Censor Thyself or Be Blown to Bits

South Park Cosplay
South Park Cosplay (photo by heathbar on flickr)

In the beginning I was not a huge fan of South Park. Of course, I never gave it a chance, but it didn’t give me a reason. It was, as the creators admitted in a recent Fresh Air interview, exceptionally crude both in its jokes and its scatological humor. I heard that basically it was just a bunch of elementary school kids using profanity – how novel. So I did other things with my time.

The first time I watched a South Park episode was a few years ago when a rerun of “Good Times with Weapons” was playing on Comedy Central. I happened to tune in while the characters were in anime-mode (representing the characters’ imagination – the art style changed when they were pretending to be ninjas) and by the time I realized I was watching South Park, I wanted to see where the story went.

Within a few months of that I saw the World of Warcraft episode and I realized these guys could actually be creative. I later saw the “Chinpokomon” episode, which I thought was insanely hilarious. Eventually I saw other episodes I really enjoyed such as the ones about scientology, the 2008 election, the Terry Shiavo case, and – recently – the financial crisis, Facebook and Glen Beck. So, while I still think the series sometimes sinks to using profanity and other crude humor to appeal to the widest audience, I think the series has grown into a huge vehicle for pop culture satire.

When I saw the episodes “Cartoon Wars I” and “Cartoon Wars II”, 1 wasn’t really sure what to think about the Comedy Central decision to refrain from featuring the image of Muhammad.(As someone who wasn’t following South Park at the time, I didn’t know that he had appeared on the “Super Best Friends” episode back in 2001) On the one hand, I don’t believe in censorship, as I’ve expressed before on this blog. Additionally, I was annoyed that my beliefs as a Christian weren’t worth censoring as the cartoon at the end of “Cartoon Wars II” showed. So, basically, the only way to get respect for your religion is to threaten violence? That’s not fair! At the same time, no one can fault Comedy Central for wanting to keep their employees from being killed over a cartoon. If I were the person in charge of that decision and someone ended up killed, I don’t think I’d ever be able to live with myself.

Since then I’ve watched South Park sporadically. Again, since I only watch for the social commentary, I only view episodes when people clue me in to the fact that episode X will have jokes on topic Y; so I had no intention of watching episodes 200 and 201. But when Danielle’s brothers came over, they really wanted to show us the episode because it was so funny.

It was, I believe, the most brilliant way to commemorate a milestone I’ve ever seen on TV. They took the best elements of their most famous episodes and combined it all into one great plot. There are spoilers coming up, but I figure if you’re enough of a fan to care, you’ve probably already seen this episode. In a reference to their Scientology episode, Tom Cruise is once again made fun of with a double-entendre. This time he makes good on his threat to sue South Park. This leads to a great sendup of all the previous episodes where celebrities have been the butt of jokes. Eventually this ties back into the Muhammad controversy from “Cartoon Wars”. Cruise comes to the conclusion that Muhammad has some sort chemical property within his body that makes him immune to criticism. So he wishes to extract this chemical and become immune from criticism himself. So, Cruise offers to drop his crippling lawsuit against the South Park residents if they deliver Muhammad.

The boys go to the Super Best Friends HQ (a parody of the justice league with all the heads of the major religions and another double-entendre joke in the character of Seaman) to ask Muhammad to help them lift the lawsuit. They go through a long and ridiculous chain of conditions that must be met in order to have Muhammad appear without offending anyone. Eventually it is decided that Muhammad will appear in a sports team mascot bear costume. So, basically, you can’t see him at all – all you see is a bear mascot. Pure genius! How could anyone get offended? A group of gingers (British slang for red headed people) also wants to be free of ridicule and so THEY want to kidnap Muhammad and take his immunity. Now, I get a bit hazy on whether this happened in episode 200 or 201, but it’s revealed that it’s actually Santa in the bear costume because they were sworn to keep Muhammad safe.

OK, so I’m thinking – this is great, they get to reference the hard time they had with their previous depiction of Muhammad and they get to tie it into some of their other famous episodes. And, it’s a win-win because this time they aren’t actually trying to show Muhammad. They are just talking about how they can’t show him. And still some group got offended and told the creators they might end up dead over this sacrilege. So in the second episode, Comedy Central chose to bleep out every time someone says the word ‘Muhammad’. (They also bleep out the “I learned something today” monologue in its entirety) I have no idea what purpose that serves. The plot remained in tact and Muhammad still appeared as a black bar that said “censored” – they just couldn’t say his name. But, it must clearly have been him if the two episodes are to have any continuity.

Originally, I wasn’t going to blog about this. After all, everyone from NPR to Fox News was covering the controversy. Plus, my initial feeling about the episodes were that they were purposely trying to beat a dead horse. Yes, we get it – it totally sucks that you’re censored when you talk about Muhammad. Cry me a river! But today I read this in an article about the attempted bombing of Times Square in NYC:

The SUV was parked near offices of Viacom Inc., which owns Comedy Central. The network recently aired an episode of the animated show “South Park” that the group Revolution Muslim had complained insulted the Prophet Muhammad by depicting him in a bear costume.
(by Hays, Tom – Associated Press (AP))

This is lunacy in so many ways! First of all, let’s talk about the philosophical argument here. How can The Prophet be depicted in a bear costume? By the very fact of having him in a bear costume, he was not depicted! It’s not as though this were a live TV show and there was an actual actor in there who was supposed to be Muhammad. This was a cartoon; there was literally no inside to the bear costume. Second, if they actually watched the freakin’ cartoon they would have seen that Muhammad wasn’t in there – Santa was! So they were going to blow up a bunch of people for something that didn’t even happen? That’s moronic! Third, wtf terrorists! No one in Times Square was responsible for that. One can see the logic in attacking Americans for their government’s policy because we elect our government (not that it’s ethical or moral), but attacking random Americans for what some people over whom we have no control did? That’s just without any justification at all. And, finally, it’s a cartoon. Get over yourselves. You don’t see the Catholics, Scientologists, Mormons, or any other maligned group physically attacking Viacom. They protest, they write letters to make their feelings known, and they try to get others not to watch it, but no one is killing anyone else over a cartoon – that’s just barbaric.

Stan and Kyle Cosplay
Stan and Kyle Cosplay (photo by petelabrozzi on flickr)

2 responses to “Censor Thyself or Be Blown to Bits”

  1. It’s drastic and scary and there will be no real respect for the religion until they start playing by the rules of rational, modern society