You Say Muhammed, I Say Mohammed, South Park Says "Bleep"

An already censored episode gets even more censored

You’ve probably heard about the weirdness involving part 2 of South Park‘s anniversary episode, but here’s the quick recap:

Their 200th episode, last week, was a fan-friendly tip of the hat to many celebrity parodies and storylines from earlier in the season, including season 10’s controversy over showing Mohammed. (They showed him in the episode “Super Best Friends,” which Comedy Central still shows, but the network refused to allow his depiction in new episodes.) As Kyle said, “Dude, I can’t believe we’re dealing with this Mohammed thing again,” but they did, and the episode ended with Mohammed dressed in a bear suit that covered him from head to toe, so he would never be seen. After the episode aired, the U.S.-based Islamic fundamentalist website Revolutionmuslim.com warned that Trey Parker and Matt Stone might wind up like Theo Van Gogh, something that the writer argued was a “prediction” rather than a “threat” (i.e. something you can get arrested for). Last night’s episode continued the story from part 1, and like part 1, Mohammed had a huge “censored” bar in front of him every time he appeared without the bear costume. But this time every mention of Mohammed’s name was bleeped, rendering the episode completely incomprehensible if you hadn’t seen part 1.

Because the bleeping was so unexpected and unprecedented, and especially because the entire “I learned something today” speech was also bleeped (something that seemed clearly deliberate on Parker and Stone’s part), a lot of people, including me, assumed that the bleeping was an intentional meta-joke about censorship. But then Parker and Stone announced that Comedy Central wouldn’t allow the episode to be streamed online yet, and Comedy Central said that they had in fact added extra bleeps to the episode. So exactly what the “uncensored” version of the episode was supposed to look like is still unknown.

The possibility that this is all a stunt on the part of Parker and Stone, or Comedy Central, has been brought up a few times. It certainly is getting them much more attention than the original intent — to do a follow-up episode where Mohammed’s name is mentioned but his image is censored — would have done. And I thought last week that Parker and Stone might be going back to the Mohammed thing because nothing else they’ve done this season has gotten many headlines for them. (The two-parter, while funny, is another indication that they no longer have any frame of reference outside of their own show.) But it’s also possible that Comedy Central got some serious threats and decided to try and obscure what the episode was about. We’ll have to wait to find out exactly what happened.

As to how this applies to Canada, that also remains to be seen. The Comedy Network shows new South Park episodes “uncensored” on Sundays, but since no uncensored version has been streamed online, I don’t know what version the Comedy Network has been given, if any.

Update: The linked story has been updated with a statement from Parker and Stone, clarifying that the bleeps — including the bleeping of Kyle’s speech — were all Comedy Central’s:

In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it.

That’s very, very weird. I assume a statement from Comedy Central will eventually be issued, but even then, it will never explain what the hell happened if the network decided to censor an already heavily self-censored episode.

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