By Hank Smith
On April 14 of 2010, episode 201 of the Comedy Central show South Park aired for the first time with multiple bleeps and “CENSORED” blocks spread throughout the episode, and they weren’t part of the original episode. As it turns out, the TV network, Comedy Central, added them, in response to threats towards the writers and founders of the show, Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
What was going to be shown and said that constituted threats towards the creators? Episode 201 was the second part of a two episode storyline in which all of the celebrities that South Park had made fun of came back to file a class action lawsuit against the town. They agree to withdraw the lawsuit in exchange for Muhammad, the Muslim prophet, hoping they can harvest his “power” of imperviousness to ridicule. This is a reference to the Muslim belief that any representation of Muhammad is extremely offensive. The episode mocked censorship, hiding Muhammad in a bear costume so that he was obscured from view. It was also a commentary on the controversy over two instances of Muhammad cartoons in 2005 and 2007 in Europe, which caused a huge stir. South Park had an episode in 2001, “Super Best Friends,” which showed Muhammad, yet this was allowed, having been prior to the controversies. Creator Matt Stone says of this, “Something that was okay in now not okay, and that’s just [expletive] up.”
The second episode, 201, was apparently going to show Muhammad, but a “CENSORED” box obscured any image of him, and any reference to him, such as his name, was bleeped. In addition, the entire last scene in which Kyle explains the moral of the story was rendered inaudible by a long bleep. However, it was revealed that Comedy Central added the censors, and that they were not part of the original version of the episode. Both episodes 200 and 201 are not being streamed on the South Park Studios website, as well as the 2001 episode “Super Best Friends.” South Park Studios released a statement about the censorship, saying, “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.”
The censorship was in response to a post on a radical Muslim website called Revolution Muslim, which said that the two creators of the show faced the possibility of death if they revealed Muhammad, citing Theo van Gogh, a filmmaker murdered for making a documentary on violence against Islamic women in some societies. The addresses of Comedy Central and the production company were also included in the post. Though the site claimed their post was only a warning, many interpreted it as a threat, and so Comedy Central censored the episode fearing violence.
This censorship, however, was entirely wrong. South Park is infamous for their relentlessness in making fun of anything and everything, having absolutely no mercy for any one person or group. Creator Trey Parker is quoted saying, “We’d be so hypocritical against our own thoughts, if we said, ‘Okay, well let’s not make fun of them because they might hurt us. Okay, we’ll rip on the Catholics because they won’t hurt us, but we won’t rip on [Muslims] because they might hurt us.’” In addition, the minute the episode was aired, censored, the radicals won in the public eye. This is not only a victory for them, but it shows people that the radicals can win, and will encourage more of the same behavior.
Furthermore, what makes their personal religious beliefs more important than our constitutional right to freedom of speech? If people feel offended by the images, it’s as simple as not watching the program. A push of a button would turn the television off or change the channel. Threats and censorship both are extreme, unnecessary, and downright wrong. They go against everything that the first amendment stands for, and insults our right to freedom of speech.
The episodes of South Park should not have been censored. The creators submitted the episode knowing full well what they were doing, and the censorship gave the victory to the extremists. No one group should get special treatment; all should be treated equally, in acknowledgement and mockery alike.