The Emmys, “South Park,” and Integrity

The Muslim extremist threat that cowed the Comedy Channel into censoring South Park has certainly spawned a bumper crop of unethical attempts at protest. First we had the juvenile “Let’s Insult Islam Because We Can Day” protest, better known as “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” which made a lot of completely innocent and law-abiding Muslims upset without accomplishing anything else—not even a good laugh. Now the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, admittedly never a bastion of fairness, honesty or integrity, has made its incoherent protest by nominating the two “South Park” episodes that were censored for. Neither has been viewed intact on Comedy Central, nor are either viewable online. Nonetheless, the Academy says these episodes are among the “best animated programs,” despite the fact that the programs, in the forms that supposedly warrant the honor, have never been seen.

This is the equivalent of giving a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for a play’s first draft, before rehearsals and changes on the road to Broadway turned the work into something else. It is like giving the Academy Award to Orson Welles’ “The Magnificent Ambersons,” even though the studio made sure much of his version ended up on the cutting room floor before the movie was released. It is like giving the Nobel prize for literature to an unpublished novel.

It is, in short, a farce, and one that proves that the Emmys care less about actually honoring the best of the television season than political grandstanding. A persuasive argument could be made that the censored “South Park” episodes were the worst shows that aired on TV this year, since they were made virtually incomprehensible by the bleeps and blacked-out images imposed by the craven network suits. And why should Comedy Central be honored for its abject cowardice in allowing a radical Muslim website to bluff it out of supporting the “South Park” creators’ First Amendment rights? Nominating these episodes is outrageously unfair to the animated shows that didn’t allow bullying extremists to control what America watches. It also makes it clear that the Emmys have no integrity. All right, no award shows have integrity. But the Emmys don’t even reach the pathetic integrity standards of other award shows.

In case there was any question about this, the Emmys made their orientation clear by nominating “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien,” not because the show was outstanding or even very good, because not even Conan O’Brien believes that. Conan got the nod because he was screwed over by NBC and Jay Leno, and never has the chance to build an audience for his version of “Tonight” or get it working right. So let’s get this straight: the Emmy Awards recognize—what, exactly? The most sympathetic stars whose shows were undermined by back-office politics? The programs that would have probably been really funny if we saw them without all the bleeps?The networks that have been most unfair to their creative artists?

No, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is officially the equivalent of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins presenting an Oscar in 1993, when they hijacked the ceremony to lecture us on the U.S. treatment of HIV positive Haitians. The Emmys are arrogantly and irresponsibly misusing the television time, audience and publicity it receives for its stated mission to bring undeserved attention to opinions and messages that have nothing to do with that mission.

I recommend we censor the whole thing the old-fashioned way, by turning to another channel.

7 thoughts on “The Emmys, “South Park,” and Integrity

  1. To be fair in the literal sense… The SP episodes were “seen” entirely as intended. They were not “heard” as intended. The black box, while instituted by CC in an earlier episode was drawn by TP & MS in this two episode series as their representation of Mohammed. The only bleeps were of Mo’s name, which is quite coherent. Bleeping the final speech in the second episode is the only missing piece. I wish they’d release a transcript of that speech.

    • Only the final speech. And who knows if the transcript was submitted with the episode to clarify what was said?

      Regardless, I think the nominations are based on what was broadcast, which was enough. Perhaps the episodes lose something when they are uncensored?

  2. Honestly, I think that’s crazy. It’s like giving a beauty contest title to a contestant who’s had acid thrown in her face, because you can tell what she WOULD have looked like. Come on. The censored episode was 1) irritating to watch and 2) CENSORED!
    Who cares if the transcript was submitted—that version never made it to the TV–it can’t count. See the “Magnificent Ambersons” example. The original 6 hour “Napoleon” by Abel Ganz is a masterpiece; the 11o minute version that was first released was crap. Should the crap get an award because it was a redacted masterpiece?

  3. Slightly off-topic note: While I agree with your ethical assessment of “Everyone Draw Muhammad Day”, I do find some of the entries to be fairly amusing in their own right, such as the one of an invisible Muhammad, or the “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” parodies that are labeled “This is not a prophet.” I suppose they just found the wrong venue to publish in.

  4. Should a Burma peacemaker not win a Nobel prize for influential essays if they are to some degree, censored?

    If all we heard on TV was, “I have a dream…” would the speech of a great man been worthless?

    If you blot out “God” on US currency, can it not be spent?

    The episode has only been seen in it’s broadcast form, and this is the impact it has had. The travesty would be to give the nomination to just the SP team and not the CC brass whose beeps enhanced the episode and elevated it to legendary status.

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