Somewhat lost in the imbroglio surrounding the National Basketball Association kowtowing to the Chinese over a tweet by the general manager of the Houston Rockets supporting the freedom demonstrators in Hong Kong is how the Beijing government has treated “South Park.” A recent episode of the long-running, animated satirical series, called “Band in China” caused the entire show to be banned in China.
“Annoy a communist. Watch South Park. (Note to @NBA: this is how it’s done.)”
The episode in question poked fun at the tendency of Hollywood to fall all over itself to appease Chinese censors, the better to allow films and TVs to air inside the lucrative Chinese market. One reason that few, if any Hollywood movies and TV shows have Chinese villains, is that is one thing that will get said movie or TV show banned in China and denies the billion-person audience that lives there. Indeed, Chinese censors often demand that American made video content depict the Chinese and the Chinese government in a positive light.
The most blatant example of how Chinese ire can affect American popular culture occurred when the remake of the classic film “Red Dawn” depicted an invasion of the United States by the Chinese People’s Army. Faced with threats from Beijing, the producers spent months and many millions of dollars digitally altering the Chinese soldiers to North Koreans. They might as well not have bothered. The movie was still a flop.
Naturally, depictions of some of the unsavory aspects of Chinese society, including reeducation camps, the genocide against the Muslim Uighurs
One of the great joys of “South Park” is that its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, will spare no one and nothing ridicule if the spirit moves them. Most targets either grumble good-naturedly or, as in the case of the Catholic League head Bill Donohue, actually laughed, as he did when he was depicted as the Pope who then jailed Jesus Christ for going against the church. Donohue was less appreciative of a later episode that depicted child abusing Catholic priests as pedophiles.
The one blatant instance in which an episode of “South Park” was censored occurred when Comedy Central altered one that depicted the Prophet Mohammed and had a message of not caving into fear. Caving into fear, no doubt of being attacked by jihadists, the network altered the episode to expunge any depicting and mention of the Muslim prophet, rendering it incomprehensible.
“Band in China” depicted Randy Marsh, now a legal marijuana farmer, going to China to see if he could negotiate a deal to sell his product there. The move turns out to be a big mistake, as pot is still a controlled substance in the People’s Republic of China. The Beijing government takes drug laws very seriously. Randy is thrown into a Chinese reeducation camp and, while there, witnesses the brutality inherent in the Chinese penal system.
In the meantime, the group of eight-year-old boys who form the center of the series, try to form a death metal band. When a producer suggests that they produce a band biofilm, they run into the desires of Chinese censors to keep the movie pure of anything that China doesn’t like, including a statement that the United States is a free country.
Throughout all of this, Mickey Mouse, depicted in the series as a ruthless Disney executive, makes sure that the dictates of the Chinese authorities are enforced, even to the point of ordering Randy to murder Winnie the Pooh. The iconic bear is banned in China because some have claimed that he has a resemblance to that country’s dictator, Xi Jinping,
The Chinese government demonstrated its singular lack of a sense of humor and, in a way, proving the point of the episode, by expunging the series from China’s live streaming system. Oddly, Comedy Central has not weighed in to apologize to the Chinese government.
Matt Stone and Trey Parker, on the other hand, offered their response as only they can.
“Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts,” the statement reads. “We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn’t look like Winnie the Pooh at all. Tune into our 300th episode this Wednesday at 10! Long live the great Communist Party of China. May the autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful. We good now China?”
The answer might be, certainly not, at least until Communism admits to a sense of humor.