Friday, April 23, 2010

The One Super Best Friend Who Shall Remain Nameless

For those of you who are unaware, South Park celebrated it's 200th (and 201st) episode with a two-parter mocking the idea of the right not to be offended. It was a tremendous 40 some-odd minutes, full of call backs to nearly a decade and a half worth of South Park, but most of the subject matter of the episode has fallen to the wayside in the wake of a controversy surrounding the return of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. (And it's a shame, really. We could be talking about Tom Cruise working as a fudge packer, or having the Super Best Friend Seaman on his back.)

The crazy thing, as most South Park fans know, is that Muhammad appeared way back in the show's fifth season (before 9-11), as a member of the Super Best Friends. South Park's version of Muhammad worked with Jesus, Joseph Smith, Buddha, Krishna, Lao Tzu Seaman, and a Tron-like, dradel-shaped Moses to help defeat the evil David Blaine and his giant stone Abraham Lincoln. South Park's second attempt to show Muhammad was met with censorship in a 2007 episode that had political wheels spinning much as they have been over the past week. Then came the latest controversy, as a radical Islamic website made thinly veiled threats against South Park masterminds Trey Parker and Matt Stone in response to the first half of the two part 200th episode celebration that threatened to unveil Muhammad. Comedy Central responded by taking the cut Parker and Stone had delivered, and censoring every reference to Muhammad. His name was bleeped and Kyle's speech at the end (presumably about Muhammad) was bleeped as well.

I'm of two minds about this whole Muhammad kerfuffle. There's the part of me that falls right in line with the critics who've condemned Comedy Central for not standing up for free speech, but there's another part of me that can understand where the network was coming from. As a large media entity, they did have to think about their employees in the face of a death threat, regardless of how serious that threat may have actually been. It's one thing to stand bravely as an artist in defense of your work, but the world we live in today is just more complicated than that.

That all being said, the censoring of the name Muhammad was a bit much, to say nothing of the censoring of the moral of the episode. At that point, it becomes a sleazy little way to avoid the controversy of actually pulling the show without running much of a risk of actually offending anyone (except of course, Tom Cruise, celebrities, and gingers). Personally, I don't worry too much about what networks should and shouldn't do as far as censoring content (because whatever your views are, networks do have to make decisions about content and what they use to sell their brand), nor do I worry that Islam is being held to a different standard. But I do worry when violence and then the threat of violence becomes the reason for those content decisions- not from the perspective of Comedy Central, but in regards to society as a whole. When a small group of people can use the threat of violence to compel others to their will, that's the very definition of terrorism. We worry so much about 9-11 style attacks, but the real threat of terrorism is it's impact on our way of life. Whether it's threatening our cartoons or strengthening our national security state at the expense of our freedom, the real power (and danger) of terrorism lies in fear.


Blogger McMc said...

Two quick things before I get into the crux of it...

1) Kyle's final speech was not about Mohammad but about fear and intimidation, according to Parker and Stone.

2) If you look at what was said by the Muslim group, you'll notice it wasn't exactly a threat, but a reminder of what happened when Theo van Gogh criticized the nation of Islam. Could this be taken as a threat? Yes, but it wasn't exactly a "show Mohammad and die" sort of thing.


To me, it is absolutely absurd that Comedy Central went to such lengths as to censor even the word Mohammad. I thought it was bad enough that the last time South Park tried to show the prophet, he was censored while images of Jesus Christ and George W. Bush pooping on each other weren't. More recently, images of Buddha snorting cocaine were fine but just saying the name Mohammad wasn't?

I don't know, I have a hard time believing a threat of violence in this case was something to worry about. Everyone can look at the murder of Theo van Gogh, but that happened in Europe. You can even look at 9/11, but that was a highly planned out attack on all American's. Point is, Parker and Stone weren't killed the first time they showed Muhammad so why would it happen now? If anything, Comedy Central was just bullied by a veiled threat for something they already did.

2:04 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

I think you're right, but I think the whole situation just illustrates the grip that the fear of terror has on us. Just look at the language describing Matt and Trey- they're described as brave. And Comedy Central is described as cowardly. These are not the same sorts of words we'd be used if this was a controversy over Jesus.

12:14 PM  

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