Topic: Sports & Entertainment

South Park’s ‘Chef’: Hypocritical or Enlightened?

A recent comment by an Ethics Scoreboard reader on the Forum raised the issue of whether hypocrisy is unethical. That is a more difficult question than it seems, for there are many kinds of conduct that are commonly (though incorrectly) called hypocritical, and not all of them are unethical. But it seems obvious that it must be unethical to assert the value of satire while cheerfully ridiculing the religions of others and then become indignant when one’s own religious beliefs get skewered.

This is the current position of musician Isaac Hayes, who has provided the voice of the character “Chef” for years in the Comedy Channel’s cartoon satire “South Park.” “South Park” has rankled Christians by depicting Jesus as a rifle-carrying redneck and has managed to ridicule most other world religions as well, often with Hayes’ active participation. Last January, he told the New York Daily News that he was a great fan of the “audacity” of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the show’s creators. “Nobody is exempt from their humor,” he said. “They’re equal-opportunity offenders. Don’t be offended by it. If you take it too seriously, you have problems.” But when Stone and Parker turned their audacity on Scientology recently, Hayes took umbrage at anyone making fun of his own religion, a home-grown creed created by a second-rate science fiction writer, a faith that purports to cure homosexuality, makes use of a little battery-powered box to measure spiritual essence, and is embraced by Tom Cruise and John Travolta. I mean really: what could possibly be funny about that?

“There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry toward religious beliefs begins,” Hayes’ resignation statement declared. That “time,” apparently, is when Isaac Hayes has to laugh at what he has been dishing out to others. In yet another distortion of the Golden Rule, Hayes is asserting that one must not do unto him what he had argued was appropriate to do unto others. It doesn’t work that way, Isaac. If it’s OK to lampoon religious beliefs (The Scoreboard asserts that it can be), then no religion should be exempt. If it’s not, then you shouldn’t have been taking a paycheck from “South Park” for so many years.

At the outset, I stated that “it seems obvious” that Hayes’ conduct is hypocritical, but even in his case, there is doubt. Hayes has a defense, ethically speaking. If the pain he felt when “South Park” took potshots at his religion suddenly sparked a true epiphany, and he became convinced that he had been wrong all these years to participate in public religious satire, then he is now behaving ethically to quit. There is nothing unethical about changing one’s mind and conduct based on life experience, and it is only hypocrisy to make fun of other religions while simultaneously objecting to humor based on your own. If Isaac Hayes is a hypocrite, he is also unethical. If he is a changed man and now believes what he aided and abetted on “South Park” was disrespectful, mean-spirited and wrong, than he is neither hypocritical nor unethical.

Which is true? Only “Chef” knows for sure.

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