If you’ve been watching/reading, you already know about South Park, my favorite television program. For years, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have creatively pushed the boundaries of free speech, making fun of everything they can. Christians, celebrities, Mormons, Scientologists, Jews, atheists, and countless others have been poked fun at by the Emmy-award winning show. Parker and Stone call themselves “equal opportunity offenders.” They are American heroes.
Why? Well, did you see last night’s episode?
Let’s back up. It’s not like Matt and Trey have never been in hot water for their depictions. Catholics have been bitching about the show for years. Tom Cruise was rumored to have been offended by an infamous portrayal of his likeness in an episode that hinted he might be a homosexual. Issac Hayes left the show because of a Scientology episode. It’s all a normal day at South Park HQ. Push buttons, be funny. They’ve done it for fourteen years, and the show has just gotten better and better.
Last week, on the show’s 200th episode, the Muslim prophet Muhammad was (supposedly) depicted in a bear costume. (We find out in Part 2 that it’s actually Santa Claus.) A radical Islam group posted a warning to Matt and Trey on their website at revolutionmuslim.com, stating to the two creators they would “probably wind up like Theo van Gogh,” a Dutch filmmaker who was killed in 2004 for a movie he made criticizing how women are treated in some Muslim societies. “This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.”
Addresses to the South Park studios and the headquarters of Comedy Central were also posted.
Last night, Part 2 was aired, and several things were different. There was a lot of censoring going on. Kyle’s “I learned something today” speech was completely bleeped, as was the name “Muhammad.” His likeness was censored as well.
And Comedy Central did all of it.
Matt and Trey issued a statement this afternoon, and needless to say, they are pissed:
“In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it.”
Keep in mind this isn’t the first time South Park has dealt with Muslims and their attitude towards depicting their prophet. In 2005, South Park tried to air a likeness of him, but it was censored by Comedy Central. But let us not forget the “Super Best Friends” episode, where a likeness of the prophet was shown without incident. The difference? That was 2001, before 9/11, before the Danish cartoons, before the death of Theo van Gogh.
So what’s changed? Matt and Trey would gladly show Muhammad and have their episode aired uncensored. Unfortunately, their bosses won’t let them, even on their own website.
CC could argue they are saving lives by censoring the episode, including Matt’s and Trey’s, but I don’t think the boys wish to be protected. They will stand by their show and the right to free speech forever – after all, they’ve been doing it for years. And we should stand behind them; what Comedy Central has done is ridiculous. Where do we draw the line? What is South Park “allowed” to make fun of on their cartoon show? This article from the Los Angeles Times says it best – the last paragraph is quoted below:
“Still, legal experts said the reaction by Comedy Central may set a dangerous precedent. UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh said that while he sympathizes with the predicament faced by the network, it has potentially empowered other extremists with its actions. “The consequence of this position is that the thugs win and people have more incentive to be thugs,” said Volokh, who teaches free speech and religious freedom law. “There are lots of people out there who would very much like to get certain kind of material removed, whether religious or political. The more they see others winning, the more they will be likely to do the same. Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated.”
This is why South Park is so important – are we going to let a small fringe group of fear mongers take away our right to free speech? Matt and Trey tow the line every week with someone, and they’re not about to let some radical extremists get in the way of their message, their comedy, their show. It may be just an absurd cable show, but it’s an important one. I’m hoping one day our children will be able to watch last night’s episode, uncensored, as it was intended, and they can learn a valuable lesson about what our society had to go through even in 2010. Our liberties are being toyed with, and Matt and Trey are not about to let them slip away to please some radicals. I just wish Comedy Central felt the same.
We must stand up to terror when it threatens our livelihood. That includes the First Amendment. It’s the American way; it’s an America I dream of, and one I think South Park envisions as well.
Kyle said it best the first time – “either it’s all OK, or none of it is.”