Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Oh My God, They Killed Satire!

One of my favorite shows is South Park. I still can’t believe that the show has been on the air for 7 years now. It seems like just yesterday when we were introduced to the lives and (mis)adventures of Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman. The show has been a viewing staple, and a cash cow for Comedy Central, almost since it’s inception. The show is gearing up for a new season starting tomorrow night.

South Park's success can be attributed to the talents of it’s creators, Matt Parker and Trey Stone, and their refusal to back down from almost any issue, now matter how controversial, and to make fun of it in a harsh but intelligent way. After seven seasons, Matt and Trey have taken on everything from Michael Jackson, to Robert Blake, to J.lo/Ben Affleck, to more serious matters such as abuse in the Church, Iraq, prejudice, bigotry, and moral values. Matt and Trey pull no punches, and make no excuses for their cartoon tirades and very personal crucifixions. They have said repeatedly in interviews that they will continue to make fun of everyone and everything; an equal opportunity offender, as it were. If they see something going on in the world which they think is disgraceful, ignorant, or just damn funny, chances are that within a few weeks we’ll be treated to an episode of South Park devoted to it.

Which leads us to this week’s brouhaha.

A few months ago, South Park did an episode that poked fun at Scientology. No, let’s be fair. It did more than poke fun at it; it shredded the beliefs of Scientology and the people who follow it with the force of a wood-chipper. The episode basically put the ideals of true Scientologists under a microscope and showed it to the viewing audience for the big steaming pile of manure that it is. Even worse, the episode railed against some of Scientology’s high profile celebrity converts, such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise. In one part of the episode, Tom Cruise locks himself in Stan’s closet, and John Travolta begs him to “Come out of the closet already, Tom. Isn’t it about time you just came out of the closet?”

Needless to say, when the episode aired, neither Mr. Cruise (who is notorious for not having much of a sense of humor about these things), nor Mr. Travolta found the episode the least bit funny. They rallied against South Park, and purportedly issued warnings to Comedy Central to never air the episode again.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. One of the more popular supporting characters on the show is Chef, voiced by singer Isaac Hayes, a long-standing Scientologist. Rumor is, Mr. Hayes’ Scientology-loving actor-friends didn’t take too kindly to him being a part of a show that made them all look like ass-clowns, and have been exerting pressure on him to act. This week, he finally did.

After being on a show for seven years that has taken jabs at almost every religion under the sun, this week Issac Hays quit South Park. In his statement, he said “"There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins. Religious beliefs are sacred to people, and at all times should be respected and honored. As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices."

Well, it didn’t take long for Parker and Stone to issue a salvo of their own. Matt Stone told the the Associated Press Monday, "This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology... He has no problem -- and he's cashed plenty of checks -- with our show making fun of Christians. We never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin.”

I once again have to hand it to Parker and Stone for sticking it to the man, and doing so in a public forum. True intolerance is the ability to see the humor in all things, except for the things YOU believe in. You would think adults like Cruise, Travolta, and Hays would know that, and wouldn’t need to be taught it from two goofy cartoonists.

My hat’s off to you, Matt Parker and Trey Stone. Here’s hoping you guys continue to have the stones to keep telling it like it is for another 7 years. I’ll be watching.

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