Why Comedy Central Were Wrong To Censor South Park

Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the irrepressible creators of South Park, have never been afraid of offending people. Over the years they’ve used the show to lampoon everyone from Tom Cruise to Saddam Hussein, Satan to the Virgin Mary.

This time, however, they’ve gone too far in the eyes of network Comedy Central, who have caved in to pressure and censored a recent episode that depicted the prophet Mohammed.

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Predictably, the episode sparked outrage amongst religious fundamentalists. Well, one fundamentalist anyway: someone claiming to represent the group Revolution Muslims posted a half-arsed death threat online.

How absurd, and how disappointing. Isn’t the whole point of South Park to rail against dogma and narrow-mindedness? Like all the best satirists, Stone and Parker’s great gift is their willingness to shine a big bright light on stupidity and ignorance wherever they can find it.

Comedy Central’s decision to censor the episode is a victory for fear and intolerance over humour and liberality. But what’s really worrying is that it’s not an isolated incident. “Outrage”, both real and imagined, is everywhere right now, and it’s dominating the media landscape as never before.

I’ve already put my foot into The Daily Mail‘s absurd moralistic monstering of Kick-Ass (“paedophiles will love it”, was the basic argument) – but left-leaning writers are just as capable of being offended by fictional characters doing fictitious things.

Take a recent Guardian blog post on Cemetery Junction, in which Ben Walters complains that the main characters poke fun at homosexuals.

The truth is, they don’t. The joke is never at the expense of a gay man, it’s always a reversal of someone’s actual sexuality. i.e. someone is called something he isn’t.

But people have column inches to write and uproar is so en vogue. Whether or not the uproar is tangible is a question in itself. Are people actually offended – or do they become offended when they’re told to be?

A week ago the frankly unfunny Frankie Boyle caused an uproar when he made jokes about Down’s Syndrome. As usual the argument about what was acceptable and what wasn’t reared it’s ugly head (before you write in I am not stating that people with Down’s Syndrome have ugly heads.) What angered most people on the ‘freedom of expression side’ was the line, “I have a sense of humour but some things aren’t funny”.

That’s subjective. The truth is, South Park, Kick-Ass, and even Frankie Boyle, all perform a vital role in society. “Offensiveness” livens up our otherwise dull lives. It pushes boundaries. It gets us to the next step in our evolution.

But this is just me. My opinions. As yours are yours. Maybe my views offend you. I hope so. In a way I hope yours offend me too. What’s really worrying is that people are actually considering murder over a cartoon.

I’ll leave you with a few words on tolerance. “Anyone who saves one life, it is as if he has saved the whole of mankind and anyone who has killed another person it is as if he has killed the whole of mankind.” No it’s not from Schindler’s List. It’s from the Koran.

Owen Nicholls edits www.thisfilmison.com