Thursday, April 13, 2006

Did Comedy Central squelch South Park's Muhammad episode?

OK, so "Cartoon Wars Part II" of Comedy Central's "South Park" aired last night and I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out what was what. The broadcast seemingly never shows Muhammad, claiming that the scene that featured him was redacted by Comedy Central, yet I've found sources that show that Muhammad was in the episode's opening credits, albeit in a manner that one would likely never notice unless they taped the show.

Here's a brief outline of the plot:

As the episode starts, it is announced that Part II will not be seen and that a Terrance and Phillip episode will be shown in its place. The Terrance and Phillip episode also features a clip of Muhammad, but that too is redacted, this time by the Canadian Broadcast Network. Meanwhile, Cartman arrives at the Fox Network headhunters, where he and Bart Simpson from "The Simpson's" agree to work together to get the "Family Guy" episode that will feature Muhammad pulled off the air (and thus fulfilling Cartmam's ulterior motive of getting "Family Guy" off the air outright).

Bart Simpson traps Kyle, who is out to stop Cartman, while Cartman lies to the network president, telling him that he was the victim of anti-cartoon violence in Denmark. Meanwhile, at the White House, President Bush holds a press conference about the impending crisis, arguing that the First Amendment protects freedom of speech; the reporters act as if they never heard of the First Amendment and demand the president stop the "Family Guy" writers.

Back in California, the Fox network president agrees to help Cartman pull the "Family Guy's" Mohammad episode off the air, only to reveal that the show's writing staff are all manatees who don't respond to terrorist threats and won't pick up the random "idea balls" that are used to write "Family Guy" jokes if anyone interferes with them. Cartman tries to persuade the manatees not to feature Muhammad but they are unresponsive, so he secretly steals one of their idea balls and tells the network president that he shouldn't take orders from the manatees anyway.

Bart Simpson has a change of heart and lets Kyle escape to stop Cartman. Cartman and Kyle fight; Kyle wins, and he is able to convince the Fox network president not to cave in to terrorism despite Cartman holding him at gunpoint. The "Family Guy" episode airs, but in the scene that is supposed to show Mohammad, one instead sees a statement saying that the scene was cut by Comedy Central.

The Muslim's all riot again over "Family Guy's" Mohammad portrayal and Al Qaeda retaliates by releasing a carton where George W. Bush, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Carson Kressley, and Jesus all defecate on each other and the American flag.

So what gives? Was "South Park's" portrayal of Muhammad redacted by Comedy Central? What about the fact that "South Park" had already featured Muhammad before the cartoon riots, albeit without any controversy? And most importantly, why is it that South Park is the only show on TV that even broaches the cartoon controversy?

Last week I said that I didn't think that "South Park's" creators could do a good job with the Muhammad carton issue and the larger threat to free speech. If the network didn't redact "South Park's" showing of Muhammad, is the joke then on us? If the network did redact the portrayal, then the issue is no longer comedy and it only underscores the jihadists ability to paralyze American institutions.

It's very hard, if not impossible to satirize a present threat to a fundamental freedom. Comedy seeks to make light of the metaphysically irrelevant by reducing its target to its proper place. Unfortunately, jihad is metaphysically relevant-relevant because the West has given the jihadists a power they ought never to have-the power to threaten our minds and our lives.

Maybe I'm wrong and the threat of West's self-imposed submission to Islam will finally be made clear by "South Park's" stand. At the same time, if "South Park" is now the vanguard of free speech, this nation is deeply hurting.

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