Comedy Central gives in over South Park threats, and no one is the better for it
South Park, that crude, goofy, irreverent show about a few foul-mouthed kids in Colorado, is one of the last bastions of fearless free speech in the paranoid Post-9/11 Age. As other voices swerve between cowardly “politically correct” contrition to cross-cultural fears and rabid aggression running along those same cross-cultural lines, South Park has maintained its central artistic premise throughout this fear-ravaged decade: we want to be funny, and we’re going to be funny no matter who is offended, no matter how angry people get, and no matter what that anger may mean for our own personal and professional welfare, and we’re going to do this primarily becuae IT’S OUR GODDAM RIGHT TO DO SO. Even as the show, in my opinion, has taken a dip in quality in recent years, it has continued to wave that banner, even as those around them fall to self-c0nsciousness and paranoid hesitance.
Well, that bastion just took a pretty hefty hit. After a radical jihadist site threatened creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker (and yes, it was a threat) following last week’s episode which featured Muhammad in a bear costume, Comedy Central imposed selective cnesorship ofnthis week’s episode without the consent of the creators. Just a few years after the ‘Cartoon Wars’ episodes, where South Park argued that a show’s creative integrity is compromised if it succumbs to even one instance of censorship due to fear, the show has suffered just such a blow. To be clear, Comedy Central has acknowledged responsiblity for the edits, and thus bears to dubios title of censor, not the creators. But this is a very crucial moment for American entertainment and free speech at large, even though it lands on a show many regard as slight or childish.
But this is not a childish matter. Threats have been leveled against Parker and Stone for something shown on a cartoon show. And before you dwell on just how ludicrous that is, remember that such threats can absolutely not be considered idle. The jhadist site used Theo van Gogh in its warning, and suggested that the South Park creators risk the same fate. Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker, was brutally murdered after making a film about abuses suffered by women in Islamic society. He was killed for exercising artistic expression, and one would be foolish to dismiss the chance that Parker and Stone run a very real risk of similar violence.
The danger, as infuriating and utterly ridiculous as it is, is real, but the reaction of the network is the real tragedy this week. They have demonstrated that American media, long held up to the world as a shining beacon of democratic freedom and unfettered American expression, has bowed to the will of lunatics operating in a very perverted system of faith. They have compromised one of the most cherished rights we have in this country, and they have done so at the expense of the artists, who have shown no fear or hypocrisy in refusing to exempt one group because that group might be crazy enough to hurt them.
The reaction of Parker and Stone will be interesting, no matter what form it takes. Their artistic integrity has been attacked, no by the psychos threatening them with violence, but by the cowardly American suits threatening them with censorship. It’s amazing that this gauntlet lies at the feet of a show that gets laughs from anally inserted gerbils and talking pieces of poo, but that’s indeed what has come down to, and the makers of that goofy little cartoon are some of the only artists willing to do what so many others in this country will not.
They will write what they want, and say what they want, no matter the threats. Because this is the United States of America…and that’s their goddam motherfuckin’ right.