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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Did Comedy Central do the right thing in censoring ‘South Park’?

South Park depicts Muhammad — allegedly — in a bear suit. (Turns out it was actually Santa disguised as a bear.) The organization Revolution Muslim threatens South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, suggesting that they will suffer the same fate as Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered in 2004 over his supposed dissing of Muhammad. Parker and Stone respond in this week’s episode with some dialogue referring to the threat. What happened next? Via the Associated Press:

Producers of “South Park” said Thursday that Comedy Central removed a speech about intimidation and fear from their show after a radical Muslim group warned that they could be killed for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

It came during about 35 seconds of dialogue between the cartoon characters of Kyle, Jesus Christ and Santa Claus that was bleeped out.

“It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part,” producers Trey Parker and Matt Stone said. Comedy Central declined to comment.

What possible purpose is served by censoring a response to a threat that criticizes the use of intimidation and fear? As Jon Stewart noted last night in a blistering takedown of Revolution Muslim, they’re based in New York City, where they enjoy the full protection of whatever they want to say, no matter how repulsive, yet they want to take that same right away from someone else.

Of course, Parker and Stone have no right to free speech specifically via Comedy Central, and as a legal issue, the network is surely well within the purview of the law in cutting whatever it wants to cut from whatever airs under its banner. But did the network do itself any good? Or did it just set itself up for further intimidation from whoever doesn’t like what it’s broadcasting? (As the Christian Defense Coalition is now complaining, “It is bigotry and discrimination at its worst to protect one faith tradition, Islam, and allow others to be mocked and ridiculed.” If Christian groups threaten Comedy Central, will the network give in to their demands, too?)

Did Comedy Central do the right thing in censoring South Park?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • RyanT

    It’s funny to think that Comedy Central censoring the episode actually made it a much bigger news story bringing more attention to the episode, the show, the network, and the extremist group.

    So in the end it might end up being a win-win except to the extremist group of course.

  • let’s face it, all the media in our country has already bowed down in the face of terrorism… this isn’t the first time something regarding “mohammed” or islam has been censored… how many papers, tv programs and even newscasts refused to show any of the political cartoons from europe because of fear of threats. there don’t even have to actually *be* any threats now… just the fear of them.

    JS was brilliant — as always — in his little rant about Revolution Muslim NYC, but of course he’s preaching to the choir. and i find it laughable about the Christian groups being so upset that they don’t get to censor! they do it all the time; politicians, broadcast networks, comedy shows… terrified of making some remark or comment that will start the christian right off on some protest or rant or another. advertisers listen, then cut advertising — the biggest threat of all.

    i am disgusted. i’m not even a big fan of south park, but this whole thing really irritates me.

  • Daniel

    Odd. The Jon Stewart video already seems to be missing from the website in that link. I believe it’s still up here, though:

    http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/23/jon-stewart-takes-on-comedy-centrals-censorship-of-south-park/

  • JoshDM

    I was not 100% sure if it was Comedy Central censoring or if it was part of the episode. As part of the episode, it actually works to show how idiotic the concept actually is.

    Also, I can’t believe Cartman is half-ginger.

  • David

    Comedy Central was played for the fools that they are. I can understand censoring images of Mohammed because Comedy Central doesn’t want to intentionally inflame a religious group. However, in the same episode Parker & Stone depicted Jesus watching internet porn and Buhdda snorting lines of coke. So why does the religion of Islam deserve special treatment? Because of threats of violence. This was Parker & Stone’s point. Comedy Central then bleeped out the entire speech at the end, where a little kid tells people that they should stand up to violent extremists. Since Comedy Central caved to the extremist it is no wonder they didn’t want anyone hearing that speech.

  • Joe

    I heard Revolution Islam are really a bunch of gay men who hide behind beards, drink pink martinis and absolutely DEVOUR pork sandwiches. The whole operation is a front to hide these activities.

