South Park censorship preposterous

May 20, 2010 — by Alexandra Ju

“South Park” is no stranger to offending people. The show has long been renowned for a complete disregard of boundaries. Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker take pride in utilizing crude language, violence and overall immaturity in essentially every episode. The show has made fun of countless politicians and celebrities, as well as events and holidays.

Recently, in episode 200, “South Park” touched upon a topic that resulted in widespread backlash when it pictured the prophet Muhammad. Muslims find it highly offensive to depict the prophet Muhammad in any visual way, much less in the media. Hence, the prophet Muhammad was featured in a bear suit on the show, making fun of the media’s careful attempts to avoid upsetting Muslims.

As a result, Revolution Muslim, a radical Islamic organization based in New York, published a message for the “South Park” creators. The message warned Stone and Parker that they could go the way of Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker who was murdered in 2004 by an extremist for his depiction of Muhammad on his film about the abuse of Muslim women. Though allegedly not a threat, the post included the addresses of Comedy Central’s network offices and the production studio in California where “South Park” is made. It also included a link to a Huffington Post story that described the two’s Colorado mansion.

Consequently, Comedy Central censored the second half of the episode when it aired a week later on April 21. Muhammad’s name was bleeped throughout, and his image was replaced by a large black block labeled “censored.”

Censoring “South Park” is preposterous. Having run rampant since 1997, the creators are no strangers to controversial issues. Not only had they depicted the prophet, along with other religious figures such as Jesus, previously in a 2001 episode titled “Super-Best Friends,” but did so without conflict. While reacting to a potential death threat makes sense, censorship plays directly into the hands of the radical threat makers. In addition, the show was censored without the consent of the creators.

Extremism can be a very serious threat. However, the creators were willing to stand behind their work, despite the controversy, and defend their right to free speech. But, the network went in with a red pen and slashed the episode, even bleeping Kyle’s speech at the end about intimidation and fear, which did not actually mention Muhammad at all.

While Comedy Central’s fear was understandable, the reaction was not. Every issue has radicals, and sometimes it is necessary to point out their ridiculousness. The show’s intent is to raise issues, not to smooth over them. If anything, it is unfair to cater to certain beliefs, such as Islam, when religions such as Christianity and Judaism are constantly made fun of on the show.

In addition, fear-based censorship is still censorship. Not even being allowed to post the controversial episode on their website, Parker and Stone’s freedom of speech have been compromised.

A silver lining to this censorship issue, however, is that it revealed the awkward tension of the media’s relations with Islam. Since, 9/11, the media has been perpetually nervous of offending practitioners of the religion. This has left them unsure of how to cover Islamic topics.

Censorship, in any form, squashes the right of freedom of speech. “South Park” should be let alone by Comedy Central and allowed to continue unhindered in its quest to broach political and pop cultural topics with humor.

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