Civil Liberties

Does the Pope Shit in the Woods?


As Jesse Walker noted earlier today, last night's episode of South Park, which continued the plot involving Muhammad that began last week, was heavily censored, at least partly in response to a death threat/warning from a radical Muslim website that said the show's creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, were risking assassination by mocking the prophet. Every time anyone says "Muhammad," the word is bleeped, while the prophet himself is represented by a floating black rectangle stamped "CENSORED." I gather that Stone and Parker included both of those expurgations in the version of the show they delivered to Comedy Central, whether as concessions to the channel, for satiric effect, or both. But they say Comedy Central bleeped a lot more, presumably including the summing-up speeches toward the end by Kyle, Jesus, and Santa Claus, which are completely inaudible. The channel will not allow Stone and Parker to post the original version online, so we can only guess the moral of the story. Some possibilities:

1) Refusing to be mocked is an invitation to mockery.

2) The depictions that upset Muslims who think murder is a reasonable response to offensive speech do not mock Muhammad or Islam so much as they mock Muslims who think murder is a reasonable response to offensive speech.

3) These Muslims richly deserve to be mocked.

Notably, the South Park episodes pointedly do not violate the taboo against depicting Muhammad. Even the notional Muhammad in the bear suit (spoiler alert!) turns out to be someone else. So the only real offense is against people who think they have a right not to be offended, who are an irresistible target for Stone and Parker.

In this week's episode (one more spoiler), when Tom Cruise uses a machine to temporarily acquire Muhammad's imperviousness to ridicule, the Pope turns to him and says, "You lucky fuck." I imagine that line, in the context of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandals, had folks like William Donohue foaming at the mouth. But there's little risk that Stone and Parker will meet an untimely end at the hands of enraged Catholics, which helps explain why they felt no need to put the Pope in a bear suit.