A big story on the blogosphere recently is that Isaac Hayes, the voice of "Chef" on South Park, has left the series, complaining of religious intolerance in the show's content. South Park's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, were quick to note that South Park has always made fun of religions (Parker and Stone are from Utah and gave the Mormons particularly rough treatment) and that Hayes was happy enough when the show made fun of Jews, Muslims, etc. Hayes, a Scientologist*, left when the show made fun of scientology. (Unwillingness to shoot fish in a barrel has never been South Park's problem.)
As far as I know, South Park hasn't said much, if anything, about Unitarians. On The Simpsons, Unitarians are a fairly regular target. (A lady on Beliefnet once said that Simpsons creator Matt Groening was a UU and goes to her sister's church.) I like the way the Simpsons jokes about UUism. The joke is always made by a person assumed to be intolerant (e.g. Reverend Lovejoy) and the joke is really a joke on them. Similarly, when someone makes fun of Apu's Hinduism, the ultimate joke is less about how odd Hinduism can seem and more about the boorishness of some people when faced with an unusual religion.
Some of the jokes we UUs make about ourselves make me queasy, though. I don't have much of a sense of humor when it comes to the "yes-we-have-no-religion" theme that some of the jokes we tell about ourselves have. (The famous "What do you get when you cross a UU and a Jehovah's Witness? Someone who knocks on your door for no apparent reason." seems a good example.)
I think the roots of my queasyness come from the same root as my dislike of comedian Margaret Cho's humor. As far as I've seen, Cho's comedy has two principal themes. From Cho's perspective, they run something like:
1. I am SO Asian
2. I am SO pathetic.
A few comedians make thier living joking about race. A LOT of comedians make their living off self-deprecating humor. Individually, they are fine. I usually don't care much for the second kind, but that's a matter of taste in humor.
...Some of the jokes
we UUs make about ourselves
make me queasy, though...
The ability to use humor to deflate one's own puffery is a wonderful, spiritual thing. A. Powell Davies said it better than I could when he wrote
When we see our own grotesqueries, how quaint we are, how droll our ambitions are, how comical we are in almost all aspects, we automatically become more sane, less self-centered, more humble, more wholesome. To laugh at ourselves, we have to stand outside ourselves - and that is an immense benefit. Our puffed-up pride and touchy self-importance vanish; a clean and sweet humility begins to take possession of us. We are on the way to growing a soul
I guess what I am trying to do here is reconcile my feeling that we should feel free to make fun of ourselves with my lack of desire to actually do it. Or rather to have other people doing it. So often humor hides something we're really upset about be it a "joking" comment about your ex's new love's outfit or a fat woman who jokes about how fat she is all the time. Those jokes aren't funny and reveal an unattractive insecurity.
*Is it just me, or do you consider Isaac Hayes WAY too cool to be a scientologist? I can believe some geeky white guy like Tom Cruise would like Scientology, but Isaac Hayes sung the theme to Shaft. He's supposed to be a little more badass than thinking we're descended from clams and worrying about his engrams...
And furthermore, if Southpark has gotten to the point that they are making fun of self-parodying things like Scientology, I think we can say it has jumped the shark.