Monday, March 13, 2006

Battlefield Colorado

Scientologist Hayes 'clears' self of South Park

NEW YORK - Isaac Hayes has quit “South Park,” where he voices Chef, saying he can no longer stomach its take on religion. Hayes, who has played the ladies’ man/school cook in the animated Comedy Central satire since 1997, said in a statement Monday that he feels a line has been crossed.

“There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins,” the 63-year-old soul singer and outspoken Scientologist said.

“Religious beliefs are sacred to people, and at all times should be respected and honored,” he continued. “As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices.”

There's definitely something fishy about this. Isaac Hayes has been on the show for nearly a decade and suddenly he's offended by it? Please! South Park's entire existence hinges on outrage, and Chef has been as integral a part of that as any other character. It's more disappointing than anything, because Hayes is such a widely acclaimed singer and voice actor, and it always hurts to see someone so willing to break boundaries quit doing so because they have no ability to laugh at themselves.

“South Park” co-creator Matt Stone responded sharply in an interview with The Associated Press Monday, saying, “This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology... He has no problem — and he’s cashed plenty of checks — with our show making fun of Christians.”

Way to go, Matt! The ability to laugh at oneself is the pivotal test of open-mindedness. Some people pass; others take the money and cut out.

Last November, “South Park” targeted the Church of Scientology and its celebrity followers, including actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, in a top-rated episode called “Trapped in the Closet.” In the episode, Stan, one of the show’s four mischievous fourth graders, is hailed as a reluctant savior by Scientology leaders, while a cartoon Cruise locks himself in a closet and won’t come out.

Last November? Man, if something bothered me in November (and believe me, many things did), I would have tried to take care of it then! Hayes could have boosted his case considerably if he had objected to the script during a preliminary read. But raising a stink four months after the episode aired? That just, um, stinks.

Stone told The AP he and co-creator Trey Parker “never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin.”

South Park
is one of the most topical shows on TV, and (though I'm admittedly not a fan) it does attack politics and culture with abandon. Right now, one of those Big Things is Scientology. And given Parker and Stone's past swipes at Catholics and Jews (among others), it only seems to reason that they would lampoon Scientology as well. I'm not saying Hayes has to like it, but neither should he seem so surprised about it.

This incident, along with the Danish cartoon affair, raises the question of satirization of religion--in this day and age, should it be done? I'm divided straight down the middle on the issue. First, the reasons why religion deserves to be satirized as much as anything else:

1) Religion is relevant. Some of today's most dramatic and far-reaching political decisions come down to spiritual issues: terrorism, abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, etc. At times, the debate teeters on fanaticism, which solves no problems but does allow politicians to score cheap points. Those of us who fear and resent such actions often feel powerless to stop them, and react in any constructive way we can. For a satirist, poking fun at the spectacle and hypocrisy of it all is a form of therapy.

2) Religion is trendy. While spirituality and faith have been around as long as "around" itself, it's taken on different forms in different eras, with some more sincere than others. Right now, celebrities are big on Scientology and the Kabbalah. And while many of these people may be genuine in their beliefs, the whole thing has more than a slight reek of coolness to it. This treatment of religion as a flavor-of-the-moment practically cries out to be lampooned.

3) Religion is misrepresented. Everyone believes in something; but almost never is that belief fully understood by the next person. Because of this simple misunderstanding, we've all been fighting for 3,000 years. What's saddest about this is that almost everyone ultimately wants the same things. If all of that isn't irony, then irony doesn't exist.

4) Religion is the standard. The ability to satirize religion is the best barometer of freedom of speech. If such freedom is not protected, then it is only a matter of time before we lose other speech freedoms as well.

On the other hand:

5) I don't want to be killed. So I'm about 50-50 on this.

Maybe Isaac is similarly worried about a backlash from Tom Cruise. He's got power, you know.


Nick said...

So you are all for having those cartoons for Mohammad splattered all over our newspapers and TV media, right? I'm for it. If offensive depictions of Jesus can be published, then so can Mohammed with a turban as a bomb.

jenny said...

who does _not_ fear tom cruise?

Nick said...

Chuck Norris

thehim said...

So you are all for having those cartoons for Mohammad splattered all over our newspapers and TV media, right? I'm for it. If offensive depictions of Jesus can be published, then so can Mohammed with a turban as a bomb.

Free speech is a pretty basic right in this country. I'm hoping it stays that way.

Phillip said...

also if your faith is that fragile that a cartoon parody sends you into an outrage then maybe you should rethink your beliefs.

Nick said...


My faith is fine. But if newpapers in our country are allowed to display cartoons that degrade or show parodies (satire) of Jesus, then why can't they publish cartoons showing Mohammed with a bomb on his head or such?

Personally, I don't care either way for our country, for we are a country of free speech. But I think it's damn right hypocritical to have degrading pictures of Jesus and Jews in this country, but yet, have the degrading pictures of Mohammed banned and for networks to never show the images of the 9/11 attacks.