Sunday, March 19, 2006

It All Depends on Whose Ox Is Being Gored

People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them. ~Dave Barry

I don’t much care for Comedy Central’s South Park. For the two or three of you who are unfamiliar with this show, its not a program to do with dieting. It is a crudely animated (on purpose) cartoon that goes in for vulgar, heavy-handed parodies. I’ve seen one or two episodes, and it’s a show that has the potential to be very funny, but, for me, it generally falls flat because it beats you over the head and screams, “We’re funny! Laugh!”
Ironically, there is much humor to be found in an item reported on March 13 that informs us that Isaac Hayes is leaving the series because of the show’s “inappropriate ridicule” of religion. Strangely, Hayes, who voices a character called Chef, had no problem with shows that parodied (and that’s a mild word in this context) Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Mr. Hayes was offended when South Park took on the Church of Scientology.
You will probably not be overly surprised, as a result, to learn that Mr. Hayes is a member of the Church of Scientology.
Now, rather abruptly Comedy Central has shelved the episode, at least for the time being. The official reason for this is that they want to reprise a couple of fan favorite Chef episodes in honor of Hayes' departure. And, oh, by the way, they're not doing this because Tom Cruise, also a Scientologist, also parodied on the episode to which Hayes objected, had threatened to refused to do publicity for his latest Mission Impossible flick. Cruise, by the way, denies having made any such statement.
Actually, the Church of Scientology has never taken well to criticism, so it's more likely that Comedy Central is worried meeting the Church's lawyers than they are over Tom Cruise not wanting to plug a flick.
I'm not here to criticize the late L. Ron Hubbard's religious philosophies, though, or the fervor of his well-heeled Hollywood followers. I just wonder how Isaac Hayes is able to justify, even in his own mind, suddenly deciding that South Park has no respect for religious beliefs after participating in episodes that mocked just about every religious group around. I guess, Mr. Hayes doesn't consider their beliefs to be as important to them as his are to him.
I wish I could be amazed at his attitude, but I'm not. Trashing the beliefs of others probably goes back to the first time human beings became capable of expressing themselves. No sooner did Og explain how people become trees when they die then Oog hit in the head with his club and carefully outlined his own belief that trees became people.
I don't know any Scientologists, but I doubt that they are any more intolerant than anyone else when it comes to religion. It would be difficult for them to be so, since we live in a world where Conservative Christians demand that governments prefer them over other religions, Orthodox Jews can condone the assassination of their own Prime Minister because he was willing to give land to Palestinians, and extremist Muslims can use violence as a solution to every problem. Less extreme elements of these and other groups decry such attitudes, but it seems that the most fundamentalist elements manage to intimidate moderates into silence.
To be more intolerant than others, Scientology would have to use thermonuclear devices.
Anyone seems able to detect slights to their own beliefs, morals, or ethnic groups. Yet when a person acts in precisely the same manner toward another group, that person seems totally blind to the absurdity and danger of their own attitude.
Comedy Central needs to suck it up and air the episode. The network owes that much to the other religions, ethnic groups, and institutions that South Park has raked over the coals over the years. If you're going to air a crass, vulgar, and generally silly program for ten years, you shouldn't knuckle under just because some Hollywood-dominated religious group is offended.
Then again, maybe Isaac Hayes, who wrote and performed the them from Shaft and had a number of successful recordings, is the intimidating factor. After all, a large black man who performs his music wearing heavy chains criss-crossed over his chest not a guy to treat lightly.

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