The moral of this story: Don't goof on Gandhi.
MTV learned the lesson the hard way after sparking an international incident by parodying the iconic Indian spiritual leader on its new animated series Clone High, USA.
The cable network came under fire from Indian officials offended by Clone High's 'toon version of Gandhi, a high schooler purportedly cloned from the assassinated Mohandas Gandhi, who goes by the nicknames G-Man, and DNA Dan. He also has an affinity for dangly earrings, rap music, junk food and "being the ultimate party animal."
On Thursday, more than 150 politicians and activists gathered together at Gandhi's memorial in New Delhi, where they staged a fast to protest Clone High. They claimed the show desecrated the memory of their peace-loving hero, whose nonviolent ways helped the country break away from the British Empire.
By Friday, the cable net was issuing a mea culpa of sorts. "MTV U.S. apologizes if we have offended the people of India and the memory of Mahatma Gandhi," the music channel said in a statement.
No immediate word on how MTV's apology is going over in India.
Clone High, which premiered last Monday at 10:30 p.m., follows a bunch of high school students who just happen to be contemporary clones of historical figures.
Among the classmates: a goateed Abe Lincoln (a dishwasher at TGI Chili's at the local mall), preppy jock JFK (with an affinity for "boob-related puns"), a prim Joan of Arc (leader of the atheist club who also hates fire), former student body president Cleopatra (who hooked up with JFK in the back of his van), along with Catherine the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, "GW" Carver, Nostradamus and Vincent Van Gogh. There's also a Moses (who looks uncannily like Charlton Heston), a Latino Jesus Christ and Buddha (who apparently has a thing for boy bands).
In an interview last week with Knight Ridder, the Clone High's cocreator Phil Lord said the show is meant to be "a social commentary...where adolescents deal with what their tensions are about."
"Gandhi is based on people we knew in school, the kind of kid from those very intense, high-achieving families. No kid would feel more pressure to be a high achiever than the clone of Gandhi," said Lord.
He and his partner, Christopher Miller, chose people who died an untimely death, either via assassination or suicide, to show a different side to high school.
"Those people wind up being martyrs and mythical. Revered people don't talk about their dark side," Lord said. "I totally had bullies. For a long time after high school, I was angry about bullies. Maybe writing for the Kennedy character has given me more affection for bullies than I ever had."
While Clone High only airs in the States, an article on the series in India's press provoked an outcry. Many Indians accused MTV of cultural insensitivity.
It probably doesn't help that MTV.com has a Clone High yearbook featuring the cartoon caricature of Gandhi readily available to Web surfers worldwide. The accompanying entry includes shout-outs ("Yo yo yo! G-man here givin' a shiz-out out to my peeps and my boyz! Lincoln Continental: You my main man! JFK-Dog: catch ya in gym class!"), lists his Clonefather (the real Gandhi), favorite movie (American Pie) and quote ("This one time, at band camp..." --that chick from Buffy in American Pie).
While MTV has no intention of taking down the site or canceling the 'toon, the network did say it has the "utmost respect" for Gandhi.
Besides, the network says, the show was never intended to run in India and was instead tailor-made for a low-brow Yankees. "MTV wants to make it clear that Clone High was created and intended for an American audience. We recognize and respect that various cultures may view this programming differently, and we regret any offense taken by the content in the show."
Or as Gandhi (the 'toon) would say: "Peace out, playaz!"