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Thursday, April 22, 2010

'South Park' Creators Receive Death Threats Over 200th Episode

'South Park' Creators Receive Death Threats Over 200th Episode

Southpark 201

If you watched the first part of South Park's celebratory 200th episode last week on Comedy Central, part of you might recall it as a reunion of sorts of all the beleaguered celebrities playfully torn a new one over the course of fourteen seasons on the air. While they gathered under the leadership of Tom Cruise to sue the town over all the insults they have endured, another part of you may have recognized the episode as its own satire of sitcoms that celebrate their own genius by rehashing clips and situations from previous shows. If you are an extremist radical member of a certain religious faction, its entirely possible your mind was focused on another aspect altogether. And it is not Scientology.

According to a report on CNN, a radical Islamic website posted a warning to Trey Parker and Matt Stone that they may be on the violent end of a retort for airing this particular episode. Were they just Jimmy Buffett fans upset at the implication that his music is nothing but "drunken fratboy monkey garbage" or disagreed that Tim Burton "hasn't had an original thought since Beetlejuice?" Unfortunately it is nothing so trivial and hilarious. Instead, once again it was an uproar over showing the Prophet Mohammed.

Except - the Prophet was not seen in this episode. Unless a crudely sketched stick figure interpretation by Randy Marsh counts. That was apparently enough to tell Parker and Stone that they "will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh," the Dutch filmmaker murdered by an Islamic extremist in response to his 12-minute documentary, Submission: Part I, which shed light on the mistreatment of women in the religious faith. Of course, this was not a threat. Just "a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them."

As is usually the case with most religions, they are a bit behind the times and clearly did not see Season Five, Episode 68 entitled "Super Best Friends" where a group of prominent religious figures including Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Joseph Smith, Krishna and Lao Tzu team up to defeat the cult of magician David Blaine. In that episode, the Prophet Muhammad "with the power of flame" was visualized - in a positive light alongside his fellow Supermen - a full four years before the Jyllands-Posten cartoon controversy of 2005. In April of 2006, South Park aired the two-part episode, "Cartoon Wars", which featured Eric Cartman on a crusade to get Family Guy canceled after Muhammad is slated for a guest appearance on one of their episodes. Fearing a terrorist attack, the town buried their heads in sand in a show of solidarity to Islamists that their eyes would not feast on this unholiest of acts. Ultimately, the Family Guy episode airs but the moment of Muhammad's appearance is cut away from with a message that read "In this shot, Mohammed hands a football helmet to Family Guy. Comedy Central has refused to broadcast an image of Mohammed on their network."

And the joke continues on Episode 200 with the town fearing retribution for the scorned celebrities' single demand of producing the Prophet to satisfy their own selfish gain. Harnessing the power from "the one person on this Earth who is completely free from slander", Cruise and Co. believe it will free them from all criticism, parody and satire. While nothing less than a childish plan, it is certainly better than "warning" Parker and Stone with a graphic visual of Theo Van Gogh with his throat cut and a dagger in his chest.

In an interview with Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin, Trey Parker said that it is "messed up" to subscribe to the mentality that any one person or group is immune from ridicule because of the fear that "they might hurt us." He also said that it would be "hypocritical" against what they have tried to do with the show and what's good for the Catholics should also be fair game for anyone else. That includes the duo taking shots at George Clooney and Steven Spielberg, both of whom are often credited as spreading the word about their original short, The Spirit of Christmas, around Hollywood. Clooney even provided the barks for Stan's gay dog in season one and was the voice of the doctor in Bigger, Longer & Uncut that replaced Kenny's heart with a baked potato. Matt Stone said how "sad" he was how major media outlets including The New York Times and Comedy Central "pussied out" over printing the Danish cartoons or showing Muhammad in the wake of the controversy since it essentially left the author hung out to dry.

