Monday, April 26, 2010

My own summation/take on South Park controversy

Property The Daily Gamecock

Comedy Central’s flagship animated series, “South Park,” may be into its 14th season and 200th episode, but that doesn’t mean creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have stopped rubbing the world the wrong way.

With their 200th episode blow-out on April 14, the satirists brought back every celebrity they’d ever offended — including the prophet Muhammad, who appeared disguised inside a bear suit so they wouldn’t have to actually depict him.

After the episode, which was part one of what would be a two-part episode, Revolution Muslim, a fundamentalist group based in New York City, made vague threats against the creative team.

A blogger on the group’s website,, said, “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show.” Van Gogh was a Dutch filmmaker murdered in 2004 after making a film that was critical of Islamic society.

Comedy Central responded with tact and censored the show’s episode even further than Parker and Stone intended, adding audio bleeps over several moments of dialogue. The creators placed a bar that said “censored” over Mohammed to avoid actual depiction.
Jon Stewart then devoted nearly half of Thursday night’s “The Daily Show” to discussing the issue.

The comedian pundit defended Parker and Stone, who in his eye are, “purely for expressing themselves,” and turned somber to rant about Revolution Muslim, who “get to enjoy [New York City] because of how much we in this country value and protect even their freedom of expression.”

While Stewart has been known to skewer religious hypocrisy in his years as “The Daily Show” host and has recently done several pieces on the Catholic Church scandals involving the pope, he was clear to note where the line was drawn.

“Revolution Muslim, your type of hatred and intolerance, that’s the enemy,” he said. “Comedy Central decided to censor the episode. It’s their right ... it was a decision they made to protect their employees from any possible harmful repercussions.” Some “South Park” fans have pointed fingers square at the network for caving under the censorship pressures from Revolution Muslim.

Over the years, Comedy Central has encouraged diverse, at times button-pushing entertainment (most notably in, ironically, “South Park”), and it would be foolish to think they are a cowardly group of executives. But their decision to censor further than what Parker and Stone wanted certainly draws up larger questions of a network’s responsibility for representing major issues and how they perceive the effects of their programs.

At what point should the omission of images and words be accepted? At what point should we give in to demands?

Make no mistake, this may seem like minor controversy, but it is a remarkable instance of how cultural terrorism continues, how freedom of expression is so often more an ideal than a reality.

We often take our entertainment for granted, and the kind of content available on television is too often viewed as a detriment rather than something to celebrate. But hey, look at the conformist, ultra-censored 1950s for ideologically sound programming.

The freedom to express at higher and higher levels will always be fought, and the producers and writers who try to push the envelope should never feel they have to back down.

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