I forgot to record “South Park” on Wednesday night, and now I’m kicking myself. If you haven’t heard, there’s a huge brouhaha over Comedy Central’s censorship of the animated show after a radical Islamic website suggested the series’ creators would be killed for insulting Muhammad.
No doubt cognizant of the 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was shot to death for making a film critical of Muslim society, the deadly riots sparked in 2005 by a Danish cartoon depicting Muhammad and the recent plot to assassinate a Swedish cartoonist for depicting the prophet, Comedy Central placed black bars over the Muhammad character — who was drawn wearing a bear costume disguise — featured in Wednesday’s episode and bleeped out each reference to his name. Also edited out was a 35-second speech from Kyle that was about, ironically enough, using fear and intimidation to get one’s way.
“South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker were not pleased. A statement on their website reads:
“In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it.”
Comedy Central has declined to comment.
It’s hard to say which is more disturbing: The prospect of actual bloodshed over a foulmouthed satirical cartoon, or the fact that the network caved to a radical fringe group. Free speech is a fundamental right in this country, and bowing to extremists only shows that violence and intimidation work, and encourages others to do the same. Comedy Central had an opportunity to make a courageous stand in defense of freedom of expression, and failed miserably. It’s become a cliche, but in a very real sense, fear-based decision-making like that lets the terrorists win. And that shouldn’t be an option.
If you missed the episode, you might be out of luck; Comedy Central didn’t rerun it later that night, and has no plans to rerun it anytime soon. It’s also not available online, unlike the other 200 episodes of “South Park.”
So what do you think? Was this a blow to the freedom of speech, or a prudent decision by Comedy Central?