The Islamic website in question, Revolutionmuslim.com, has been unresponsive since CNN reported the story. The author of the "warning", Abu Talhah al Amrikee, advised readers on where to find Parker and Stone by providing the addresses of their personal production offices and Comedy Central. Abu told CNN this was to "give people the opportunity to protest" and not meant of a threat of any kind despite an audio sermon running over their pictures by Anwar al-Awlaki (an Al Qaeda leader targeted for capture or assassination) reminding followers of what the punishment is for insulting the Prophet. Unlikely that it is another film from Al-Zawahiri depicting American celebrities pooping "yummy yummy crap" on the American flag and each other with the proclamation that his work is funnier than Family Guy.

Part two of Episode 200 (justly entitled "201") will air tonight (Apr. 21, 2010) to answer the big questions. Will Mitch Connors and his taco loving alter-ego, Jennifer Lopez, reveal the true identity of Cartman's father? Will Mecha-Streisand finally destroy South Park once and for all? Will the celebrities or the ginger kids be able to get the Prophet out of that bear mascot outfit? Just what was Tom Cruise doing as a candy packer in that fudge factory? Most importantly, will the people of the real world be able to lighten up a little? Or at least have explained to them that if they don't, some might have their radical websites hacked by a video of Cartman's greatest cover tunes. Not a threat, just a warning.
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"South Park"'s Matt Stone

"South Park"'s Matt Stone

Trey Parker and Matt Stone laid the foundations for an animated empire with "The Spirit of Christmas", an incredibly crude animated short they made with pieces of cut-out construction paper in 1995. Out of that came the Comedy Central show "South Park", which debuted in 1997 and which is now the longest-running and highest-rated show in the history of Comedy Central. Even more remarkable than the show's ratings success has been its durability; in 14 seasons, it's never fallen off.

A huge part of the show's success has always been the music. Parker and Stone have written insane numbers of songs for "South Park", and their songs almost always achieve three very difficult things: They're consistently crudely and absurdly funny, they're almost always catchy enough to get stuck in your head, and they always move the plots of their episodes forward. Pitchfork recently spoke with Stone about his favorite musical moments in the show's history, as well as what it was like to work with Radiohead, Isaac Hayes, and Primus.

Pitchfork: Do you know how many songs you've written for the show over the years?

Matt Stone: We've had musical stuff in the show forever. That's mostly because Trey's a big musical fan, and he's a great songwriter. He's been writing songs his whole life. So since the beginning, we've always put a lot of musical moments. The movie ["South Park": Bigger, Longer & Uncut] is a good example of taking it and making a whole musical.

Pitchfork: What are some of your favorite songs from the course of the show?

MS: [Laughs] Man, that is hard. There are so many. One of my favorites we did recently was from last season. I don't know if you saw the pee in the water park episode, but "Not My Water Park" is so fucking great. It has the perfect tone; it's kind of sarcastic but kind of not. I think Trey writes that really well. The best musical moments are when, like "Not My Water Park", it really isn't just a joke of a song; it really pushes the story forward. That's a deeply emotionally significant moment for Cartman, the death of his water park and all these minorities coming in. So I like that one. Man, I should've looked beforehand. I know there's so many.

One I really like is at the end of Team America. [At] the very end, if you watch the entire credits, we did a song called "You Are Worthless, Alec Baldwin". It's sung by Kim Jong-Il, and it was this last-minute addition to the movie. A lot of people don't know about it because you have to stick to the end, but it's this crazy song that fills you in on the entire backstory of Kim Jong-Il's relationship with Alec Baldwin. I think it's pretty funny, and we recorded it at 4 a.m. We might have been... we weren't high on any illicit drugs, but it was like we were high on DayQuil and coffee and everything else we were taking to stay up.

But let's get back to "South Park". Probably the best one from the early years, one good enough to be in a real musical, was "The Lonely Jew on Christmas". Trey can write songs you can't dismiss out of hand, [and this] wasn't a spoof. It was a real song about a real little kid, and it just had a great concept. That was one of those early songs that pointed out to us that, "Oh, wow, there can actually be quality songs on this kind of show." It's a really touching song, and I kind of know how it was because I was a Jewish boy growing up in Colorado [laughs].
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