Well, that was it for Kenny. Not only does the “South Park” character die (again) in Episode 46 of the popular animated series–“Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics”–he may now be killed altogether from Russian television.
On September 3, Moscow prosecutors filed a legal claim against “South Park,” saying the cartoon exhibited “signs of extremist activity.” The state media regulatory agency, Rossvyazokhrankultura, issued a warning to channel 2×2–a station that broadcasts mainly in Moscow and St. Petersburg and carries the U.S. satirical series–for carrying the “extremist material”; under Russian laws, a station’s license can be revoked after receiving two official warnings.
A state-commissioned linguistic analysis of the South Park series–and Episode 46 in particular–concluded that the cartoon “denigrates the honor and dignity of Christians and Muslims, insults the feelings of the faithful, and may provoke interethnic conflict,” the business daily Kommersant reported. Episode 46 features the “South Park” cast singing slapstick cover versions of famous Christmas carols. At the end of the episode, one of the lead characters, Kenny, is killed by a falling chandelier.
The charge against South Park and 2×2 was made possible by twice-amended anti-extremist legislation, which then-President Vladimir Putin signed into law first in 2006, then in 2007. Each time, the law expanded the term “extremism” to include vaguely defined media criticism of state officials and “public justification” of terrorism. Under this umbrella term, interpretation of what constitutes extremism is left up to authorities, and the latter have applied the law liberally against media outlets and individual reporters.
Most recently, regional authorities in the southern republic of Dagestan opened a criminal case against an independent weekly’s editor, after the paper quoted a former guerilla leader in an article. Nadira Isayeva was charged with making public calls to extremism and inciting interethnic hatred; she faces up to eight years in prison if convicted.
In June, the Moscow-based alternative English-language biweekly The eXile was forced to shut down after nervous investors withdrew support in the wake of a politicized audit of its content. Four Rossvyazokhrankultura officers conducted an audit of the satirical paper’s content, looking for “signs of extremism.” The paper had published the writings of Eduard Limonov–a Russian opposition leader who has been airbrushed from the mainstream media.
On Friday, the “South Park” Web site posted a response to Moscow prosecutors’ move to ban the series. The headline said “From Russia, With No Love.” That sounds about right.