With newfound racial awareness, streaming services have scrubbed television episodes that show actors in blackface, cleaning up series such as The Office, 30 Rock, Community, and Scrubs. But they have censored South Park, perhaps the most offensive television program of all time, for a different reason.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the cartoon that airs on Comedy Central, have spent more than 20 years slaughtering America’s sacred cows with dark satire. The series mocks politics, religion, and pop culture using profanity, racial slurs, violence, and graphic images. Parker and Stone have more or less avoided accusations of prejudice and discrimination by offending everyone equally.
South Park landed on HBO Max on Wednesday after stints on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and others. But in selling the rights to stream the series, Viacom, which owns Comedy Central, excluded five episodes that refer to or depict Islam’s Muhammad.
In a 2001 episode titled “Super Best Friends,” a cartoon Muhammad joins caricatures of Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Lao Tzu, Moses, and Joseph Smith to save the world from a cult leader. At the time it aired, the episode didn’t cause much of a stir, but 2005’s violent protests over depictions of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper changed how media handled the issue.
In 2006, Parker and Stone criticized media self-censorship in two episodes titled “Cartoon Wars.” The characters of the South Park universe fought to allow depictions of Muhammad on their televisions. On the show, they won the fight, but in real life, Comedy Central censored the episodes by covering the images of Muhammad with black boxes.
In 2010, South Park revisited the theme in two episodes without depicting Muhammad. Certain celebrities went looking for Muhammad in an attempt to gain his superpower of being immune from criticism, but he was nowhere to be found. After those episodes, Parker and Stone received a “warning” (read: death threat) from an online Muslim group, and Comedy Central eventually pulled the episodes from its website and streaming deals. —Collin Garbarino
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