  • W

    First off, it wasn’t the creators that censored it, it was the big wigs at comedy central. second, they’re just giving the extremists more power by giving in to their threats and censoring the episode. its rediculous anyways, because in the sequel to episode 200 it is revealed that it is santa in the offending bear costume, not muhammad. so basically these radicals are pissed about nothing.

  • Just Sayin’

    In this battle, the TERRORISTS WON!

  • Beyondo

    Terrorism WORKS!

  • apple.seed

    It is amazing to me that the press continues to ignore that the “radical Muslims” who made this threat are nothing more than a bunch of US college hooligans. Truly, the barbarians are at the gate.

    And they can be found here:

    Zachary Chesser 13101 Bathgate Way Bristow, VA 20136 (703) 600-9926 zchesser@gmu.edu.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Yes, apparently terrorism does work.

    When any follower of Islam – or Christianity, Bhuddism, or the Spaghetti Monster – can pick up the phone and say, “If you put [blank] on the air, you can expect violence,” and get the show of their choice taken off the air, we have a problem.

  • bitchen frizzy

    I misspelled Buddhism. Sorry, Buddhists.

  • Dokeo

    Shame on Comedy Central for caving! Their entire business is possible only because we have free speech, and they sold it down the river.

    Kudos to Matt & Trey for having the intestinal fortitude to create these episodes. It’s too bad their network is run by cowards.

  • @RyanT See Streisand Effect

    I am reminded of the flap that arose after they aired an episode that ridiculed Scientology. Nobody was hurt, business boomed, publicity ranged from meh to outrage. And life went on.

    Frankly I think that they are within their rights to do waht they want with South Park … it is work-for-hire after all. Once Parker and Stone turn it over to Comedy Central it is out of their hands. But I think it was cowardly and, frankly, un-American. I think they could have aired it as Stone and Parker turned it in and nothing would have happened.

    The fact that they caved in to the IMPLIED THREAT (it wasn’t even a proper threat…just an implied one) tells me that their management are a bunch of wimps that care more about the money they make than the message they send.

    It kind of angers me that any corporation that would, on one hand, promote shows like The Daily Show which regularly ridicules Jews, Christians, Scientologists, Atheists, Muslims, Politicians, and Celebrities but does so in an intelligent and sometimes subtle way, would then come back and censor another show which ridicules and defames the IDENTICAL LIST but does so with lowbrow, unsubtle, and frankly sometimes infantile humor.

    Do they think we aren’t paying attention? Are THEY paying attention?

    It tells me that the driving management concern is “We’ll air anything we get paid for as long as it doesn’t ruffle anyone’s feathers.”

    So please, for heavens sake, don’t complain about the Daily Show all you Tea-Baggers! Lord knows that the IMPLIED THREAT of violence or <GASP> a reduction in their income might cause them to cancel or de-fang that show too!

    ugh. I hate corporations.

  • Every time you back down to an implied threat, you merely confirm to the people who made the original threat what they already suspected: threats work.

    Which means if the would-be bullies were to make another threat tomorrow, that too would work.

    And soon or later, the would-be bullies no longer would have to bother making threats because their would-be victims is so busy to appease them that he wouldn’t dare do anything that would displease them. Which would mean the bullies won.

    Granted, I’m not a South Park fan and have no relatives who work at Comedy Central so it’s easy for me to talk about what they should have done.

    But I’ve learned from personal experience that trying to accommodate people who have no desire to compromise is basically a loser’s game. If you concede once, you’ll find yourself having to concede again and again and again until you finally break the cycle and refuse to play the game.

    And conceding to threats of violence only ups the ante. Because what incentive do the protesters have to use more peaceful methods since not so peaceful methods work so well?

