Terrorism 9,583 – Freedom 0
Posted by PintofStout on April 13, 2006
[Caution: Contains spoilers] The new episode of South Park aired last night to conclude the two part series revolving around free speech and pulled episodes. The actual writers for Family Guy, as depicted in the South Park cartoon anyway, were revealed quite anti-climatically, in my opinion. The message of the cartoon was honed and fully developed and still left time for a little self-deprecation.
A little to my surprise, the writers took a broader view of free speech defense, not focusing on the Scientology incident. Instead they challenged Comedy Central to pull their heads from the sand and show the cartoon image of the prophet Muhammad. In an indirect way Parker and Stone, the creators of South Park, incorporated the Scientology scuffle by implying – and stating directly sometimes – that it is either alright to make fun of everything or it is not alright to make fun of anything; you can’t pick and choose.
Some other highlights of the episode include a press corp at the White House who didn’t realize what the First Amendment was, the jokes about a cartoon being preachy and up its own ass, and the appearance of Bart Simpson. With the press and First Amendment joke playing out so George Bush is explaining to them what it is, I would have rather seen them take the wider view there and made it so GW didn’t know what it was either (based on all evidence to date). In a grand finale, most everything sacred to America and Americans, from Jesus to the flag to the President, was literally crapped on while a benign image of Muhammad was censored under some vague threat of violence. When Parker and Stone want to make a point, they sure don’t make it too subtly.
There is also new speculation to ponder; the implication for having a cartoon pulled in the story was certain cancellation, on top of the portrayed Family Guy, being the network’s number one show (strikingly similar to the South Park and Comedy Central relationship), threatening to quit if the episode wasn’t played uncensored. Does this mean we can expect an end to the South Park run on Comedy Central? The situation makes me wonder who owns the rights to the show, Comedy Central or the creators. The answer to that question will dictate whether the show will ever exist outside of Comedy Central with the exceptions of syndication. Regardless, if the show ends due to the network’s lack of spine, it would be a financial loss for them and a pretty substantial blow in the battle for free speech. At least there would be consequences for their censorship.
In light of all the controversy, the fight has stayed in the private sphere (excluding any overshadowing and vague threats of indecency by the FCC), which is where it should be. Comedy Central has every right to choose the content it airs. At the same time, everyone else has the right to tell them what they think of it. Cries of “free speech” mean nothing when in the private realm. Freedom of speech doesn’t guarantee that you’re heard, just that you can say it. So, free speech wasn’t under attack in the Scientology or the Muhammad cartoon controversies. What was under attack was freedom from fear; the freedom to say what you want without fear of frivolous legal retaliation and intimidation through the power of the state legal apparatus; the freedom to not be afraid of radical fundamentalists who resort to violence to stifle unpopular or unfavorable speech.