Slamming South Park Censorship

Censorship sucks. I’m a firmly believe that sex, violence, drug use and foul language should have a place in network and cable television. Last Sunday I happened to catch an episode of “South Park.” Now, I must preface this story by saying I rarely watch the show and don’t really embrace its humor. Nonetheless, I caught the tail end of an episode where Kyle petitioned the network executives at Fox to run an episode of “Family Guy” featuring a cameo by the prophet Mohammed. The executives agreed and, at the point where viewers were supposed to see the cameo, “South Park” ran the following across a black screen: “Comedy Central has refused to broadcast an image of Muhammad on their network.”

Weeks before the episode aired, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker asked Comedy Central executives to run an episode featuring the prophet Mohammed. Network bosses refused and Stone and Parker decided to get even by including the written clarification in the episode. Even more shocking was that in the very next scene, Jesus Christ is shown defecating on George W. Bush and the American flag.

I’m not particularly bothered by the depiction of Jesus, but I am outraged by the blatant hypocrisy and zeal for censorship shown by Comedy Central. After the worldwide outrage over depictions of the prophet Mohammed in a Danish cartoon, network executives were reluctant to allow Stone and Parker to run the scene. Surely if the depiction would have sparked violence and deaths around the world, then it was probably a smart decision not to run it. However, “South Park” used the prophet Mohammed in its show a few years back and did so without sparking worldwide riots and animosity.

“South Park” bashes groups equally. Politically, Stone and Parker target Republicans and Democrats. They go after Jews, Christians, Muslims and, most recently, Scientologists. In an open society, comedy shows have the right to denigrate any and every religious and political group on the map.

The “South Park” censorship is just one of many situations where network executives have bowed to public pressures. In 2003, CBS caved to conservative outcry and did not run a mini-series featuring possible unflattering views of President Ronald Reagan. In 2004, FCC regulators spent millions of dollars and wasted countless hours investigating Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction.” Sparked by “Nipplegate,” FCC regulators went after shock jock Howard Stern, forcing him to take his act to the unregulated air of satellite radio.

Why is our country preoccupied by censorship in entertainment? Is it because of our Puritanical origins? Is it a campaign spearheaded by the powers of the religious right? Republicans like to champion personal freedom and responsibility except when it comes to the shows we watch on television. We’re responsible enough to put our Social Security in privatized accounts, but not to watch shows with boobies.

Many proponents of censorship say, “What about the children? They shouldn’t be exposed to violence, nudity and foul language.” To that I say, it’s the job of the parent to regulate what his or her child views on television. All modern televisions come with parental control features that parents can manipulate to block out any suggestive channels. I don’t believe networks should edit their programming for suggestive content. TNT should be allowed to run uncensored versions of popular movies. Comedy Central shouldn’t bleep out Jon Stewart when he goes on his expletive filled rants on “The Daily Show.”

The “South Park” incident is just the tip of the iceberg in our censorship problem in the United States. Government regulators and network executives ought let the American public decide what is decent and what is not.

And for the record, I saw Terminator 2 when I was seven years old and watched MTV and other suggestive programming as a wee lad, and I think I turned out okay.