In defense of juvenile provocateurs

I found the movie The People vs. Larry Flint deeply irritating, if admittedly well-done. (The best things about it were Courtney Love's brief, shining moment as an almost-respectable movie actress and the song she wrote about the experience, all of which I found hilarious. Too bad she's gone completely off the deep end since.) Yes, I think we can all agree that the First Amendment is great. But I have a hard time celebrating an epic smut-peddler as some kind of free-speech martyr.

I feel similarly about this:

“South Park,” the Comedy Central series, is an animated show that tries its best to push buttons and the boundaries of free speech by mocking every high-profile target in sight, from Hollywood celebrities to religious figures. But its creators may have gotten more than they bargained for with two recent episodes that satirized the Prophet Muhammad — one that elicited an ominous message from an Islamic group based in New York, and one that was censored by the cable network that shows it.


Cognizant that Islam forbids the depiction of its holiest prophet, Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker showed their “South Park” characters agonizing over how to bring Muhammad to their fictional Colorado town. At first the character said to be Muhammad is confined to a U-Haul trailer, and is heard speaking but is not shown. Later in the episode the character is let out of the trailer, dressed in a bear costume.

The next day the “South Park” episode was criticized by the group Revolution Muslim in a post at its Web site, revolutionmuslim.com. The post, written by a member named Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, said the episode “outright insulted” the prophet, adding: “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid, and they will probably wind up like Theo van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.”


A spokesman for Comedy Central confirmed on Thursday that the network had added more bleeps to the episode than were in the version delivered by South Park Studios, and that it was not permitting the episode to be shown on the studio’s Web site. Comedy Central did not broadcast a repeat of the new “South Park” episode at midnight as it usually does, and instead showed a previous episode from this season. The channel was scheduled to do the same Thursday night.

Well, faaaaaaaaaantastic. Now Andrew Sullivan is falling all over himself praising Stone and Parker, treating them like they're heroes instead of comedically talented but juvenile attention seekers. They're the guys who made fart noises in your eighth grade English class, except now their televisual whoopie cushion is being mistaken for a latter-day version of The 95 Theses.

If I am forced to take a side, then yes, I agree that it was cowardly for Comedy Central to pull the episode. Freedom of speech is one of the cardinal values of our country, and there is no excuse for any form of censorship or coercion through threat of violence. Stone and Parker should be able to make fun of who they want without fear for their lives.

However, let's all just acknowledge that they did this for precisely this reason. They had no point to make beyond creating this exact stir. They poked a hornets nest for the sole purpose of getting us all mad at the hornets.

We now must defend them, but let's not mistake them for heroes.

Update: Puh-leeeeeeeeeeze.

1 comment:

  1. News flash from the Iowahawk News Service

    NEW YORK -- The programming staff and Standards and Practices department of cable TV's Comedy Central have been named winners of the Al-Fatwahadeen Revolutionary Martyrs Anti-Defamation League's 2010 Anti-Blasphemy Courage Award.

    "All too often, infidels in the media industry are cowards when it comes to obeying Islamic law," said League spokesmartyr Khalid Al-Mustapha. "By selectively censoring the blasphemers of South Park, these Comedy Central executives have displayed the steadfast conviction to stand up, courageously raise their voices, and beg not to have their heads chopped off. I am delighted to announce that in recognition of their courage, we will kill them last. Unless they are Jews."