First, it’s a situation comedy. A situation comedy that deliberately offends some in order to humor others. That’s not really so unusual. It’s not really “teaching us to be tolerant,” however. The majority of comedy has always been (since Euripides, anyway) based on belittling, verbally abusing, mocking and perjorating other people, their beliefs, their way of life, the way they talk; or finding glee in their misfortunes. Particularly people that you either don’t know, don’t like or are afraid you might somehow be associated with. I agree, you have a right to say what you like. But do you have a right to hurt other people with that speech? Isn’t that really a form of hate speech? Or is it only hate speech if you or someone you like are the targets? In other words, did the burning of witches start with bonfires, or hateful, ignorant people striking matches while making fun of strange looking women digging along the roadside for medicinal herbs?
Second, it’s a TELEVISION program. Granted, it may be about entertainment, or cultural commentary, even, but its first and foremost function is to serve as the delivery mechanism for advertisements. And if that delivery mechanism reduces the warm, fuzzy feeling in a percentage of consumers, it will not continue to be broadcast. It’s not in the network’s best interest to incur boycotts, protests, hate-mail or anything that might threaten its bottom line, or the inclination of its advertisers to continue their patronage.
Thirdly, I don’t think it’s free speech issue, and using the example of Jesus defecating on Bush and the flag as an “acceptable” substitute for an image of Mohammed doesn’t prove the tolerance of Christianity over Islam regarding free expression. Suppose, instead, that they portrayed Jesus smoking a joint, fondling a transvestite prostitute and voting Democrat or attending a Klan rally (either one, both demonstrate extremes). THAT would have caused outrage. But the bulk of the South Park audience is probably in agreement with any of these scenarios as possible, if not probable; it’s only people who don’t GET the show (they would posit) that would be offended. But then again, that’s where your definition of humor fits into the equation. Satire and irony are one thing. The question I have for South Park is this: could they have made their point without being offensive? Without belittling anyone? Who would have thought it was funny? The dilemma here what people think is funny. If it’s not funny in a way that pushes the envelope, no one would watch, and the advertisers would suffer. On the other hand, if it’s too funny (in a way that makes poignant insights into the way we live and suggests a better way), most people wouldn’t get it, wouldn’t watch, and the advertisers would suffers. And finally, if it’s over-the-top top funny in the traditional belittling, mocking, smug way of most humor, someone’s bound to get offended (because we all take ourselves a bit too seriously, anyway) and the advertisers suffer.
Is this worth even talking about?