The Second Part of the Amazing South Park episodes, “Cartoon Wars,” (1004) Teaches About the Power of Terrorism

As you may have read in yesterday’s article about episode 1003 (click HERE), I love these amazing episodes that challenge our ability to understand what the real power of terrorism is.

What this episode teaches us is that terrorism is a mental as much as a physical threat. When threatened with terrorism for broadcasting an episode of Family Guy that depicted an image of Mohammed, FOX networks must decide whether or not to air the image. Deciding not to is a matter of changing our lives and values (free speech, etc.) because we’re scared.

Terrorism hasn’t happened in the sense that no bombs have gone off and no one has died. Terrorism has happened – effectively, I might add – because of the fear that makes us live a different way. When we stop living as we choose because we’re scared that is when terrorism has worked.

This episode, setting aside this interesting point, is amazing for other reasons, including the layers of meaning attached to the inclusion of Family Guy and other animated social commentaries for adults and the fact that Comedy Central actually pusses out and refuses to show the image of Mohammed that in the episode the FOX network president opted to show. Wow.

What did you think of this episode? What do you think of this portrayal of terrorism?

Read the essay that I wrote about these episodes, In Defense of South Park.

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6 Responses

  1. …terrorism is a mental as much as a physical threat.

    “South Park” doesn’t play on TV here in S’pore, so I can’t speak for this (or any other) episode; however, IMO, terrorism is only a mental threat if you let it be that way. Americans, largely lacking in cajones, haven’t learned to deal with terrorism as, say, the Europeans have. From a post I made last year:

    ‘You bloody Yanks seem to think terrorism is something new and only ever happens to Americans,’ he groused to me. Being possibly the only bloody Yank going from London to New Zealand, I became by default the sole available representative for my fellow countrymen. ‘We’ve had the IRA and the French have the Algerians and the Spanish have ETA. Now you know what the rest of Europe’s been living with for the last few hundred years. Why don’t you lot just grow up?’ Heads around us nodded in irritated agreement.

  2. And in a certain sense, that’s exactly what this episode is saying – something unfair of me to keep discussing since you’ve just said that you can’t watch these episodes on tv.

    The point of the episode is that terrorism – physical terrorism – is quite possible and that it does happen all over the world. South Park is stressing that we shouldn’t let the threat of terrorism change our lives and make us who we aren’t. We need to get some cajones and keep being who we are, because the moment that we actually change who we are because of the threat of terrorism, the terrorists have won. They aren’t winning when people die – they’re winning when people live differently. South Park says, grow some balls and live your lives and don’t let the threat of terrorism (a mental issue) make you change who you are because terrorism happens (what the “angry Muslim terrorists” do at the end of the episode is definitely worth noting).

    Also, if you’d like to watch South Park, go to http://www.southparkstudios.com (the official South Park site) and you can watch any South Park episode (cataloged by the numbers I’ve used) for free. If you do, I look forward to hearing what you thought. 🙂 If that doesn’t work, let me know and I’ll burn some episodes for you and send them your way.

  3. Well, I did get the chance to watch the episode in full last night, but I didn’t have time to post a comment.

    A couple of points:
    * There’s a difference between what you/SP advocate and what I advocate. The point SP makes is “We shouldn’t stick our heads in the sand and change our lifestyles and values because of what we fear the terrorists might do.” As a result, many non-Muslims say, “Show the face of Muhammad (pbuh) because then we can poke the Muslims in their eyes by doing something they find offensive.” A secondary argument is that “we” are “preserving” the value of free speech. But this is reactionary without a lot of rational thought behind it; in fact, it’s almost purely emotional, being more malicious in spirit than anything else. A more rational, proactive stance might be, “We’re not going to change our lifestyle, but we’re also not going to be offensive to those whom we disagree with.” The terrorists and Shaitan win when discord (including religious discord) increases. You’re playing into the terrorists’ hands when these types of episodes are aired (or when cartoons like the Danish cartoons are published). In that regard, Fox was wrong (in the episode, at least) by showing the FG episode.

