Depiction of prophet not a radical move for TV show

By SpencerRoush

Throughout “South Park”’s 14-season-run on Comedy Central, the creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, have poked fun at nearly every major issue facing the United States, including taboos in society, religion, war and every other controversial topic they could think of.

Viewers can always count on the show to push the envelope and produce racy material that is bound to offend someone, but that’s why people watch it.  They take a centrist view when it comes to making fun of people.  No one person or group is excluded, which is what I think makes their non-politically correct views acceptable.

The show makes no exclusions when it comes to the targets of their jokes, including less-than-flattering, repeated depictions of Christians, Jews, Buddhists and every other faith and their revered figures. However, when the creators decided to show the Prophet Muhammad for their 200th episode, censorship and threats ensued.

“South Park” featured the prophet to varying degrees in three episodes prior to this, but after threats and violence followed the first half of the recent two-part episode, the network began bleeping out Muhammad’s name and placing a black bar over his figure.

Comedy Central censored the show due to reasonable concerns of retaliation because of backlash others endured after “disgracing” the Muslim religion. In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was found with a slit throat and a knife in his chest after he made a documentary on women’s abuse in Muslim countries. Danish cartoonists were also threatened after depicting Muhammad.

Even though Comedy Central did have serious concerns about running this episode alluding to the prophet  without visual and audio censorship, did they really think hiding his figure and strategically bleeping out his name would appease radical groups? No. Instead, it made the network look like it censors free speech while radicals continue to threaten violence.

After the show premiered, the Web site of a New York-based group of extremist Muslims,, gave an indirect threat by listing Stone’s and Parker’s addresses, saying that someone should pay them a visit and that they “will probably wind up like Theo van Gogh,” along with a picture of his corpse.

It’s understandable that some people would take offense to the episodes showing Muhammad because it is against the Muslim religion to depict any animals or humans, especially their renowned leader. But threatening and encouraging violence takes away from their cause and makes them sound like outliers, rather than a group standing up for their religious principles with an opinion worth considering.

“South Park” has the right to exercise free speech just as much as the groups who dislike the show’s messages have the right to protest against it.

After the show aired and the extremist Muslim group replied to the episode, political cartoonists and free speech activists buzzed about Comedy Central’s censorship and called for everyone to draw their own illustration of Muhammad on May 20.

The gag was  dropped after it created even more controversy.

The South Park episode rehashed an issue political cartoonists have debated for years. Most would agree that they have the right to illustrate anything because of the First Amendment, but the question is the price they are willing to pay to exercise this right.

The “South Park” creators must have known they would receive criticism, protest and possibly death threats. But they also probably considered that it would be against their nature to exclude a religion or demographic from their show because of its possible consequences.

Scott Stantis, political cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune, said he would draw anything if he ever saw a need to.

When asked about whether he would illustrate the prophet he gave a simple answer saying, “I have the right to.” His answer was short and blunt, but couldn’t have been said any better.