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South Park episode
Gnomes plan.png
The Underpants Gnomes' business plan.
Episode no. Season 2
Episode 17
Written by Pam Brady
Trey Parker
Matt Stone
Directed by Trey Parker
Production no. 217
Original airdate December 16, 1998
Episode chronology
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List of South Park episodes

"Gnomes" (often referred to as "Underpants Gnomes") is the 30th episode of Comedy Central's animated series South Park. It was originally broadcast on December 16, 1998. This episode marks the first appearance of Tweek and his parents.[1]



Mr. Garrison's job is on the line because he doesn't teach anything relevant, so in an effort to save his job he makes the class do oral presentations on a current event for the town committee. Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny are grouped together with Tweek, a jittery child, who suggests that the presentation be on the "Underpants Gnomes," tiny men who sneak into his house and steal his underwear. The boys agree to stay at Tweek's house to work on Mr. Garrison's homework assignment and to see if there really are Underpants Gnomes.

Tweek's parents, who own a coffee shop, give the boys coffee to help them stay up. The boys drink too much coffee, and end up wired, bouncing off the walls of Tweek's bedroom. Tweek sits on his bed watching. The boys finally come down from their caffeine rush, and start to work on their project. While they argue ideas, Tweek notices the underpants gnomes walking single file into his bedroom toward his dresser. After stealing several pairs of Tweek's underpants, the Gnomes walk out of his bedroom, unnoticed by the other boys. Meanwhile, Tweek is freaking out and trying to get their attention. They finally stop arguing and tell Tweek to shut up.

The coffee shop which Tweek's parents own is about to face competition from a big conglomerate called "Harbucks", and may go out of business. Mr. Tweek then writes a report for the boys, which they can present with a layer of sympathy so the town committee would be moved enough to help stop Harbucks and throw them out of town.

Mr. Garrison sees right through the presentation, but is surprised to see the town committee buying it, so he plays along. As Mr. Tweek planned all along, the committee follows the boys' advice and indeed helps Mr. Tweek combat Harbucks. They all appeal to Mayor McDaniels, who helps by setting up a proposition, called "Prop 10". If it passes, Harbucks will be thrown out of town. After the boys appear on TV, the whole town is turned against Harbucks and its representative, Mr. Postum. Mrs. Tweek, upset by the tactic, feels that they are only using the boys for their own benefit and quits.

Crowds appear outside of the Harbucks coffeehouse to protest, while Mr. Postum tries to appeal to kids to sell his coffee. He uses a camel mascot and is scolded by a mother who doesn't want her son having caffeine. On the day of the vote, the mayor has the boys do a speech around the same time Mr. Postum does. The boys face more pressure from Mr. Garrison when he tells them that they need to do another presentation. When they try to conceive one, they see the Underpants Gnomes for themselves, who explain their whole motive. The Underpants Gnomes are businessmen of sorts, and they know a lot about corporations, and explain them to the boys in their underground lair. Their business plan is as follows:

In an attempt to influence voters, the boys are exploited in a political ad supporting "Prop 10".

Phase 1: Collect Underpants
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit

Kenny is squished to death by a falling trolley cart used by the Gnomes during the visit.

When the boys come up to give their presentation for the vote, they do a report that is completely different from their previous piece. They are now saying that corporations are good, and are only big because of their great contributions to the world, such as Harbucks with their great coffee. While speaking they admit that they didn't write that previous paper, which causes Mr. Garrison to be carried away when he lashes out at the boys. Mrs. Tweek applauds their honesty and admits to the same facts herself. Then she convinces the whole town to try Harbucks Coffee, which is famous because it tastes great. When everybody does try it, they all agree, including Mr. Tweek, who accepts an offer to run the Harbucks shop.


"Contrary to the anti-corporate propaganda normally coming out of Hollywood, South Park argues that, in the absence of government intervention, corporations get where they are by serving the public, not by exploiting it."

"Gnomes" has been construed as a critique of anti-capitalism.[2][3] The episode satirizes the common complaint of large corporations lacking scruples and driving seemingly wholesome smaller independent companies out of business. Paul Cantor, a literary critic and economic theorist, who has taught college courses revolving around the "Gnomes" episode, has described it as "the most fully developed defense of capitalism" ever produced by the show. Cantor said the episode challenges the stereotype that small businesses are public servants who truly care about their customers by portraying local business owner Mr. Tweek as greedier and having fewer scruples than that of the corporation he is challenging.[2][3] At the end of the episode, Kyle and Stan conclude big corporations are good due to the services they provide people, and uphold the notion that the businesses providing the best product deserve to succeed in the marketplace and grow to become larger.[2]

The episode portrays the mainstream media as biased against capitalism during a news report in which the reporter openly speaks in favor of Harbucks' opponents. Cantor said the use of children in the anti-Harbucks commercials demonstrate a liberal tendency to use young people to advance their positions. Economic protectionism, portrayed in the episode as Mr. Tweek seeking a law to ban Harbucks from South Park, is portrayed as a tool used by businessmen to restrict free entry into the marketplace to protect their own profits.[2]

Cultural impact

Following the episode's release, the underpants gnomes and, particularly, the business plan lacking a second stage between "Collect underpants" and "Profit", became widely used by many journalists and business critics as a metaphor for failed, internet bubble-era business plans[4][5][6] and ill-planned political goals.[7][8] Paul Cantor, a literary and economic professor who uses South Park episodes to teach courses, said "no episode of South Park I have taught has raised as much raw passion, indignation, and hostility among students as 'Gnomes' has. I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with the defensiveness of elitists confronted with their own elitism."[2]

Cultural references

Gnomes are often associated with the world of finance. Several commentators suggested the gnomes in South Park could be a reference to the phrase Gnomes of Zürich, a disparaging term for Swiss bankers.[2][3] The Harbucks company is a reference to Starbucks, one of the largest coffeehouse chain companies in the world.[3] "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", a well-known American Civil War-era song, is played in the background of a commercial advocating Proposition 10. An opponent of Harbucks suggests the company has slaughtered Native Americans in order to make its coffee.[2] Tweek is said to suffer from Attention deficit hyperactive disorder, a neurobehavioral developmental disorder that affects a small percentage of children, although his nervous condition could just be due to all the coffee he drinks.[3] The name Tweek is slang for the illegal narcotic crystal meth (or simply "Meth"). Everyone around Tweek thought that he was "hallucinating about Gnomes coming to steal his underwear in the middle of the night" at first as a running subtle joke, because only someone who "tweeks" would claim something so ridiculous, as well as be up that late on a nightly basis to discover such a thing.


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