Friday, April 14, 2006

How not to be offended

Many years ago, I read a science fiction short story called "It's a Good Day!" by Jerome Bixby. It inspired a Twilight Zone episode, and, if I recall, a Simpsons episode as well. And here's the synopsis, in chronological order rather than in narrative order, because I reread that story so much that its "history" took the place of its narrative in my mind:

A baby is born in a small town. Something terrible, and unspecified, is obviously wrong with the baby; the doctor, seeing the wrongness, drops the baby in horror, and WHAM! - the town is suddenly... nowhere. It's afloat in nothingness. You can walk off the edge of it.

The baby grows. The people of the town learn to fill their minds with la-la-la's and random counting and nursery rhymes, because this baby can read their minds and has a deadly combination of "talents": he can read minds, and he can make awful things happen, as someone who once tried to spank him (or something - fuzzy on the details) discovered. Anyone who has a negative or angry thought about the child that the child perceives (you may be safe if you're far away and surrounded by others - but then again you may not be) may find himself dead, or worse.

No one can kill the child, because first, there's the problem of getting close enough to kill him without one's intention's coming to his attention, and second, killing him will only doom the town; he's the only one keeping it functional (that is, with air, water, food), wherever it is. And there's the unspoken hope that as he grows older, perhaps some seed of conscience or reason will take root in his psyche - perhaps someday, on his own, he'll WHAM! the town back into the world (or was it the world that he WHAMMED!?) So the townspeople are reduced to blanketing their uncensored thoughts in gibberish, smiling until their faces ache, and periodically losing one of their number through error or sheer frustration. They walk around like automatons, declaring to one another, "It's a good day!" regardless of what horrible thing their neighbor has just been turned into.

It's one of the most chilling stories I've ever read. It holds out no real hope - there is only, as I said, the "hope," more of a desperate but utterly unfounded wish, that the boy will somehow grow self-discipline on his own, with no adult guidance at all. <shudder>

South Park just shone a white-hot spotlight on the stakes of ersatz "tolerance." Now, I never get to watch South Park any more - obviously we can't have it on while the kids are awake, and by the time they go to sleep I'm up to my eyeballs in end-of-day stuff - but here's my understanding of the situation: In the first of a two-part episode, members of the South Park community hear that The Family Guy (another animated series) is considering airing an episode in which Mohammed is portrayed. Some South Parkians - South Parkers? Parkites? whatever - undertake a campaign to keep the portrayal off the airwaves, in the name of tolerance and respect for Islam. Blah, blah, blah - end of first episode, on a cliffhanger note.

Second episode: apparently this is where the hammer drops. In this episode, the image of Mohammed is supposed to appear on The Family Guy, the South Parkians' campaign having failed - and, knowing the South Park creators' general way with stories like this, I'll bet global jihad was the result.

The unfunny punch line is that Comedy Central censored the episode. The scene in which Mohammed was to appear does not take place, and an on-screen message flashes up saying that Comedy Central has chosen not to show the scene. (Or possibly they blurred Mohammed's face - as I said, I didn't see the episode.) All this information can be found at firster-hand, so to speak, here on Protein Wisdom, with links to more first-hand reportage.

So Comedy Central, a network that exists to lampoon cultural taboos, with a record of subjecting many religions to its irreverence, has decided - for reasons of public safety - that Islam is exempt. Two points about this decision:

1. Comedy Central, notwithstanding protests from the Left that "fear" of Muslim fanaticism is a mirage of the Right, appears to believe that "fear" of Muslim fanaticism is sufficient justification for self-censorship.

2. By preemptively (as opposed to after-the-fact, which is how Comedy Central has dealt with its recent episode concerning Scientology, running it uncensored but then pulling it from the rerun rotation - not a victory for the First Amendment, but less egregious than this Mohammed thing) self-censoring over a rule of Islam not even followed by all Muslims, Comedy Central has demonstrated the best way to get things done, or more accurately not done, in our vaunted free-speech broadcast environment: threaten violence. Be amoral in its application. Behave, in essence, like an undisciplined child with horrible and disproportionate powers.

I think I'll leave it right there.


Simon said...

I'm disgusted that these people and others are allowed to constantly mock my faith - which is cartoons.

Gahrie said...

Comedy Central has demonstrated the best way to get things done, or more accurately not done, in our vaunted free-speech broadcast environment: threaten violence. Be amoral in its application. Behave, in essence, like an undisciplined child with horrible and disproportionate powers.

You have just described the Leftwing of the Democratic party and their actions over the past 40 years.

Kirbside said...

Why can't you watch South Park while your kids are awake? What other shows can't you watch?

(note to self, perhaps the zombie movies and horrot films are not suitable for my 2 year old and 7 year old... need to revisit... Or is the Genie out of the bottle?)

Jamie said...

Genie's definitely out of the bottle, Thom... as we learned to our sorrow when we rationalized our decision to watch Goldmember a year or so ago while the kids were in the basement playroom. Of course, our first giggle and they were upstairs like shots out of a gun: "Whatcha watching, Mom and Dad?" We looked at one another, shrugged, passed the message, "They're probably too young to understand," by the mental telepathy developed over years of marriage, and kept watching, emphasizing the potty humor and de-emphasizing the bedroom humor...

...and sure enough, they were too young to understand, but not necessarily too young to repeat. Prude as I was in high school, prude as I sometimes still am, if it weren't for the sheer embarrassment factor if one of my kids started imitating Carter or something in front of the priest, I'd probably let 'em sit in on South Park, just so that I could watch it myself. (My oldest, the first time he saw Kenny killed and heard the accompanying commentary, would immediately ask, "What's a b*st*rd, Mom?" and I, being the person I am, would foolishly explain it rather than mumbling something vague. My family and in-family, or whatever you call your in-laws collectively, would then have a good laugh. But the kid is at least well-informed.)

Kirbside said...

I am a little concerned that my daughter knows the names of all the main characters in "shaun of the dead", not only is it a zombie movie.... But it has some rather Vulgar talk. (although very common British pub talk)...

If you havent seen it, its a must see...

"trust me"

Gahrie said...

On The Corner at NRO today they talked about this story. It' is called "It's a Good Life" and there is a wikipedia entry on it.