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Davis, California

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Column: Courage under the knife

The foundation and principles required for a functioning democracy have been discussed by a philosophers and thinkers since the times of ancient Athens. They often espoused the values of justice, tolerance and freedom that are so cherished today in our own society.

The Greek historian named Thucydides once exclaimed, “The secret to happiness is freedom and the secret to freedom is courage.” If people truly value freedom and the well-being of other free people, then we have an obligation to take risks that will put our reputations and perhaps even our lives at risk.

A story that has captured national headlines is the censorship of a South Park episode by its parent network, Comedy Central. The producers of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, have skewered, satirized, ridiculed and offended nearly every national figure, organization and religious group. In the last two episodes South Park rehashed many past episode topics and Comedy Central’s past attempt to censor a picture of Muhammad.

Stone and Parker broached a topic that they knew would cause controversy and that would put their own lives at a higher level of risk. For this act Comedy Central heavily censored the cartoon and wouldn’t let them air the lesson that South Parks’ creators wanted to draw from the situation.

It’s apparent that Comedy Central didn’t censor South Park out of respect for people’s beliefs or feelings. Had that been the case, then the network would have gone off the air years ago for lack of programming.

What made Comedy Central back down were the veiled threats of violence from a radical group that issues messages from the blog, revolutionmuslim.com. Comedy Central feared that there might be some real and potentially violent repercussions for what they aired. It’s interesting that they bleeped out about thirty seconds of speech that, according to Stone and Parker, discussed fear and intimidation. Apparently Comedy Central was even afraid to receive criticism.

The executives at Comedy Central should be ashamed of themselves as their actions undermine the most fundamental aspects of our society. By backing down to thugs and so completely capitulating to these threats, the precedent has been set that we as free people are both unwilling and unable to defend the very principles that we claim are so important.

Comedy Central failed to support both their own right to exist and abandoned the few people who had the courage to speak out against intimidation. They showed through their actions that they are more interested in short-term prosperity and safety rather than the very principles that made them successful.

Far worse than a sad display of unprincipled self-preservation, was how quickly and totally Comedy Central abandoned its own employees.

This situation reminds me of a recent video that was filmed by a surveillance camera in New York City. As a woman is seen walking on the sidewalk, a man runs up from behind and assaults her. From the corner of the screen appears a man who comes running to save her from the attacker. The man’s name was Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax, and he was an immigrant homeless man who decided to risk his only possession, which was his own life, to save the life of an innocent victim.

For his heroism, Hugo was stabbed and he collapsed on the sidewalk while pursuing the mugger. As he lay facedown on the cement bleeding out, pedestrians walked past him either paying no heed to his distress or simply not wanting to take the responsibility of helping him. One man quickly pulled out his phone, not to call for help, but to take a few pictures with his camera.

Hugo died because of the failure of others to even show a sliver of the courage and responsibility that he so clearly demonstrated with his actions.

By neglecting those who have demonstrated courage on our behalf and by hiding from their actions we do a great disservice to both ourselves and to the rest of society. Comedy Central should have known better and so should those who abandoned Mr. Tale-Yax.

JARRETT STEPMAN thinks Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax is a hero along with all of those that defend the lives and rights of innocent people. You can reach him at jstepman@ucdavis.edu.

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