Friday, April 23, 2010

Explaining the South Park creators killed rumor

southpark bear
The Comedy Central animated series South Park has attempted to push the envelope since its debut in 1997. The show’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have pushed censors by airing previously unallowed words and then counting in the corner of the screen how many times it was said (episode 66), they have made fun of nearly every religion and many celebrities and pseudo-celebrities, and they have used the show to even poked fun at themselves (specifically the movie the creators made in 1998, “Baseketball”). The series has built itself on shattering taboos and offending everyone it possibly can. So it was only a matter of time before the death threats started.
Episodes 200 and 201 originally aired April 14 and 21, 2010 as another landmark attempt at making lots of people mad. The premise was that every celebrity the show ever insulted was ganging up to get back at the boys the show centers on, which means they all get satired and caricatured in the same episode. It also included the super hero group of religious icons and leaders (The Super Best Friends) that sometimes appears in the show, which includes the prophet Muhammad from the Muslim faith. The first of the two-part episode had the celebrity group attempting to kidnap Muhammad in order to get whatever mojo it is that makes him impervious to ridicule.

The entire premise is based on the concept of Islamic terrorism regarding the depiction of Muhammad. Specifically, the inspiration for the episode can be seen in the censoring of the Dutch cartoons depicting the prophet in 2005. The episode has tip toed near the line of offensiveness in this regard before, but the townspeople put their heads in the sand and all was well. This time the image of the prophet was comically censored with a large black box.
But Stone and Parker couldn’t stop there. They then had a bear suit, which the townspeople claimed the prophet wore in order to not be seen as he was handed over to the celebrities.
This is what the radical Islamic website RevolutionMuslim found offensive -that the creators of South Park put Muhammad in a bear suit. They have “warned” the duo that they will likely pay for that error. They said it is not a threat, though the writer on the website said “they will probably end up like Theo Van Gogh”, a Dutch filmmaker who was shot and killed for making a documentary critical of the treatment of Muslim women.
The website claims that it is not inciting violence, and as of April 22, 2010 the creators of South Park are still alive and have not responded to the threat. However, Comedy Central supposedly censored some of the audio for the second half of the episode in order to not further inflame the radical fundamentalists who may have other ideas.
For more on the discussion about free speech in the midst of threats, see this article in the LA Times.