I don't know if any of you have been keeping up with the South Park controversy, but I had some thoughts on this particular issue, as it pertains to the question of an artist's responsibility.
To bring you up to speed: In 2006, South Park aired a two part episode in which the depiction of the Prophet Muhammed was debated. A show within the show was censored out of fear that the citizens of south park would be targeted for violence by outraged fundamentalists. In the end, the characters decide to allow the program to be aired, and nothing of consequence ends up happening. This episode was written in response to the Danish cartoon crisis in Europe and attempted to open a dialogue on the double standard of satire. Trey Parker and Matt Stone had animated the conclusion to depict Muhammed innocously, but Comedy Central blocked the image. This, despite the fact that Muhammed has been depicted on South Park in a 2001 episode without incident.
Earlier this week, they revisited this theme and were censored once again by Comedy Central, who aired the episode with edits and bleeps not approved by the Parker or Stone. Subsequently, the previous episodes, which had been available to stream, were taken down and replaced with apology messages. Comedy Central made this decision following not so thinly veiled death threats and anger directed towards the creators from a fringe group of archaic dinosaurs claiming to represent true Islam.
Now, some have debated whether or not the depiction of Muhammed was in good taste, and some have debated whether or not it was responsible of Trey and Matt to bring this topic up at all. I don't consider either of these questions relevant at all.
If you are a devout Muslim, and your particular interpretation of your faith prohibits depictions of Muhammed, I respect that and encourage you to practice as you have chosen to practice. However, an artist has absolutely no more moral obligation to you than anyone else. Yes, Hindus have no problem with depictions of Shiva and I have no problem with depictions of Eric Clapton. But those are all individual judgements we have to make. I shall never hold my standards over another individual. I understand that some Muslims honestly and sincerely believe that Muhammed is not to be depicted. However, there's also some family members of mine who probaly think you (or me, for that matter) are going to hell because we haven't accepted Jesus as our "lord and savior."
As artists, we should fight like hell to defend ourselves from the oppression that comes from moralists of all kinds. Freedom is about choice. For better or for worse, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have touched upon an elephant in the room: At which point does cultural sensitivity outweigh our freedom to choose for ourselves? It would be one thing if South Park targeted Muslims alone.
But I ask a question: Have these radicals even seen the show? Latinos, Scientologists, Catholics, The Chinese, Actors, Politicians, Unions... South Park doesn't target demographics. I know that sounds crazy, but hear me out... when did South Park ever make fun of someone or something without a reason? You can debate whether or not their reason was valid or not, but you cannot debate that they discriminate. They attack what they pecieve as hypocrisy or absurdity. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Well... then there's the toilet humor. But I digress.
My point is this. South Park is doing something courageous and Comedy Central has completely folded under the pressure. They are criticized for being gratuitious, and yet they have sparked an important debate that no politician or artist has yet brought to American conciousness so vividly. Who is anyone to tell me or you what we can or can't do regarding creative expression and storytelling? We all have a duty to support these artists, as citizens of a nation built on the principle of choice and egalitarianism. Moreover, as ARTISTS we have a duel role to also preserve the inquisitive and open nature of the American experiment.
The individuals who intimidation to control the people have scored a minor victory. But the creators of South Park will not budge. We, as artists, must join them in solidarity. The question isn't whether or not South Park is offensive or not.
The question is: what are we willing to trade when it comes to struggle to preserve our thirst for freedom?
NY Times Article on the Controversy: