Cartman attends South Park Elementary as part of Mr. Garrison's fourth grade class. During the show's first 58 episodes (1997 until the season four episode "4th Grade" in 2000), Cartman and the other main child characters were in the third grade. He is an only child being raised by Liane Cartman, a promiscuous single mother who was established in the second season (1998) as an intersexual who actually fathered Cartman. However, the season 14 (2010) episode "201" later revealed that Liane actually is his mother, and that his true biological father was Jack Tenorman, a fictional former player for the Denver Broncos whom Cartman had arranged to be killed in the season five (2001) episode "Scott Tenorman Must Die," making Cartman and Scott Tenorman half-brothers.
Amongst the show's main child characters, Cartman is distinguished as "the fat one", and his obesity has been a continuing source of insults from other characters throughout the show's run. Cartman is frequently portrayed as an antagonist or villain whose actions set in motion the events serving as the main plot of an episode. Other children and classmates are alienated by Cartman's insensitive, sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-semitic, lazy, misogynistic, self-righteous, and wildly insecure behavior, but are occasionally influenced by his obtrusive, manipulative, and propagandist antics. Fearing for his reputation after losing a fight to Wendy Testaburger in the season 12 (2008) episode "Breast Cancer Show Ever", Cartman received several assurances from numerous classmates that their opinion of him was already at the point where it could not have gotten any lower.
Kyle, who is Jewish, is often the recipient of the slander and anti-Semitic insults expressed by Cartman. The two have shared an enmity since the show's beginnings, and their rivalry has become significantly more pronounced as the series has progressed, with Cartman even routinely exposing Kyle to physical endangerment. Parker and Stone have compared the relationship to the one shared by Archie Bunker and Michael Stivic on the 1970s sitcom All in the Family. Kyle has a tendency to make what he thinks are safe bets with Cartman, and often loses these bets when the improbable actions promised by Cartman are accomplished. Cartman's motivation in this regard is not merely monetary gain, but an obsession with scoring a victory over Kyle, a fixation that ultimately played a major part in a subplot to the three-part episode "Imaginationland" (season 11, 2007). Cartman's resentment of Stan is usually reserved for when Cartman proudly exclaims his hatred for both Stan and Kyle as a duo, and his contempt for Stan as an individual is usually limited to his annoyance with Stan's sensitivity, affection for animals, and the relationship Stan shares with Wendy.
Cartman constantly teases Kenny for being poor, and derides Kenny's family for being on welfare. He will also use an awkward pause during a conversation as an opportunity to casually remind Kenny that he hates him. Kenny has indicated that he maintains a friendship with Cartman solely out of pity. Cartman's mischievous treatment of Butters Stotch, and the relationship the duo shares has received significant focus in the more recent seasons of the series. This is due in large part to Parker favoring the screen time they share together, claiming the scenes are the ones he most enjoys writing.
Several episodes center around Cartman's greed and his get-rich-quick schemes, although his numerous attempts to obtain wealth generally fail. His extreme disdain for hippies serves to satirize the counterculture of the 1960s and its influence in contemporary society, while also mirroring Parker's real-life antipathy towards hippies. Though the act is customarily performed by Stan or Kyle, Cartman will occasionally reflect on the lessons he has attained during the course of an episode with a speech that often begins with "You know, I've learned something today...".
Cartman is voiced by series co-creator Trey Parker, who is often requested to perform the character's voice when encountered by fans of the series.A precursor to Cartman first appeared in the first The Spirit of Christmas short, dubbed Jesus vs. Frosty, created by Parker and Stone in 1992 while they were students at the University of Colorado. In the short, Cartman was actually named "Kenny", and the catchphrase "Oh my God, they killed Kenny!" was exclaimed when the character representing Cartman was killed by an evil snowman. The character was composed of construction paper cutouts and animated through the use of stop motion. When tasked three years later by friend Brian Graden to create another short as a video Christmas card that he could send to friends, Parker and Stone created another similarly-animated The Spirit of Christmas short, dubbed Jesus vs. Santa. In this short, his character first appears as he does in the series, and is given the name "Cartman", while the character of Kenny appears as how the character is portrayed today and given Cartman's moniker from the previous short. Cartman next appeared on August 13, 1997, when South Park debuted on Comedy Central with the episode "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe".
