Gone south: A biting TV show retreats on an issue of free speech

Written by Susan Mannella on .

South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren't known for their piety or for pulling punches. With more than 200 episodes of their irreverent animated series under their belts, Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone have insulted, denigrated and mocked just about every sacred cow on the planet.

Along the way, the satirists have picked up their share of critics. They aren't strangers to boycott threats or stinging reviews in the mainstream media.

Recently, the threats against Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone for their humor has taken a disturbing turn. The duo was recently warned by a fundamentalist Islamic website that depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit could end in death for the satirists.

As a result of a warning that Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone would end up dead, like the Dutch filmmaker who directed a documentary that allegedly insulted Islam, Comedy Central censored the episode and deleted the first part of a two-part arc from its website.

Citing security, Comedy Central insisted it had no choice but to knuckle under to the demands of the RevolutionMuslim website, but that wasn't be true. There's always a choice when it comes to capitulating to the demands of religious fanatics and bullies.

When "South Park" skewered Scientology, the late Isaac Hayes, who provided the voice of the character Chef, quit the show in protest. Even though Mr. Hayes was a Scientologist, Mr. Trey and Mr. Stone refused to back down from their vicious parody because of their reverence for free speech.

As long as "South Park" treated all religious figures equally badly, it was immune to charges of being sectarian. With parodies of Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad, it proved it was an equal-opportunity offender - which is protected speech in the American political system.

One famous "South Park" episode had as its mantra "Blame Canada!" In this case, Comedy Central deserves the blame for caving to threats by fanatics. But the ultimate blame belongs to the thug who made the threat in the first place.


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