I am not a South Park viewer, but like many Americans I see South Park clips on YouTube and in other blogs. I don’t watch Daily Show much either, but thanks to Instapundit I saw this Jon Stewart Daily Show segment about the recent controversy over a South Park episode that made fun of several religions, including Islam. Reportedly, the South Park Episode known as “201“ satirized numerous religious figures, including Buddha and Jesus and . . . Muhammad. After Comedy Central received the usual death threats, the network decided to “bleep” the episode’s references to Islam’s prophet. The L.A. Times summarizes the story:
[T]his week, after an ominous threat from a radical Muslim website, the network that airs the program bleeped out all references to the prophet Muhammad in the second of two episodes set to feature the holy figure dressed in a bear costume. . . .
Comedy Central declined to comment on the latest incident. But “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone clearly disagreed with their bosses’ handling of the situation. A statement posted on their website said that executives “made a determination to alter the episode” without their approval and that the usual wrap-up speech from one character didn’t mention Muhammad “but it got bleeped too.”
The network may have thought it had no choice after revolutionmuslim.com, the website of a fringe group, delivered a grim warning about last week’s episode, which depicted Muhammad dressed as a bear.
“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,” the posting said. A photo of Van Gogh’s body lying in the street was included with the original posting, which has been unavailable to some Web users since news of the item broke earlier this week. “This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.”
As you might imagine, controversy followed Comedy Central’s decision to bleep. Jon Stewart, a Comedy Central star, devoted ten minutes of his April 22 show to the issue. Warning: the following is not for the thin-skinned:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|South Park Death Threats|
Stewart made this remarkable statement, among others:
“I owe a lot of religious people an apology. Not for making jokes at their expense, but for not appreciating, and thanking you, for how well you’ve handled it.”
He then shared a few clips from prior Daily Shows poking fun at Jews, Christians (all branches, including Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses), Hindus, voodoo, wiccans, Rastafarianism, Buddhists, Scientology, the Kwanzaa holiday, and even atheism.
Bravo to Stewart for standing up for free speech and at the same time acknowledging that his show frequently offends religious sensibilities. We’ve certainly been critical here of religious bigotry, but never of free speech. If a candidate of a particular faith – Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, you name it – is singled out or attacked on the basis of his religion, you’ll see us on the housetops decrying that bigotry. But death threats, however thinly veiled, are despicable and in this case are really only another form of bigotry.
South Park’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, issued this statement:
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.
A sorry tale, all in all. We hope America learns from it.