In tradition with the show's animation style, Cartman is composed of simple geometrical shapes and primary colors. He is not offered the same free range of motion associated with hand-drawn characters; his character is mostly shown from only one angle, and his movements are animated in an intentionally jerky fashion. Ever since the show's second episode, "Weight Gain 4000" (season one, 1997), Cartman, like all other characters on the show, has been animated with computer software, though he is portrayed to give the impression that the show still utilizes its original technique.
Cartman is usually depicted wearing winter attire which consists of a red coat, brown pants, yellow gloves/mittens, and a yellow-brimmed turquoise knit cap tapered with a yellow pom-pon. He has parted brown hair, and he is seen without his hat more often than the other characters with distinctive head wear. As he is overweight, his body is wider and his head is animated in a more elliptical shape in contrast to the circular-shaped heads of the other children on the show. An additional curved line is drawn on his lower face to give the impression of a double chin.
Although he had originally voiced Cartman without any computer manipulation, Parker now does so by speaking within his normal vocal range with a child-like inflection. The recorded audio is then edited with Pro Tools, and the pitch is altered to make the voice sound like that of a fourth grader. Parker says to achieve the effect of Cartman's voice, he simply uses the same technique when voicing Stan while "adding a lot of fat to it".
Cartman is partially both named after, and based on, Matt Karpman, a high school classmate of Parker who remains a friend of both Parker and Stone. Cartman is also inspired by All in the Family patriarch Archie Bunker, of whom Parker and Stone are fans. They state that creating Cartman as a "little eight-year-old fat kid" made it easier for the two to portray a Bunker-like character after the introduction of political correctness to late-20th century television. When incorporating aspects into the character, Parker once determined that everyone either remembers "an annoying fat kid in their pasts", or "they were the annoying fat kid". Stone has observed that "kids are not nice, innocent, flower-loving little rainbow children [...] they don't have any kind of social tact or etiquette, they're just complete little raging bastards".
In the season five (2001) episode "Scott Tenorman Must Die", Cartman, feeling cheated out of $16.12 by a local ninth-grader named Scott Tenorman, successfully executes an elaborate scheme to publicly humiliate Scott in front of his favorite band Radiohead, but not before tricking him into eating his own recently deceased parents. The show's writers debated during production of the episode as to whether or not the incident would be "a step too far, even for Cartman". Parker felt that the act could sufficiently be the culmination of Cartman's sociopathic behavior, and would "[set] a new bar" by portraying Cartman as being capable of performing anything short of murder. Fans reacted by ranking it as Cartman's "greatest moment" in a 2005 poll on Comedy Central's website. It is later revealed that Jack Tenorman, Scott's father, was Cartman's father as well, thus turning the murder into a patricide.
There's a big part of me that's Eric Cartman. He's both of our dark sides, the things we'd never say.
Trey Parker Cartman is foul-mouthed (a trait present in his friends as well) as a means for Parker and Stone to display how they claim young boys really talk when they are alone. According to Parker, Cartman does not possess the "underlying sweetness" he attributes to the show's other child characters. Cartman is amused by bodily functions and toilet humor, and his favorite television personalities are Terrance and Phillip, a Canadian duo whose comedy routines on their show-within-the-show revolve substantially around fart jokes.
