Just back from a week away and what do I find? A vast online industry devoted to Episode 201 of "South Park," and Comedy Central's insistence on bleeping references and images to the prophet Muhammed. It's amazing. I'm not talking a few articles here, a few there. There are millions....
One would imagine that a great and shocking turn in the war on terrorism had just been taken - that Matt Stone and Trey Parker had been censored!!!
I can say "Lord" in this blog, I hope.
Sure, it's a fascinating development, but I am - and forgive me dear reader if this observation has already been made a million times elsewhere - sceptical. Surely Matt and Trey knew that Comedy Central would bleep ANY REFERENCE. This could not have been a suprise, and I suspect that they fully expected this kind of response. Don't forget the episode from 2001 "Super Best Friends," which also portrayed Muhammed and was also controversial, and that when Matt/Trey tried to depict again, CC yanked the image before air (that was, I think, just a few years ago.)
Here's how it works with Comedy Central and "South Park:" The boys edit the episode, any episode, right up before airtime, sometimes just hours before airtime. CC has long been used to this, and some observers long ago suspected (or at least I did) that they deliver on deadline to avoid the exact sort of reaction they got last week. CC doesn't then have time to ponder the consequences of (say) the rape of Steven Spielberg (a controversy a season or so ago), and so episodes air un-touched, or largely untouched, consequences be damned.
But with that vaguue website threat, and Theo Van Gogh, and the first part of the 200th episode already out there, Matt/Trey had to know CC would bleep out stuff, and CC had to have expected that they'd have a lot of stuff to bleep out.
Was all this a trumped up controversy to drum up interest, ratings, press attention and all that other stuff that TV networks and successful TV producers do so well? Maybe that too, but I do take Matt and Trey - bombthrowers, after all - at their word when they say they'd have been hypocritical if they hadn't tried to get the Muhammed controversy ginned up again. That, after all, was the whole point of the 200th: To revisit all the old controversies.
Here's a good Boingboing.com interview that did recently to promote the episode. Judging from this, it seems that they clearly knew what the response would be...