South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have created successful careers on pushing the limits and making fun of just about everyone. In the popular Comedy Central programâ€™s 14 seasons the show has created humor around celebrity scandals, national news events and even religious leaders.Â No one seemed safe from Parker and Stoneâ€™s outrageous and sometimes controversial cartoon portrayals, however unwanted or undeserved the attention.
For South Parkâ€™s 200th episode it was no surprise that the creators aimed to cross even more lines. Bringing back several of the celebrities they had previously mocked, the episode was based on a class action lawsuit brought on by Tom Cruise against the small mountain town to end the celebrity embarrassment once and for all. Things became controversial however, when Cruise agrees to drop the lawsuit if the town can give him the Muslim prophet Mohammed, who he believes to be the one person immune from satire and ridicule.
The episode contained several references to the name Mohammed and a mascot costume that supposedly hid the prophet from view. Although seemingly innocent compared to depictions of other religious figures the show has mocked such as Buddha, Moses, Jesus and Joseph Smith, many felt as though South Park had finally gone too far.
As part of their religion, Muslims do not believe in any literal depiction of Mohammed, including any kind of drawings or cartoons. Â After Parker and Stone received a warning from a Muslim organization that some interpreted as a threat,Â Comedy Central censored future episodes of images and references to Mohammed and did not allow an uncensored version of the episode to appear on Parker and Stone’s South Park Studios website.
But thereâ€™s a fine line between censoring potentially offensive material and compromising free speech. Under the First Amendment, unpopular or controversial material is protected as long as it is not obscene. Even hate speech, or speech based on characteristics such as race, gender, religion or sexual orientation is allowed as long as it does not incite imminent danger.
Those who felt cheated by the South Park censorship took to the internet May 20 to voice their concerns with â€śEverybody Draw Mohammed Dayâ€ť. With over 81,000 fans on Facebook, users uploaded thousands of pictures and images portraying Mohammed onto the site.
The backlash was severe, however, causing Pakistan to block sites such as YouTube and Facebook over sacrilegious content. After two weeks of blocking the site, a Pakistani court ordered on Monday for access to Facebook to be restored.Â However, the formation of a counter-Facebook group called â€śAgainst Everybody Draw Mohammed Dayâ€ť, actually attracted more fans than the original group.
Was it right for Comedy Central to back out on the Mohammed episode, even when South Park is known to attack everyone somewhat equally? Did the cable program decide to take the high road in hoping not to offend or the safe road after receiving threats?
Either way, the best part about freedom of speech is that you have the right to choose what you want to share. Those opposed to â€śEverybody Draw Mohammed Dayâ€ť could have easily tuned out or chose to protest while those in support found several outlets to express themselves. No matter what your beliefs, freedom of speech will allow you to share your thoughts, even if others choose not to.
Posted by Rachel on June 2, 2010 at 5:06pm.