Cartman is in denial of his obesity, often reasserting Liane's notion by exclaiming "I'm not fat, I'm big-boned!". He views himself as more mature than his fellow friends and classmates, and often grows impatient with their company. This would often lead to loud arguments, which in earlier seasons typically ended with Cartman peevishly saying "Screw you guys... I'm going home!" upon leaving. In an action King's College philosophy professor David Kyle Johnson describes as "directed either toward accomplishing his own happiness or the unhappiness of others", Cartman often feigns actual friendship with his fellow classmates when needing a favor. The lack of a true father figure in his life, and Liane's promiscuity and drug use have caused repressed psychological hardship in Cartman's life. As a parent, Liane spoils Cartman, and is largely ineffectual as a disciplinarian. Cartman sometimes authoritatively commands his mom to do tasks for him, but more often employs the means of speaking in an ingratiating tone when pleading with her. When neither method works, he resorts to excessive and indecipherable whining, with Liane usually succumbing. Parker has noted that this is the primary cause for Cartman's behavior, stating that Cartman is "just a product of his environment". We always had this thing where Cartman's mother was so sweet — she was always so sweet to him and giving him whatever he wanted. And I don't know if it's worse in L.A. than most places in the country — I hope so — but [we've met] so many parents who were just so desperately trying to be friends to their kids. And it was the thing we really picked up on. And it was just like, 'These [people] are making these really evil kids'. — Trey Parker, discussing Liane's role in shaping Cartman's personality in an interview with NPR Cartman thrives on being granted ascendancy over others, and exerts his will by demagogy and by demanding that others "Respect my authoritah!", accentuating the last syllable of "authority" and pronouncing it /ɑːˈθɔrəteɪ/. He has shown an initiative in taking a businesslike approach to earning money, starting his own "hippie control" and "parental revenge" operations.
Cartman's anti-Semitism, while largely limited to mocking Kyle, culminated in the season eight (2004) episode "The Passion of the Jew". In the episode, Cartman, after watching The Passion of the Christ numerous times, deifies the film's director, Mel Gibson, and starts an official Gibson fan club, praising Gibson for "trying to express — through cinema — the horror and filthiness of the common Jew". Cartman's interpretation of the film influences him to dress up as Adolf Hitler and lead other fan club members (who are clueless as to Cartman's actual intentions) in a failed effort to engage in a systematic genocide of the Jews similar to that of the Final Solution. In the season 10 (2006) episode "Smug Alert!", Cartman anonymously saved Kyle's life in an effort to get him and his family to return to South Park from San Francisco, revealing that he craves the animosity shared between the two.
Upon hearing his classmates tell him that they hold him in the lowest regard possible, a stubborn Cartman misinterpreted this act as their attempt to make him feel better, and obstinately convinced himself that everyone thought he was the "coolest kid in school". In the season 13 (2009) episode "Fishsticks", Cartman subconsciously believes that he solely created a joke that quickly becomes a nationwide sensation, despite the fact that the character Jimmy Valmer wrote the joke without any assistance. Carlos Delgado of If Magazine noted this as "Cartman being so egotistical that he manipulates the past to serve his own purposes"..
Cartman is a South Park fan favorite, and is often described as the most famous character from the series. With a headline to their online written version of a radio report, NPR declared Cartman as "America's Favorite Little $@#&*%". "Respect my authoritah!" and "Screw you guys ...I'm going home!" became catchphrases and, during the show's earlier seasons, were highly popular in the lexicon of viewers. His eccentric enunciation of "Hey!" was included in the 2002 edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Catchphrases. Stone has said that when fans recognize him or Parker, the fans will usually do their imitation of Cartman, or, in Parker's case, request that he do Cartman's voice.
In 2005, Comedy Central ran a three-night marathon of episodes showcasing what voters had deemed to be his "25 greatest moments". A two-disc DVD collection entitled "The Cult of Cartman", which Comedy Central described as "12 classic episodes with Cartman at his very worst!", was released in 2008.
In a 1999 poll conducted by NatWest Bank, eight and nine-year-old children in the United Kingdom voted Cartman as their favorite personality. This drew the concern of several parent councils who were expecting a character from a television show aimed at children to top the list, to which Stone responded by claiming the results of the poll were "upsetting to people who have an idyllic vision of what kids are like". Parker and Stone have always asserted that due to Cartman's actions and dialogue, his appearances in South Park are not meant to be viewed by younger children, and they note that the show is certified with TV ratings that indicate its intention for mature audiences.
While some in the Jewish community have praised the show's depiction of Cartman holding an anti-Semitic attitude towards Kyle as a means of accurately portraying what it is like for a young Jew to have to endure bigotry as an ethnic minority, other Jews have blamed South Park and Cartman for having found themselves surrounded by "acceptable racism". On November 20, 2008, a Facebook group titled "National Kick a Ginger Day, are you going to do it?" surfaced, suggesting abuse towards redheads. Thousands of internet users signed up as a member of the group, and reports of a feared increase of bullying of red-headed students across Canada soon followed. The group's administrator, a 14-year old from Vancouver Island, said the group was only intended as a joke, and apologized for the offense it caused. The group was inspired by the season nine (2005) episode "Ginger Kids", in which Cartman incites prejudice towards those with red hair, pale skin, and freckles, a group he calls "Gingers" and claims are inherently evil and without souls.
