper scene he even sits in the same position as Judas in da Vinci's painting), while some of the South Park residents form a council. Kyle uses a platinum American Express card to pay off the debts of all South Park residents.
Cartman says he wants the soon-to-be-released Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars game for the handheld game console Nintendo DS. The game was released within a week of the original "Margaritaville" broadcast date. Representatives from game developer Rockstar Games told video game blog Kotaku they liked the reference, and did not know in advance it would be in the episode.
When the Rednecks are speaking on the news, above the Channel 9 logo a Visitor can be spotted.