You may have seen this before...
It's shown before every episode of South Park and is openly admitting to the poor depiction of real people and events that the show portrays. But for some, this warning is just not enough.
South Park is known for its crude humor, graphic jokes, and holding nothing back when it comes to mocking celebrities, events, and pretty much anything that exists. While some people see that and instantly write South Park off as a mindless show with no redeemable factors except for the crass comedy, they are sorely mistaken.
The creators behind South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, are far smarter than anyone gives them credit. It shows through their work, whether it's South Park or their award-winning Broadway musical, "Book of Mormon" (which I would definitely check out if you get the chance). While they do make harsh jokes, and often have coarse language and obscene images in their work, ultimately they have a underlying message that comes full circle by the end of the episode.
A lot of South Park episodes tend to expose just how dumb and moronic some issues, people, and events are. You'd be surprised how 5 kids in small town South Park, Colorado can break down and explain a controversial issue through their mischievous adventures and antics.
A perfect example of this is the 2-part episode "Cartoon Wars" that aired in April of 2006. The premise of the episode was that Family Guy (another real show similar to South Park, but not as good) was going to depict the Muslim prophet Mohammed on TV in an episode. Everyone in South Park and the entire country erupts in terror, fearing that when Mohammed is shown on TV, that terrorists will retaliate and attack America, so everyone wants FOX to censor out the prophet from the program.
For some context, this episode was made in response to the Muslim riots and protests in 2005 after Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten posted cartoons of Mohammed in their newspaper. You might remember a similar event happening in France in 2015, when the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo also published cartoons of Mohammed, leading to terrorists attacking their building.
Though this isn't true amongst all who follow the Islam religion, there are some who strictly prohibit any depictions of Mohammed. It's been a contentious issue both internally and externally for the religion. Just because some say it's prohibited, does that mean that the entire world has to obey? South Park tackles this head on.
Back in the world of South Park, most of the United States population has literally buried their head in mounds of sand. Their thinking is, "if we don't see or hear Mohammed on Family Guy, the terrorists can't be mad at us." Obviously some flawed logic there, but Eric and Kyle leave for Los Angeles in hopes to persuade the FOX executives to pull the episode before it airs across America in order to prevent any attacks.
However, half way on their journey Eric reveals he doesn't care about the possibility of danger, he only wants Family Guy pulled because he hates the show. He says that if they can pull the episode because Islamics are offended, then it will open the door for other religions, ethnicities, and minorities to have Family Guy pulled off air because they are offended.
Kyle realizes the slippery slope this could cause and sets out to stop Eric. By the end of the episode, after fighting Bart from the Simpsons and discovering the writers of Family Guy are actually manatees, ultimately Kyle manages to convince the FOX executives to air the episode and keep the depiction of Muhammad in it. Here's when things get messed up.
The episode ends with the fictional scene of Family Guy that everyone has been scared about. We are expecting Mohammed to finally be shown, but when he is about to enter the screen we get this instead...
It turns out that Comedy Central (the channel that exclusively airs South Park) would not allow the show to depict Mohammed, thus turning the entire episode into a giant parody of itself. For the first time, South Park wasn't allowed to create what they wanted, because Comedy Central drew the line.
Comedy Central, and it's owner Viacom, had given into the fear that was lampooned and mocked throughout the entirety of the two-part episode. At one point in the episode, there is a press conference with George W. Bush (who was president at the time), and the press asks him, "Why are you allowing FOX to air this episode?" In response he says, "Because of this thing called the First Amendment."
It's incredibly ironic that Comedy Central would end up becoming no different then the mindless citizens of South Park, burying their heads in the sand in the wake of fear, instead of standing up and fighting for freedom of speech, a pillar of American liberty.
Stone and Parker were not happy with the decision, calling Doug Herzog (the executive of Comedy Central), a "coward." Herzog admitted he knew they would be angry, but that he made the right decision at the end of the day.
After this fiasco, Comedy Central actually went back and pulled an earlier episode from re-run rotation called "Trapped in the Closet," which is about Tom Cruise locking himself in a closet, and criticizing the religion of Scientology as a big global scam. While the episode was eventually put back on air and on streaming services, it was yet another example of Comedy Central giving way to a vocal minority of "offended" people.
South Park has made fun of almost everything under the sun at this point, and I'm sure that every episode offends at least some one, but if we have to pander to every single person's beliefs and views, we'll never have anything interesting. Nothing will ever be challenged, and worst of all, comedy will become bland and boring.
A more recent example of this happening was on Christmas of 2014, when Sony Pictures pulled all showings of The Interview (a movie about James Franco and Seth Rogan assassinating Kim Jong-Un in North Korea), because they were afraid of possible North Korean retaliation. They did end up releasing the movie online instead, but the pandering to fear and violence only makes these issues and situations worse and more frequent.
We as a society and country need to man up a little bit and not be so offended and throw our hands up in the air and cry about it. If you're offended by South Park, here's a grand idea:
DON'T WATCH IT.
Keep it out of your life, and don't ruin it for the millions upon millions that don't care and just want to enjoy the show.
Since 2006, Stone, Parker, and South Park have gotten even smarter and better about implementing messages into their show while still maintaining the comedy and F-you style their show has always been known for. So next time you try to write off South Park, remember when it tried to stand up for your rights and was actually more smart and rational than you ever gave it credit for.