Other characters commonly express lessons learned from the antagonistic actions Cartman commonly provokes; this has resulted in these characters giving their opinions on issues such as hate crime legislation, civil liberties, excessive religious devotion, the stem cell controversy, anabolic steroid use, the "right to die" debate, and prejudice. In the season 10 (2006) episode "Cartoon Wars Part II", Cartman, planning to exploit the public's fear of terrorism, seeks to get the Fox television series Family Guy, a program he despises, permanently removed from the airwaves when Fox plans to air an episode despite its inclusion of a cartoon likeness of Muhammad. This leads Kyle to give a short speech about the ethics of censorship, which reiterates Parker and Stone's sentiments of "Either it's all okay, or none of it is" in regards to whether or not any subject should remain off-limits to satire. Both Cartman's commentary and the commentary resulting in response to his actions have been interpreted as statements Parker and Stone are attempting to make to the viewing public, and these opinions have been subject to much critical analysis in the media and literary world.
The book South Park and Philosophy: You Know, I Learned Something Today includes an essay in which Johnson uses Cartman's actions and behavior as examples when discussing the logical problem of moral evil, and another essay by College of Staten Island professor Mark D. White cited the season two (1998) episode "Chickenlover", in which Cartman is temporarily granted law enforcement powers, in its discussion regarding the command theory of law and what obligates a citizen to obey the law. Essays in the books South Park and Philosophy: Bigger, Longer, and More Penetrating, Blame Canada! South Park and Contemporary Culture, and Taking South Park Seriously have also analyzed Cartman's perspectives within the framework of popular philosophical, theological, political, and social concepts. Parker and Stone downplay the show's alignment with any particular political affiliation, and deny having a political agenda when creating an episode. In response to the focus on elements of satire in South Park, Parker has said that the main goal of the show is to portray Cartman and his friends as "kids just being kids" as a means of accurately showcasing "what it's like to be in [elementary school] in America".
Cartman ranked 10th on TV Guide's 2002 list of the "Top 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters", 198th on VH1's "200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons", and 19th on Bravo's "100 Greatest TV Characters" television special in 2004. When declaring him the second-scariest character on television (behind only Mr. Burns of The Simpsons) in 2005, MSNBC's Brian Bellmont described Cartman as a "bundle of pure, unadulterated evil all wrapped up in a fat — er, big-boned — cartoony package" who "takes a feral delight in his evildoing".
Cartman had a major role in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, the full-length film based on the series, and appeared on the film's soundtrack singing the same musical numbers performed in the movie. As a tribute to the Dead Parrot sketch, a short that features Cartman attempting to return a dead Kenny to a shop run by Kyle aired during a 1999 BBC television special commemorating the 30th anniversary of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Cartman is also featured in the documentary film The Aristocrats, telling his version of the film's titular joke to Stan, Kyle, and Kenny, and in the "The Gauntlet", a short spoofing both Gladiator and Battlefield Earth that aired during the 2000 MTV Movie Awards.
In 2002, Cartman became the main protagonist of a series of promotional videos for the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL, where the character ridicules the mascots of rival teams and reacts to various aspects of the game.
Short clips of Cartman introducing the starting lineup for the University of Colorado football team were featured during ABC's coverage of the 2007 match-up between the University of Colorado and the University of Nebraska.
Parker performs as Cartman on tracks for Chef Aid: The South Park Album and Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics. Cartman also appears in four South Park-related video games: In South Park, Cartman is controlled by the player through the first person shooter mode who attempts to ward off enemies from terrorizing the town of South Park. In South Park: Chef's Luv Shack, a user has the option of playing as Cartman when participating in the game's several "minigames" based on other popular arcade games. In the racing game South Park Rally, a user can race as Cartman against other users playing as other characters, while choosing to place him in any of a variety of vehicles. In South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play!, Cartman can be selected as a playable character used to establish a tower defense against the game's antagonists.