It shouldn't surprise anyone that Viacom's Comedy Central is developing an animated show practically designed to offend Christians. But the network's handling of recent controversy over depictions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad illustrates a stark double standard in how the entertainment media deal with issues of religion.
Comedy Central announced it is developing the script for an animated show tentatively titled "JC." According to the network's release, the show is about Jesus Christ "wanting to escape his father's enormous shadow to live life in [New York City] as a regular guy." The announcement described God as "all-powerful yet apathetic" and said the show would be a "playful take on religion and society with a sprinkle of dumb."
The show promises to stand in sharp contrast to the network's treatment of another religious figure: Muhammad. In 2006, Comedy Central censored a segment of "South Park" that depicted Muhammad. In April of this year, the network added audio bleeps to the second of a two-part episode to cover any mention of the prophet, as well as an end-of-show speech about freedom of expression and giving in to intimidation. The first episode of the story arc featured Mohammad hidden inside a moving truck and a bear costume.
This censorship came in response to a threat from a radical Islamic website, based in the United States, which warned that "South Park" creators would face violent retribution for "insulting" Muhammad by featuring (although not showing him) on the episode.
Just what did the extremists, and the executives at Comedy Central, find so insulting that it warranted censorship? Celebrities and townspeople fight over Muhammad because they believe he possesses a "goo" that makes him immune to ridicule. The voice of Mohammad is heard mumbling from within the moving truck, and a bear costume is used to hide his appearance.
During the very same episode, Buddha is depicted snorting cocaine; Jesus is portrayed as a porn addict; all of the religious leaders participate in a running joke pertaining to oral sex.
It's clear that Mohammed is off limits - and it's just as crystal clear that Jesus Christ and other religious figures remains the juiciest of targets.
A History of Attacking Christianity
If Comedy Central's other shows are any indication, "JC" will be less "playful" and more "offensive." The network has shown that Christianity and its notable figures are fair game for all kinds of attacks. Most of the "jokes" are little more than cheap shots aimed at a relatively harmless target, and they come from a wide variety of Comedy Central programming.
The now-cancelled sketch show "The Sarah Silverman Program" featured a bit in which the lead character has a sexual relationship with God. During a lovers' quarrel, she refers to him as an "anus." Countless other stand-up comics, like Mike DeStefano, have used the Comedy Central stage to bash Christians and Christianity. In the animated series "Ugly Americans," a character named "Christ Angel" abuses women.
Christian holidays aren't safe from ridicule either. In a 2005 Comedy Central special, tastefully titled "Merry F-ing Christmas," Denis Leary called the Christmas story "bull-" and said someone must have "banged the hell" out of the Virgin Mary.
The network's #1 offender is the long-running animated series "South Park," where attacking Christianity is practically an annual event. It would be impossible to list every example of the show's offensive portrayal of Christ and Christians, from Jesus as a murderous action hero to depicting the Catholic church as a overrun by pedophiles, but here are a few examples:
- 2000: A priest was depicted having sex with a married women in a confessional.
- 2002: Catholic priests defended and promoted child molestation
- 2003: The main character started a Christian rock band and sang sexually charged lyrics including, "I want to get down on my knees and start pleasing Jesus, I want to feel his salvation all over my face."
- 2005: A statue of the Virgin Mary menstruated on Pope Benedict XIV
- 2006: Jesus defecated on President Bush and the American flag
- 2007: Jesus was killed in a bloody stabbing. He was resurrected and murdered Catholic League President Bill Donahue, who had become pope.
- 2009: The show attacked Christian abstinence advocates.
In pre-emotively addressing criticism of "JC," Comedy Central Head of Programming Kent Alterman said, "In general, comedy in its purest form always makes some people uncomfortable." Indeed South Park has also attacked other religions, including Judaism, Mormonism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Scientology, and even Atheism. Christianity is the only religion whose primary holy figure is routinely bashed, however. The creator's attempts to include Islam and Muhammad in their satire have been very publicly shut down by Comedy Central executives.
While the radicals who felt offended by "South Park" depictions of Mohammad threatened violence against the show's creators and Comedy Central, the Christians who are offended by the network's attacks on their faith have taken a different approach.
Catholic League President Bill Donahue, who has been a direct target of South Park's satire and reportedly found it "hilarious," urged Catholics in the U.S. to open a "dialogue" with Comedy Central executives by writing letters or trying to get meetings at CEO Doug Herzog's Los Angeles offices.
Others, like the Media Research Center - the Culture and Media Institute's parent organization - are urging potential advertisers not to sponsor the "JC" show. In a teleconference scheduled for Thursday, June 3, MRC President Brent Bozell and other leaders will call on Comedy Central advertisers to publicly pledge not to underwrite "JC," and urge Comedy Central to follow suit by canceling preproduction of the show.
Bozell will be joined by Parents Television Council President Tim Winter, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, radio host Michael Medved, author and radio host Rabbi Daniel Lapin, and Catholic League President Bill Donahue.