‘South Park’: I’m with Kyle
Last week, after the first part of a two-part episode, Parker and Stone received a muddleheaded threat from some group nobody had ever heard of before, the issue in question being the show’s oblique depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. (The character was obscured in some cleverly cheesy ways, which itself seemed to be a commentary on the flap the show raised with a previous depiction of Muhammad in 2006. It was that kind of episode.) When the second part aired this week, even the character’s name was bleeped. It’s unclear how much of the additional censorship was Parker and Stone’s doing, and how much was Comedy Central’s. Comedy Central isn’t saying, and Parker and Stone’s statements are ambiguous. A graphic posted in place of episode 201 on the South Park website suggests that Parker and Stone exercised a degree of self-censorship and delivered a version with some audio bleeps:
But a separate statement posted elsewhere on the site suggests that all the bleeps were Comedy Central’s:
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.
This may just be imprecise wording by Parker and Stone, but everybody’s clammed up so there’s no way to tell.
What nobody seems to be disputing, though, is that the decision to bleep the entire closing speech by character Kyle Broflovski, the sanest 9-year-old on television, was all Comedy Central’s. In so doing the network slipped unambiguously into the realm of craven, dumbass cowardice. According to Parker and Stone the speech was “about intimidation and fear,” and “didn’t mention Muhammad at all.” At which point the only theoretical argument for censorship, however thin it may be — the argument that the mere mention of Muhammad’s name is so incendiary it constitutes a clear and present danger — goes right up in smoke, and you’re left with the sickening conclusion that the network is so chickenhearted it has to run and hide from the very idea that intimidation is bad, mmkay. This would be a hilarious irony — the kind South Park has trafficked in successfully for 14 years — if it weren’t so sad and awful. As my True/Slant colleague David Knowles has pointed out, public figures as diverse as Bill O’Reilly and Andrew Sullivan are backing Stone and Parker. So am I. You should too.