Friday, April 23, 2010

Jon Stewart and South Park on Censorship

Jon Stewart, 'South Park' duo tee off on network censorship and Muslim death threats

Fri Apr 23, 5:17 pm ET
Last night, Jon Stewart defended his Comedy Central colleagues, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of "South Park," in a 10-minute segment bashing a radical Muslim group for issuing a death threat against the rude-humor duo. You can watch the segment here (warning: some PG-13 language).

"I say this to anyone who's threatening death in the name of religion or politics," Stewart concluded, standing in front of a gospel choir for the second time this week, before offering his now-trademark bleeped-out sign-off, which begins with "Go" and ends with "yourselves."

"South Park," which has satirized just about every major religious and political figure, dead or alive, can still stir up controversy after more than a decade on the air. In last week's 200th episode, the creators — mindful of Islam's strict ban on any visual depictions of the the Prophet Muhammad — concealed the animated Muhammad character in a bear costume or in a U-Haul truck. So viewers never actually saw Muhammad.

Even so, a group called Revolution Muslim — based in New York City — issued a threat on its website alongside a photograph of Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker who was murdered by a radical Muslim.

Not surprisingly, Comedy Central got nervous. Even with the figure of Muhammad tucked behind the word "CENSORED" in a new episode on Wednesday, the network took additional measures that went beyond Stone and Parker's intentions, bleeping out the prophet's name and some other selected dialogue. Stewart called out his own employers for altering Stone and Parker's script without their consent — and the show's creators also issued their own statement expressing dismay over the network's actions.

"In the 14 years we've been doing "South Park," we have never done a show that we couldn't stand behind," the statement said. "We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn't some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps."

"In fact, Kyle's customary final speech was about intimidation and fear," they continued. "It didn't mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We'll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we'll see what happens to it."

— Michael Calderone is the media writer for Yahoo! News.