  • Knightgee

    hile I respect their right to free speech and don’t support violence, I honestly can’t bring myself to care about their having to stop being offensive for the sake of “humor” for five seconds. I know this makes me not cool because like, “free speech is important and junk”, but as a gay person and a person of color, two identities that are often openly mocked, degraded, spat upon, marginalized and ridiculed by the media and people who were “just exercising their right to free speech”, I really can’t bring myself to care that the creators had to re-think a joke that would likely do nothing but contribute to the continued marginalization of Muslim people in America. Of course, the threats of violence they received likely didn’t improve that image either, but I’m just so over defending the cisgendered, able-bodied, thin, straight white male’s right to ridicule anyone who doesn’t fit into those groups and legitimize their continued othering.

  • iakobos

    What I have learned from this is:
    1. Comedy Central is not only a left leaning channel but it is a wimpy, politically correct, left leaning channel.
    2. The next time South Park is going to insult my religion, such as showing the founder of my religion watching porn, those of my religion should threaten physical violence if we want keep it off the air.

    If Comedy Central is going to allow South Park to insult everybody, then that includes Islam too.
    And, if anyone still thinks the religion started by Muhammad was, and always has been, a religion of peace, you are a fool.

  • doa766

    all religions should be banned and religious people treated for mental illness

  • all religions should be banned and religious people treated for mental illness.

    God bless you too, doa766.

    I hope for the sake of the other nonbelievers who post here that your statement was not meant to be represented of this enlightened attitude we keep hearing about.

  • represented

    Representive, that is.

  • While I respect their right to free speech and don’t support violence, I honestly can’t bring myself to care about their having to stop being offensive for the sake of “humor” for five seconds. I know this makes me not cool because like, “free speech is important and junk”, but as a gay person and a person of color, two identities that are often openly mocked, degraded, spat upon, marginalized and ridiculed by the media and people who were “just exercising their right to free speech”, I really can’t bring myself to care that the creators had to re-think a joke that would likely do nothing but contribute to the continued marginalization of Muslim people in America. Of course, the threats of violence they received likely didn’t improve that image either, but I’m just so over defending the cisgendered, able-bodied, thin, straight white male’s right to ridicule anyone who doesn’t fit into those groups and legitimize their continued othering.

    I don’t care for the show myself and I can make an endless list of certain celebrites–Howard Stern, for example–whom I rather not listen to.

    But if they (the would-be censors) can do it to voices we don’t like, they can do it to voices we do like. And eventually, to us.

  • MaryAnn

    We shouldn’t have to like what someone is saying to insist, in the United States of America, that they have the right to say it. That is entirely contrary to the entire point of “freedom of speech,” which is to protect *unpopular* speech! (Popular speech does not need to be protected.) Defending the right of anyone to say what they please does not mean that the content of what they’re saying automatically must be defended or shouldn’t be argued against.

    Knightgee, if you don’t think Stone and Parker deserve to have their right to free speech defended, would you be okay with the Catholic Church or some fundie Christian organization threatening GLAAD or the NAACP? If not, how do you reconcile the difference?

    If Parker and Stone deserve to be censored because they’re making fun of Islam, and simply because people who disagree with them say so, then don’t civil rights activists deserve to be censored because some people don’t think gays and nonwhites should be treated as human?

    I hope for the sake of the other nonbelievers who post here that your statement was not meant to be represented of this enlightened attitude we keep hearing about.

    It certainly does not. I’ve never heard anyone serious about atheism and issues of religion in public life suggest such a thing. It wouldn’t work, anyway: you can ban something that many people want.

    I think religion, on the whole, is more dangerous to society and harmful to individuals than not, but the way to counter that isn’t prohibition but education.

  • Martin

    I’d like to know exactly which parts of the episode were censored by Comedy Central and which were censored on purpose by Matt and Trey because I’m pretty sure that the joke when Tom Cruise has Sea Man on his back wouldn’t have worked if Muhammed wasn’t represented by a black ‘censored’ bar.

    I found that the episode almost perfectly encapsulated the pointlessness of censorship. We knew it was Muhammed behind that black bar and Matt and Trey knew it too yet it’s been done in order to appease some threat of violence.
    The crazy thing is that the black censorship bar is an image of Muhammed, it’s just not a traditional one. Nobody else was depicted like that in the episode (or in any other episode of South Park) so anyone seeing that absolutely knows who it is.