    What it ultimately boils down to is, what’s your priority? A harmonious society, or “free speech” that may create discord? The American/European position is the latter. The Asian position tends to be for the former. Asian countries, especially here in SE Asia, have very diverse populations, both ethnically and religiously. The potential for the powder keg to ignite is very high. The American/European position says “We think free speech is so important that we’re not concerned if you’re offended to the point of rioting and bloodshed.” Some Asian gov’ts (especially S’pore and Malaysia), however, have already gone through the rioting and bloodshed, and they don’t want another incident like those they’ve gone through in the past. Remember, “powder keg.” Is “free speech” really worth someone’s life? I don’t think so.

    * I’m not sure SP realizes that the “Al Qaeda response” at the end of the episode is just as offensive to Muslims as showing the face of Muhammad (pbuh) would be. Astaghfirullah! If SP was made in S’pore, that scene alone would probably land the producers in court under the Sedition Act. That’s prolly one of the reasons why the series isn’t aired here.

  4. I’m glad you got a chance to take a look at one of the episodes. I know that you wouldn’t have otherwise watched, and I appreciate you doing so in order for us to continue discussing these matters. I value your thoughts and opinions highly and enjoy reading what you have written.

    I’d like to toss out a couple of things that I’ve been thinking about after reading your comments, and then ask you for some more feedback if I may.

    The first thing that came to mind was the degree to which limiting free speech is a slippery slope, something I mentioned in passing last time. People’s lives should not have to be traded for free speech – there’s no doubt about that – but the problem can become, what does get traded for free speech and then why?

    You wrote, “If SP was made in S’pore, that scene alone would probably land the producers in court under the Sedition Act. That’s prolly one of the reasons why the series isn’t aired here.” I thought, this is the beginning of what we trade: our governments are telling us what we can watch. And I’m sure it’s not just South Park. There are, as I see it, two main problems with this.

    The first is that, governments don’t always know what’s best, a point that I don’t think needs examples, considering. To be fair, you portrayed this issue as a geographic value issue which is to say that South East Asians, due to their diversity that has little to do with state borders and more to do with a cross-cultural understanding, think it’s worth being careful in this area for the sake of peace and harmony. However, who makes the ultimate decision about what is and what is not okay to be in the public sphere? The actual governments. That becomes a huge license to suppress who knows how much other stuff that could be important or thought provoking or designed to help oust what may have turned into a horrible, overbearing and repressive regime, which is killing or punishing people for other reasons than their religiously offensive materials. This is something that South East Asia (like many places) is also familiar with and seems like a far worse threat to human life than free speech.

    In relation to South Park more specifically, it is a cartoon built entirely around satire that is designed to make extreme points (e.g. we should ALL make cartoons with Mohammed to emphasize our values) that make us think about our lives, decisions and daily actions that we have otherwise become oblivious of. That is, it is a social commentary. Many of the episodes are not about religion, and reflect on things like empty American values related to pop culture and celebrities (which I think you might agree is a necessary thing for Americans to reflect on) or other issues like government, the educational system and childhood.

    My point here is that, if South Park is not on the air because certain parts may be offensive religiously, there are still other parts that are excellent and have value for different people because they encourage thoughtful and self-reflective behavior.

    The second issue related to this is about religions and valuing human life. Rather than focus on tiptoeing around people who freak out and get offended about all sorts of things and suppressing content to appease them, wouldn’t it be better to have religions that valued human life? I can certainly appreciate the idea that generally speaking we shouldn’t do things that are going to piss people off and make them kill other people, but doesn’t a far deeper rooted issue concern having religions that cared as much about human life as the people who wish they could be mocking them for not caring?

