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It’s enough of a mind-bender to make Kenny McCormick’s head explode: “South Park” is up for an Emmy for a pair of smart, funny and bold shows that probably will never be seen again on TV.
Entertainment awards, at least in theory, shouldn’t be about sending messages or playing politics. The prizes should reward creativity and the finest work in the medium.
With “South Park,” Emmy voters have a rare chance to both laud two of the best episodes in the program’s 13-year history while striking a blow against the faceless bullies whose threats led to censorship.
The controversy began April 15 with the show’s landmark 200th episode, in which Tom Cruise – a frequent target of the program – wants to capture Muhammad and steal whatever quality makes the Muslim prophet immune to ridicule. The prophet, whose depiction is considered blasphemous by many Muslims, is never seen during the episode.
Still, Comedy Central heavily censored the second of the two-part arc following a thinly veiled death threat leveled at show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone by a New York-based Islamic extremist website.
A character initially said to be Muhammad in a bear mascot costume was redacted with a floating black box (Santa Claus turned out to be in the outfit). All mentions of the name “Muhammad” were bleeped, as was much of the ending – a speech by Kyle about intimidation and fear.
Comedy Central hasn’t repeated the shows and the episodes haven’t been officially posted online. Incensed fans started a Facebook campaign called “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.” But Facebook executives, remembering well the violence wrought five years ago after a Danish newspaper published an image of Muhammad, took the unusual step of pulling down the page.
Threats aren’t to be taken likely. Neither, however, is censorship.
The primary competition facing “South Park” in the Outstanding Animation Program category comes from HBO’s hilarious “The Ricky Gervais Show,” and “The Simpsons,” which enjoyed a pretty good landmark 20th season. “South Park” was better this year than both.
Meanwhile, most the early Emmy buzz is focusing on how Conan O’Brien’s short-lived, ill-fated version of “The Tonight Show” is up for an award, following another Facebook campaign. Giving O’Brien an Emmy would send one kind of message. Handing Parker and Stone a trophy would send another – a far more important signal that the entertainment community won’t be bowed.
Don’t let the bastards kill Kenny – or win the censorship game. Give “South Park” the Emmy.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.