Despite his mocking and often inflammatory rhetoric, Van Gogh utilized his free speech as an all too serious method to inform people of the violence and hatred so prevalent in fundamentalist Islamic societies (Van Gogh called the film a “political pamphlet”). The style in which South Park creators Stone and Parker operate is the polar opposite of Van Gogh’s Submission. Over its 14 years on the air, the show has gained fame and infamy for tackling controversial topics with an ingeniously moronic and often hilarious approach. In such episodes, South Park toes the politically correct line, and in some people’s eyes barrels right over it. The show has taken on countless topics of controversy, from Scientology to gay rights to abortion to stem cell research. It’s portrayed Mickey Mouse as a child-hating corporate fearmonger, Jesus as a porn addict, Buddha as a cocaine addict, and Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, as a manipulative fraud.
Most relevant to the current South Park controversy is its 2006 two-episode story “Cartoon Wars,” provoked by the 2005 Danish Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons ordeal. Here too, Comedy Central chose to censor South Park’s portrayal of Muhammad to the degree that they have refused to re-air the episodes. (Many websites which stream the show have been forced to pull the offending episodes, but you may watch them here.)
It is very likely that Stone and Parker do not fully comprehend the evils that run rampant within radical Islamic societies. As an avid watcher of the show, I feel it safe to make the assumption that they focused the story on Muhammad in order to point out the absurdity of the very thing that ended up happening to them.
Using humorously stupid scenarios in order to underscore the real stupidity of the topic featured in the episode at hand is South Park’s signature style of humor. When taken at face value, it comes off as perhaps one of the most idiotic shows on the air; when analyzed further the viewer discovers an opinion or message that makes all the idiocy and humor of the past twenty minutes seem brilliant and sharp. Indeed, that Comedy Central censored South Park for focusing on Muhammad can almost be seen as a joke that is part of the show serving to underline its message. In this case, people trying to forbid others from making fun of them or their religion are not only immature and imbecilic, but they expect the socially impossible. (The story ends with Tom Cruise, so sick of being made fun of in the media, trying to escape social ridicule by going to the moon — where he suffocates and dies.)
It’s important to note that not only did Comedy Central censor all visual portrayals of Muhammad, but just to be safe it censored all mention of his name, too. The Muslim belief that nobody should pictorially display Mohammad is inane enough, but not even Islam has a rule forbidding the use of Muhammad’s name.
Comedy Central’s actions are darkness. People like Van Gogh, Parker, and Stone, whether they know it or not, are now beacons of hope for free speech. Parker and Stone released a heartening response to their network’s spineless decision:
In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind.
Parker and Stone’s confident defense of their own free speech has inspired a number of people to plan Everybody Draw Mohammad Day, slated for May 20. Started as a single person’s response to the South Park fiasco, it has snowballed into a viral online event.
This event is a hard example of why the world needs people like Van Gogh and Parker and Stone to stand up to violent idiocy, whether through seriousness or a bear costume. Van Gogh had the courage to sign his name and face to Submission. Parker and Stone stand up for South Park no matter who it offends. A heavy drinking cocaine addict would not stand for being censored out of fear, nor will the creators of a foulmouthed twenty-minute cartoon. It is vitally important that people like this not back down in the face of danger like Comedy Central did.
They are in the public eye, and they are setting examples. Had Parker and Stone released a statement apologizing for the offending episodes, or censored the episodes themselves, it would have sent a drastically different message. Such actions would have told us that our human freedoms are meaningless and that we need to submit to hostility instead of fighting back. This is the message Comedy Central has given, and I can only hope Parker and Stone find a new and braver network that will stand alongside them in the name of free speech.
The free world is not going to sit still as a gag is tied around its head, but it needs figures of leadership and inspiration to get it on its feet. The world population’s free speech is coming under an attack the likes of which it has never seen before. Radical Islamists are using the very free speech we cherish in order to shut us up. It doesn’t matter if Parker and Stone stand behind the episodes in question because they believe in their right to make fun of anyone and everyone, and not because of the encroaching Islamic threat as van Gogh did. They all stand behind their work for the same, single reason:
It’s our right as human beings to make fun of you. And you’re going to deal with that.