A funny thing happened two weeks ago. "South Park" episode "201" aired -- literally the 201st episode in the series -- with some network-imposed edits in place that took creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone by surprise. The changes were made following controversy over the two-part episode's ("200" aired a week earlier) treatment of the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam, which you can read all about at the link above.
This past Sunday, "Family Guy" aired a 150th episode anniversary special (it was technically 150 in production order, not airing order, but who's counting?); it was an hour-long special which featured a standard-length episode followed by a series of musical clips, some never-before-used, from the series. I think both the "South Park" and "Family Guy" anniversary specials were thoroughly entertaining efforts, but I think there's an interesting contrast between the relatively innocuous content that was deemed unsuitable for broadcast on "South Park"'s basic cable network vs. the gross-out, past-the-borderline offensive humor on "Family Guy," a network series.
First, I'd like to just say that this isn't meant to be a commentary on the respective networks. Whether or not you agree with Comedy Central's decision to censor "201," it was done in the name of protecting Parker and Stone from threats made against them. As for Fox, "Family Guy" was allowed to run despite how it might offend some viewers, which it did. I think the contrast described here is more a reflection of the culture we live in and how it influences said networks.
So. "South Park" was censored so that all mentions of the name Muhammad were bleeped out, as was the summing up message/moral at the end of the episode. The character Muhammad was also blacked out; that was part of the joke, of course, but it's worth mentioning that the Islam founder was featured as a character on "South Park" in an early Super Best Friends-driven episode, before any of the controversy emerged in the mid-'00s.
"Family Guy," on the other hand, seemed to go out of its way to offend. Let's review, and beware of SPOILERS if you haven't seen it:
(1) Stewie convinces Brian to eat the crap out of his diaper.
(2) Stewie then vomits at the sight of Brian performing said act, and convinces the dog to eat that as well.
(3) To top it all off, Brian is finally cajoled into licking Stewie's rear end clean, an act that the baby seems to find enjoyable, and indeed references later on.
(4) Toilet humor out of the way, the duo -- who spend the episode trapped together in a bank vault -- proceed to polish off a bottle of Scotch. Just to be clear: the dog and the baby get smashed together.
(5) The drunken baby then convinces the dog to pierce his ear with a conveniently handy pin, an unsuccessful attempt that leaves a prominent bloody hole in the baby's ear for the rest of the episode.
While it's possible that the episode was toned down from how it was originally written, none of it is obviously censored. What's more, beneath all of the more disturbing elements there's actually some very thoughtful, mature discussion of suicide and what love means amidst it all. The episode is free of the non-sequitor cutaways that define "Family Guy." That coupled with Brian and Stewie being the only characters featured essentially means that you're watching Seth MacFarlane, who voices both characters, have a discussion with himself for a half-hour.
Compare that to "South Park." The potentially offensive material regarding religion was excised. The same goes for the episode-ending monologue, which reportedly contained no mention of Muhammad or any specific religion. Meanwhile, the entirety of Eric Cartman's contribution to the episode that aired a week later involved a hateful speech directed toward Jews. It's hard to miss any of these elements.
What we have here are a bunch of observations. I'd like to hear what you readers think. How do the "South Park" and "Family Guy" anniversary episodes compare? What do you make of the censorship issues raised by both? Hell, what do you make of censorship issues raised in the contrast between "South Park" episode "201" and the episode that followed a week later, featuring Cartman's anti-Semitic comments?