    But, as has been commented before, the ultimate lesson is the same one that was put forward in their Cartoon Wars episodes; threats work. We have no problem with depicting the holy figures of Christianity or Buddhism as drug takers or users of pornography (and isn’t Jesus a prophet to the Muslims as well???) but to have Muhammed simply standing on screen doing nothing as the most horrific thing South Park has ever, ever done simply because some people are willing to kill over it (or, at the very least, threaten to kill over it) is insane.

    But I find it interesting that this has all overshadowed the real meaning of the episode, finding out who Eric Cartman’s father was and boy, I did not see that coming…

  • Martin

    Oh, and to answer the question, I think that Comedy Central has a right to protect it’s employees from threats of physical violence and I’m sure that’s why it was done and I can perfectly understand that.

    But as a greater issue, I believe it’s a mistake. If someone were to die as a result of Comedy Central agreeing with Matt and Trey’s philosophy of “either it’s all fair game or none of it is”, it’s not Comedy Central’s fault, it’s the inability of a third party to accept that freedom of speech implies that you have no right to live free of ridicule.

  • Knightgee

    Knightgee, if you don’t think Stone and Parker deserve to have their right to free speech defended,

    On the contrary, I think they do deserve to have their right to free speech defended, I just wont be the one to do it. There’s a clear difference between speech that I simply disagree with and speech that does nothing but reaffirm the harmful beliefs that I and others have to be subjected to everyday and I’m not interested in defending the latter, I’ll leave that to someone else. I don’t condone death threats, nor do I condone their silencing, but these two have repeatedly spouted offensive ignorant beliefs that do nothing but reaffirm their audiences prejudices rather than challenge them, under the guise of “humor”.

    There is nothing funny about dedicating an episode to explaining why using the word “fag” is no longer offensive (and why would straight people get to decide such a matter in the first place?). There is nothing funny about spending 30 minutes calling women whores, making fat jokes or telling an actress that she is ugly and looks like a horse for no other reason than because they think she looks ugly, thus contributing to our society’s erroneous belief that men have the right to judge women for their appearance and to degrade anyone who does not fit into a strict standard of beauty.

    I’m just quite sick of having to defend such uncreative garbage for fear of being accused of being oversensitive or of not respecting free speech. In all honesty, would anyone have even briefly considered changing the joke had this group not lobbed a death threat and had just politely asked that they not have their culture ridiculed once again by American TV? Of course not, because marginalized people and their voices are never worth respecting or valuing unless there is an element of danger in it.

  • Well, if you define sanity and insanity as a sliding scale from perfect understanding of reality to imperfect understanding of reality, then there are no perfectly sane people and the perfectly insane are curled up on padded floors in straight jackets.

    However, I sometimes suspect that the reason Reagan and Bush II didn’t mind running up huge national debts for the military is because they believe the End Times are near, and they would all get raptured up anyway. So who is more insane, they for believing that or me for believing that they believe that or the American public for voting for people who believe that?

  • bitchen frizzy

    How about letting psychiatrists define sanity and insanity?

    The Soviet Union used to define political dissidents as insane, and put them in padded cells.

  • RogerBW

    I have nothing to add to this:

    Dane-geld
    (A.D. 980-1016)

    IT IS always a temptation to an armed and agile nation,
    To call upon a neighbour and to say:—
    “We invaded you last night—we are quite prepared to fight,
    Unless you pay us cash to go away.”

    And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
    And the people who ask it explain
    That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
    And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

    It is always a temptation to a rich and lazy nation,
    To puff and look important and to say:—
    “Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
    We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

    And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
    But we’ve proved it again and again,
    That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
    You never get rid of the Dane.

    It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
    For fear they should succumb and go astray,
    So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
    You will find it better policy to says:—

    “We never pay any one Dane-geld,
    No matter how trifling the cost,
    For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
    And the nation that plays it is lost!”

    (Kipling, of course.)

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