Saturday Night Live on the Mohammed cartoons: Funny or cop out?

Ace and David French think it was gutless of them not to actually draw Mohammed. Yeah, but even “South Park” can’t show Mohammed anymore; the last time Comedy Central allowed it was two months before 9/11, before minds on both sides of the blasphemy divide had been sharpened to the issue by the west’s new sense of vulnerability. Most media deal with self-censorship over Mohammed by avoiding the topic. SNL didn’t. One cheer for that. If we’re going to enforce Islamic blasphemy norms, let’s make sure we all understand that’s what we’re doing.

And let’s make sure everyone understands why. I agree with Ian Tuttle that the gag at the end here partially redeems the blank canvas.

After both contestants refuse to sketch even a line toward the clue, their teammate (Reese Witherspoon) still manages to guess correctly. The implication, I thought, is that the only subject for sketching that could elicit the paralysis the contestants exhibit is Muhammad, and Witherspoon’s character knows it — and so do the rest of us.

Actually drawing Muhammad might have been a defiant finger in the eye, true, but it would have garbled the subtle point, which is that Americans now willingly self-censor for fear of offending Islamic terrorists, and while we refuse to say that that is what we’re doing, everyone knows that’s what’s happening.

Exactly. You can lie to yourself, as the New York Times does, and claim that you refuse to run Mohammed cartoons out of sensitivity to Muslims. Or you can be honest with yourself, as Jyllands-Posten is, and admit that you refuse to run Mohammed cartoons because you’re deathly afraid. There’s virtue in honesty. And there’s virtue in making sure that the public’s on the same page about what’s really driving this one, very particular show of “sensitivity” to one particular faith. The more honest the media is that fear is behind the taboo, the more people who haven’t thought hard about free speech and blasphemy will instinctively bristle at what’s verboten. What makes the NYT’s spin so pernicious is that it encourages censorship by framing it as something virtuous, a matter of respect for religious diversity and “tolerance.”

This is the best you can hope for from one of the most powerful corporations on the planet right now in defense of free speech. It ain’t much, but it’s something. Oh, and it’s also a total rip-off of a Canadian comedy bit.