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Posted at 8:56 AM ET, 04/23/2010

JON STEWART satirizes own network's censorship of 'South Park' Muhammad episode

By Michael Cavna

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If you're a topical humorist for a living, and Comedy Central cuts your checks, AND your boss censors a colleague or two for topical humor, there's one clear path on which to proceed:

You fight censorship of satire with satire.

On Thursday night's episode of "The Daily Show," fake anchor/real social critic Jon Stewart aired a 10-minute takedown-of-sorts of Comedy Central's decision to censor his network brethren (and "good friends"), Matt Stone and Trey Parker, over a speech that was edited from Wednesday night's episode of their show "South Park."

If you're just catching up: The speech, according to producers/creators Parker and Stone, concerned fear and intimidation. Comedy Central chose to bleep the speech. ("Bigger and Longer," perhaps -- but definitely not "Uncut.") The bleeps came during about 35 seconds of dialogue among three cartoon characters: Kyle, Jesus Christ and Santa Claus.

Some watchers wondered whether the bleeped speech was part of the joke. No such twist. "It wasn't some meta-joke on our part," Parker and Stone said, according to the Associated Press. Beyond confirming the censorship, Comedy Central declined to comment.

According to The Post's Lisa de Moraes, Stone and Parker said: "Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle's customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn't mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too."

During the "Daily Show's" bit, Stewart does say of his Comedy Central bosses' decision to censor: "It's their right. We all serve at their pleasure" and that they probably did so to protect their employees "from possible harmful repercussions." Then the segment proceeds to offer a montage of potentially offensive "Daily Show" religion-themed clips that satirize a whole flood of faiths -- right down to the Amish (who, Stewart jokes, write their letters of protest in calligraphy).

If you're really just catching up: Back on Tuesday (or about 23 news-cycles ago), Comic Riffs reported that the New York-based Islamic Web site posted an image and video of the fatally stabbed filmmaker Theo Van Gogh and asked provocatively whether Parker and Stone -- in depicting the prophet Muhammad -- remembered what had happened to another artist who criticized Islam. (More than a week ago, for its 200th episode, "South Park" depicted Muhammad -- which it first did nearly a decade ago to almost zero controversy.) That Web site has since been cached.

So we all see the crystal-clear irony in this by now, right? A Web site characterized as "pro-jihad" preys on fear and intimidation in regards to "South Park." So when "South Park" attempts a speech about fear and intimidation, Comedy Central -- apparently chilled by the Web site (based in the same city as Stewart, btw) -- bleeps the speech. Voila -- the Web site's goal seems achieved: Parker and Stone have been at least partially "silenced."

In other words, to invoke the revivified phrase: The terrorists win.

The truest part of the "Daily Show" segment might just be toward the end, when "fake correspondent" Aasif Mandvi says that as a Muslim himself, a cartoon about Muhammad might trouble him. But more upsetting, he says, is "someone, in the name of a faith that I believe in, threatening another person for doing it."

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"Someone, in the name of a faith that I believe in, threatening another person for doing it."

By Michael Cavna  | April 23, 2010; 8:56 AM ET
Categories:  The Animation  | Tags:  Censorship, Comedy Central, Daily Show, Jon Stewart, Matt Stone, Muhammad, Trey Parker  
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Should South Park be censored? Absolutely not. I am reminded of Lenny Bruce, a man who paid a heavy price for freedom of speech a generation ago. Lenny had a point of view that had redeeming social value. We're a lesser country because he is no longer with us.

Having said that, I should also note that the writers of that show should have known that they were opening up a rat's nest by producing this particular program. Have they ever heard the name "Salmon Rushdie"? It's been over a quarter of a century since he published the "Satanic Verses" and he's been in hiding ever since.

Like the Christian extremist in this country, their counterparts in the Muslim world are nuts - possibly nuttier (if that's even possible).

What the hell is the matter with them? Have they really gained anything? Has any monumental point been made? By doing what they have done, they have put themselves and everyone who works at Comedy Central in potential danger. Was it really worth it?

