February 23, 2006

Catholics In New Zealand Irate Over South Park

Relapsed Catholic has extensive coverage here.

Some readers in the comments section, and friends on the outside have asked my opinion on the subject, given that I am both Catholic and an advocate of free speech.

Final answer: the network should air the program, and the people should boycott if that is what they choose to do.

Freedom of the press, speech, and expression versus freedom of speech, expression, and assembly.

None outweighs the other.

Both allow for the exchange of ideas. Censorship, whether by the government or in a more personal (self-censorship) but no less insidious way, will not make the situation better, or understanding any easier. Let the viewers decide if the cartoon from South Park is "offensive" or not. Boycotting, peacefully demonstrating, etc. are acceptable means of showing disapproval. Censorship through intimidation, torching embassies, threatening violence, and killing are not acceptable, at least not in 2006.

I have viewed this episode, and continues to be a fan of South Park, because its satire is pointed at any group or sentiment worthy of critique. I do not jump on every Virgin-on-Rye story that pops up in the news, and this episode is geared toward that end. Pope Benedict XVI travels to see whether the statue of the Virgin Mary (not Mary herself) is truly miraculous (spoiler alert), due to the presence of blood in the statue's nether regions. The Pope concludes that the statue is hardly miraculous due to the fact that every woman menstruates each month. Case closed. That is the subject of the episode.

Is it crude? Yes, of course. Does it make a point? Yes, that not all "miraculous" objects such as Mother Theresa in a danish, or Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich are anything more than clever hoaxes at worst, or the projection of truly well-intentioned believers hoping to find proof of the power of God in a breakfast pastry.

South Park skewers any and all parties, and as satire it generally works. The subject of their feature-length movie was Saddam Hussein and a gay Satan. Funny stuff, however crude.

All adults should make their choice about what they choose to see or not see. Some have cited the presence of Piss Christ or the Dung Virgin on these pages as evidence of what is not acceptable to Christians. Frankly, the less you protest about offensive imagery, the less likely more of it will be produced. The question, at least with Serrano's work, was whether or not it should receive government funding. Just like Ward Churchill. Anyone can spout anything they want, just as long as it is not through taxpayer funding.

If nothing else, the violent protests throughout the Muslim world have only elicited more cartoons about Mohammed, many more offensive than the rather innocuous ones published in Denmark. Nothing is more appealing than that which is forbidden. These new cartoons have less to do with any inherent anti-Muslim bias than with a general sense of "screw you, I can publish any cartoon I want" attitude. That is the true measure of freedom in the West, the freedom to do pretty much anything you want, and even if it is illegal, to have redress to try to prove that you are in the right. This will of course open the door to crackpots and racists, but sunshine is the best disinfectant, as it was once said. How do you oppose free speech you don't like? With more free speech! Or the great line in the movie Ben-Hur, "How do you fight an idea? With another idea!"

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