In 2006, Stone and Parker first ran into censorship issues with Comedy Central during their tenth season run, during their two part episode Cartoon Wars. While lampooning the major animated network offerings of the time, the thread of the two episodes was the portrayal of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad in media. This, of course, stemmed from the Jyllands-Posten newspaper depictions of Muhammad that resulted in riots, and threats of death.
Comedy Central made the judgment call not to air the images, instead replacing them with a graphic describing the scene. The South Park creators were clearly miffed, even going so far as to call out their home network during the second part of the Cartoon Wars series.
Four years later, Matt and Trey have given it another shot in their 200th episode which aired heavily edited and censored via Comedy Central’s doing for once again attempting to portray Muhammad — in a bear suit. As perhaps expected, the threats of violence rolled in, Comedy Central has stuck by their “…in a post 9/11 world” bit, and Stone and Parker are inexplicably upset.
Look, I’m all for openly and loudly defying extremism of any kind, particularly of the religious variety, but as far as this story is concerned, Matt… Trey; you’re doing it wrong. You had to expect this.
Yes, I see the hypocrisy in Comedy Central turning a blind eye to depictions of Jesus dropping multiple deuces on the American Flag, turning a beloved character into a pedophile because his real-life counterpart is a Scientologist, the fact that Muhammad was already portrayed as far back as 2001 (with no resulting death threats, I might add) and…well, all of the other stuff that is an absolute riot that the Comedy Central censors completely ignores. The fact is, Comedy Central is going to win — they’ve neutered themselves, and South Park will pay the price when they cross that particular line.
Honestly, I can see a lot of why the decision makers at the network have simply chosen to play it safe. Comedy Central has offices, and employees. Extremists of all varieties, Muslim or otherwise, are willing to bring their monumentally retarded fight to innocent people from time-t0-time. How worth it is it to risk bodily harm over an edgy cartoon? That said, I’m sorry…there is no post 9/11 world. That’s a buzzword created to explain away a faulty mindset many have adopted out of fear. Other than a great tragedy and loss of life, September 12th was no different than September 10th. Awful, dangerous wingnuts have always been around. Will Muslim extremists blow up Comedy Central headquarters if they air an unedited version of South Park’s 200th episode? Unlikely. Is it worth it to find out? Depends I suppose.
There are issues of free speech involved when a network censors a particular controversial subject while leaving others exposed to ridicule. The double-standard at Comedy Central is glaring. Further, setting precedents for even acknowledging the demands of any extremist group is a markedly awful road to go down. By doing so, we empower imbeciles. An empowered imbecile is an arrogant imbecile, and I’ll submit that this is even more dangerous than telling them to go kick rocks.
It really is a double-edged sword. Comedy Central is sort of right, mostly wrong…but as a network alone, they can do whatever the hell they want. Matt Stone and Trey Parker are employees of said network. While I doubt Comedy Central plans on getting rid of one of their most popular long-running shows, there really is no benefit in straining the relationship.
So…what are two risk taking, strongly opinionated writers/directors/producers who refuse to be intimidated to do?
Make another movie, fellas.
Parker and Stone have been away from the big screen for a few years now, and they clearly still have something to say. Team America seems to have been the tip of the iceberg. As goofy as South Park tries to be, the writing can still be super sharp, particularly when they have one of the boys monologuing. Comedy Central is not going to back off of their Muhammad banning policy. Flailing around at the wind is only going to make the viewership suffer, as nobody I know is especially interested in episodes full of black boxes and missing dialogue. Matt and Trey have the income and the ability to put together a film that hits ideologically bankrupt crackpots of all backgrounds hilariously hard.
Get the jihadists, Tea Partiers, Birthers, racists — get ‘em all, put this thing to bed on the big screen, and get back to making great episodes of South Park we can actually watch.