    This is not to suggest by any stretch of the imagination that Islam does not respect human life or that we are conflating Muslims with terrorists. Many religions do not respect human life unless that human life is busy doing exactly what that religion wants. In extreme cases, those who adhere to these religions kill in the name of their offense, which seems to me to be a lot more ridiculous than valuing free speech. I’m not suggesting that it’s easy or feasible to go changing all of these people, but I am saying that as basic values are concerned, I value free speech more than I value the notion that lunatic would-be-murderers should get their way by sheer virtue of the fact that they are lunatic would-be-murderers.

    Now, of course, there are people like you who can step back from the Danish cartoons and from this episode of South Park and simply say, that is offensive to Muslims. You don’t get hot-headed, and I imagine that you don’t get angry – at least not violently angry. You think it’s a shame and offensive and unnecessary and you appreciate the fact that the government you live under recognizes the importance of limiting such inflammatory material in your society. And I respect that to the end of my days, and to whatever degree such cartoons do anger and upset you I’d respect that too because I know you’d never do anything that inherently admits of having worse values (e.g. killing people over inflammatory material) than those who religiously offend others. But you are a good person with your head on straight, something that can hardly be said of the people who would kill over these issues and whose reactionary behavior is dictating our lives.

    Do I mean that we as a world should hunt down terrorists so that everybody alive reflects free speech? Hardly (I think we know that a. that doesn’t work and b. it’s inherently hypocritical). But I do mean that the problem is not the emphasis on free speech or the pandering to lunatics but that people are raised to believe that their religions should lead them to murder other people for things like inflammatory material.

    When my friends and I sit around and give each other a hard time and they start ripping on me for something, I laugh along, maybe make a joke at my own expense and the conversation immediately moves on to another topic or another person who gets all upset when people make fun of him. Thus, I’ve learned that the best way to make an issue get passed over and forgotten is not to get so upset about it but to recognize it yourself. Am I suggesting that Muslims should have made cartoons about Mohammed after the Danish cartoon controversy? Not necessarily, but I will point out that shortly after that, the president of Iran held a contest for who could make the best cartoons mocking Israelis and Jews, and the Israeli and Jewish reaction was to say, ‘Ha! Like they could make cartoons about us more self-deprecating than what we could produce about ourselves? No way,’ and then they proceeded to come out with a hilarious series of cartoons that captured the essence of their humor and understanding of themselves, and no one bothered with the issue again. Of course, self-deprecation isn’t for everyone.

    As I make it to the end I have to thank you for indulging me through this long comment. Its length should only indicate to you how much I respect your opinion and the thought I wanted to give it. I appreciate that you challenge me and my values because my respect for your own opinion and view of the issues makes me take the time to not only understand my thoughts but truly appreciate where the other side of a free speech issue is coming from (something I hadn’t done thoroughly enough before). You’ve given me good material and thought for my chapter on Islam in The Zen of South Park.

    I do have a request, though. Episode 504 of South Park is called, “Super Best Friends.” It’s about an evil cult that forms and which can only be stopped by the Super Best Friends, a justice league of sorts made up of the world’s religious figures. It includes Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Krishna, Joseph Smith, Moses, and Mohammed. I hope that you’ll watch this episode which does actually depict Mohammed. This league is one that fights for good and justice and they explain that despite their followers’ arguments, they are not just friends but Super Best Friends (a line Mohammed actually gives us). I ask you to consider what I have thought about: what if Mohammed had not been pictured in this episode because Mohammed is not supposed to be pictured? Would it not have been infinitely more offensive to Muslims to exclude their final prophet from this important league than to picture him in this positive way as they have here? Wouldn’t not picturing him have actually indicated that he (and thus Islam) didn’t belong in this league of ultimately important and revered religions who fight for good?

    Thanks so much for making it this far and I look forward to hearing anything else you think about these issues.

  5. […] got something to say Jay Solomon on The Second Part of the Amazing…JDsg on The Second Part of the Amazing…Jay Solomon on The Second Part of the […]

  6. Just to let you know, I’ve been rather busy today; I’ll try to get to your latest comment tomorrow if I can, insha’allah.

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