Friday, April 23, 2010

South Park

I have been a South Park fan for years. Sometimes their narrative and satire misses the mark, but more often than not they are wonderfully irreverent and right on target. But not this time.

Last week to commemorate their 200th episode they did Part 1 of a two part series featuring people they have lampooned in the past – Tom Cruise, Barbra Streisand, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and more. A key part of the story line involved bringing Muhammad to South Park. A serious challenge since Islam forbids showing the prophet. They resolved the dilemma by keeping him hidden in a U-Haul trailer and finally bringing him out in a bear costume.

For me this was a cop out that didn’t work. I wasn’t offended, since it’s irrelevant to me whether the prophet is depicted or not. I just thought it was a bit of silliness that wasn’t amusing. Either keep him totally hidden or show the guy. Don’t try to skirt the issue.

When I watched the show I did think Muhammad in a bear costume would surely upset many Muslims. So I wasn’t surprised to read that a group called Revolution Muslim posted a note on their web site saying that South Park’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone had “insulted” the prophet. They went on to say: “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. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.” You may recall that van Gogh was the Dutch filmmaker killed by an Islamic militant after making a film about the abuse of Muslim women.

It sure as hell sounded like a threat to me, their protestation to the contrary notwithstanding. And one I would take seriously if I were Parker or Stone. So – what would they do with Part 2 of this story? It aired Wed. and was ridiculous.

Apparently the South Park producers did some self-censorship. And then Comedy Central made more changes. For the TV audience it was impossible to determine who did what. The result were vertical black boxes where I assume Muhammad would have appeared (with or without a bear costume?) had he been there and numerous bleeps which I assume would have been people saying the name “Muhammad” had we been allowed to hear what was bleeped out.

Parker and Stone said the episode was supposed to end with a speech about intimidation and fear. “It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too.”

In the end there are no winners. The point of the show was lost. Comedy Central ran scared. The Muslims are upset. And we viewers are left wondering.

Three cheers for free speech!


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