Tom Degan

Posted by: tomdeganfrontiernetnet | April 23, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Maybe this won't start the big discussion that we need to have but maybe it will. It is far too soon to judge if Matt and Trey got anything out of this in terms of moving the nation forward on this issue of censorship.

If you are not familiar, South Park has been a show that recognize the importance of that freedom more than anyone else on TV. They have taken on the issue of Mohamed before several times. They have taken on many other free speech issues as well.

I personally love what they are doing. I love that they are taking this bull by the horns. Religion and politics are taken to seriously in this modern time.

Posted by: alex35332 | April 23, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

A monumental point has been made. The point is, in the United States you can now criticise any any celebrity, any religion, and any religious figure, except for Mohammed.

And the reason behind this twisted result is motivated by something as irrational as fear. Fear of people like those who run Revolution Muslim. Fear of people who deserve nothing less than the title "Enemy of Freedom."

The point that Matt & Trey were trying to make was that we should not have to live in a world where Salmon Rushdie is forced into hiding. We should not have to live in a world where cable networks censor out of fear. We should, as a people who claim to value free expression, stand up and say "We will not be intimidated by your threats." "We will not be cowed into submission by Revolution Muslim's refusal to live by the fundamental rule of a civilized society."

Instead we say: "We censored ourselves as you demanded, now please don't kill anyone."

After taking a look at Mr. Degan's blog, I can't say I'm surprised by his attitude. This is a man who claims he is "thoroughly disgusted at the state of America's national political dialogue" yet has an entire blog that seems to be little more than ad hominem attacks backed up by the occasional racial epithet. It's no wonder he can also claim to be a supporter of free speach, yet have no problem with cowing to the censorship demands of extremists.

Posted by: epic_124 | April 23, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Its amazing that some obscure little website makes some vaguely threatening posts about this South Park episode and the media makes it a major news event.

Posted by: nfarooqui | April 23, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Fundamentalists are the worst, no matter the religion. Just some happens that Muslim fundamentalists will threaten to decapitate you or blow you up if you so much as look at them funny. Why does the rest of the Muslim world put up with those nut jobs making such a bad name for their religion? Until Muslims start standing up to the extremists in their ranks, nothing is going to change.

Posted by: futbolclif | April 23, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

How foolish and misguided the people at the revolution web site are. Making death threats over this? I understand that a person can be offended when their religion is mocked or insulted and I'm thankful that in this country, we have to right to say when we find something offensive. However, to threaten to kill someone over such a thing is ridiculous.

There are a thousand things that are antithetical to Islam going on in our world every day that the people at the revolution muslim web site could get angry about. Things that actually HARM people. For example, I'd love to see them get worked up about human trafficking of Muslim women from Pakistan, India and Indonesia by Muslim countries in the Middle East. Or how about the Muslim on Muslim violence in Sudan? Or the depraved and despicable actions of the Taliban against their own people? Those things are worth getting up on your soapbox for. Not a silly cartoon.

Posted by: the_baa | April 23, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse


You hit the nail right on the head. Parker and Stone even drive the point home in the episode in a scene where Buddah is showing doing lines of cocaine. It is a bit that shows the disparity to the reaction regarding the censorship: Buddah doing coke, not a problem; just seeing Muhammad on camera at all, censored.

Posted by: jabacevi | April 23, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

John Stewart is brilliant. He is not only a brilliant comedic voice, but his credentials as a journalist far exceed those of the laughable cult new product, Fox News. As for Islam, it is not only a problem that the "radicals" amongst them threaten people with death and even carry out those heinous acts, it is more problematic that Islam as a whole is shamefully silent and slow to condemn these people. Let that be a warning to anyone who would ever consider joining them.

Posted by: medogsbstfrnd | April 24, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

According to Wikipedia, though Rushdie is not in hiding anymore, the fatwa still stands.

Posted by: mm_donovan | April 24, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

@#$@'em if you can't joke 'em!

Posted by: GarrisonLiberty | April 25, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

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