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Earlier, the Media Blog at NRO confirmed that Comedy Central refused to show an image of Mohammed in the two-part episode of South Park that finished with last night's installment. The AP report at the Washington Post provides more detail on the decision made by the Viacom unit to restrain Trey Parker and Matt Stone from using Mohammed to make its point about intimidation and free speech:
Parker and Stone were angered when told by Comedy Central several weeks ago that they could not run an image of Muhammad, according to a person close to the show who didn't want to be identified because of the issue's sensitivity.
The network's decision was made over concerns for public safety, the person said.
Comedy Central said in a statement issued Thursday: "In light of recent world events, we feel we made the right decision." Its executives would not comment further.
With this knowledge, the extent of the satire in the two-part episode becomes clear. Although the pair used Family Guy and Fox as a foil for the plot, it appears that Parker and Stone intended it as a sly shot at Comedy Central management. Unfortunately, those executives did not possess as much testicular fortitude as the fictional Fox executive in the episode.
Those who decry this as censorship are mistaken. In this case, Comedy Central owns the "printing press" and therefore have every right to decide what material they will publish. It calls their judgment and courage into question, and certainly their consistency -- they didn't have a problem depicting Jesus in any number of South Park episodes -- but in the end, the decision is theirs to make. Censorship requires government action, and none came into Viacom's decision. The problem is better cast as corporate cowardice, the extent of which appears to be growing by the week at what used to be as cutting edge a channel as possible for free cable TV.
My advice to Parker and Stone comes down to three letters: H. B. O.
The only way to really guarantee their own freedom of expression is through self-publication, of course, but the Internet would not likely produce enough revenue to keep the show going. As long as the need for significant revenue exists, either Parker and Stone will have to buy their own cable channel or partner with one that has a proven track record of courage in publishing.
HBO has that and a reputation for excellence in broadcasting as well. Their best series, The Sopranos, is coming to an end early next year, but they have had several other highly-acclaimed original series, such as Deadwood, Carnivale, Oz, Six Feet Under, and others. It would be difficult to find a topic or a taboo that at least one of these shows did not challenge, and do it well. With the nearing retirement of The Sopranos, HBO could use some buzz for its original-series offerings. Big Love may eventually fill that role, but South Park could start right at the top.
Comedy Central has proven itself too timid to allow Parker and Stone do satirize equally. CC apparently has no problem poking fun at Christians and Jews, probably because Christians and Jews don't try to kill people for insulting them. Scientologists and radical Muslims, however, have proven that they can frighten Viacom into submission. Under those circumstances, everything published by Comedy Central becomes suspect. Parker and Stone should call Time Warner and start discussing the Sunday night time slot that Tony Soprano will soon leave vacant.Sphere It View blog reactions
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