Happy To Let The Terrorists Win This One

God, all of this hand-wringing about “censorship” since Sony Pictures announced it was pulling the release of “The Interview!” Smart people, people I respect, are all decrying the decision, but this is one time where I’m gonna say: y’all asked for it. Who thought a comedy showing the U.S. government assassinating an actual, real head of state in an extremely grotesque and graphic fashion was a good idea? It was poor taste all the way around. Maybe a little self-censorship next time, guys?

This wasn’t satire a la Trey Parker and Matt Stone of “Team America World Police.” It was an ill-conceived and un-funny idea from the get-go. Someone should have stepped in long before now; the fact that they didn’t shows how few grown-ups there are in “young Hollywood.”

I’m no fan of the North Korean regime by any means, but I don’t think murder is funny (hey maybe it’s just me!) and I sure don’t think assassinating leaders of foreign countries is funny (sorry, not even Kim Jong Un). When the United States’ international reputation is getting hammered for the CIA’s use of torture, trying to get yuks out of the North Korean leader’s exploding head is in really poor taste. It would be different if they had used a fictitious leader of a fictitious country, but no. They had to push the envelope. Well, sometimes when you push the envelope, the envelope pushes back. Lesson learned.

There’s a lot of nuance to this story that’s being overlooked: the fears of theater chain owners who didn’t want to scare moviegoers away from the multiplex, for one thing, or the fact that Sony’s Japanese owners are far more impacted by North Korea than is America. But the hubris of Hollywood players claiming the moral high ground and crying “censorship” over a puerile buddy comedy filled with butt jokes that was already getting bad reviews is pretty silly. This ain’t “Citizen Kane,” and I’m not sure it’s the best place to be planting your free speech flag.

Movie studios pull the plug on projects all the damn time. I don’t recall anyone crying “censorship” the last time a movie went straight to video, do you?

10 Comments

Filed under movies, politics and film, pop culture

10 responses to “Happy To Let The Terrorists Win This One

  1. So you haven’t seen the film, but you’re judging it to be in bad taste. I guess that’s okay?

    • Well, as the film hasn’t been released, no one has seen it except for a handful of reviewers. But I have seen the previews — I’ve been seeing the previews for months. And judging by what I saw in the previews and what I read in the reviews and what I’ve read about the film and this controversy, bad taste seems generous.

    • Bitter Scribe

      Two words: Seth Rogen.

  2. Moira MacGaothin

    Here’s my take, which is a little different from yours. A film is cancelled because someone fears that a group out there might launch a 9/11-style attack on theaters showing it, or even some other type of attack unrelated to the movie. So isn’t the real issue here that we fear someone already has planned, organized, and is now saying they are capable of launching such an attack on us next week? Regardless of the movie or any other pretext? If this group really can do what it’s threatening, the film is irrelevant. All the film will do is force them to come out from under cover. And wouldn’t that be a good thing? Also, we look like chicken shits for giving into a little fat man’s ego.
    We didn’t stop publishing cartoons of Mohammed when Muslims were offended by them. Why should this be different? We cower to no one, even if we have aggravated them to the point that they feel the need to lash out.

    • “We didn’t stop publishing cartoons of Mohammed when Muslims were offended by them.”

      Actually, we did. People were fired over that stuff.

      And I really don’t get this “we cower to no one” line of thinking. “WE” aren’t doing anything. Sony Pictures is doing it. A for-profit, Japanese-based entertainment corporation has made this decision, based on what theater owners said and the big boys in Tokyo and other feedback from their board and who knows what else. It’s not like the U.S. government has demanded they pull the film. As I said in the post, movie studios pull stuff all the time for all sorts of reasons, no one cries censorship. This one is no different, it’s just getting more attention.

  3. Jim 'Prup' Benton

    You’ve certainly given a different slant on the question, but one which raises a number of problems. It also makes me rethink the question “what us censorship.’ Until you said this, I would have agreed that the fundamental question was one of ‘governmental action’ but on second thought I am not that sure.

    I think a stronger case can be made that the key factor is ‘force’ versus ‘pressure.’ If, for example. President Obama had said ‘this is a bad movie that hurts America and I wish you wouldn’t make/show it,’ that would not be censorship. Even if a governmental agency said that they would question grants being given to SONY or to the theatres — city development funds, for example — I think this is no more censorship than a private group or individual boycotting a theatre or sponsor or company for making/showing the movie. (And despite the right wing cry; when a company decides to cancel a show, appearance, or spokesman position because of the actions or even the opinions of a person is not ‘censorship’ in any way.)

    The key is the use of force. If a government actually censors a work of art — of whatever intrinsic value — that means it can use force of law against that person, can arrest, try, convict and punish the maker, or the theatre or bookstore. I believe that actual physical threats by a private person or organization to use force to prevent the showing or selling or display of the work IS censorship as well, or the equivalent if we haggle over the definition.

    It is when a person is forcibly prevented from exercising his artistic freedom that the Voltaire quote kicks in — and I do not see the difference between public and private action. (Others might disagree with me that there is a qualitative difference between economic pressure and physical force — but that’s for another day.)

    Let’s take an arguably more serious case. If the Barclay’s Center here in Brooklyn booked the Bill Cosby stand-up show, since I believe that a prima facie case has been made and has not been challenged by evidence, I would protest and attempt to organize/publicize protests, would join in a boycott of the Center, and of any private companies that were specifically sponsoring the show. But if there were credible threats made against the theatre that it would be bombed if the show went on, or that Cosby would be shot if he went on stage — I might join in a guard detail. or help to prevent the threat, or whatever. I might even buy a ticket even though in most situations I don’t even leave my own house and haven’t — for good reasons involving my health and the distraction my presence can cause — gone to a movie or live show of any kind on over a decade. (If I did give such support, I would do it wearing a t-shirt or sweatshirt reading “I have Cosby, I hate rape and serial rapists, but I hate terrorism more.”)

    But then, the question of ‘terrorism in a good cause’ has been arguable — and argued — since Yahweh reputedly threatened the children of Pharaoh’s subjects to pressure Pharaoh. (The story is mythical, but the question is important.)

    • Okay, I see your point on the use of force. If this had happened to a better project, say a documentary outlining the atrocities of the totalitarian regime in North Korea, then I would agree it’s a horrible precedent. Ultimately I’m just sad and frustrated that this attention is being heaped on a stupid piece of mind junk that really didn’t seem to make any social commentary or have a moral underpinning. What a wasted effort.

      I’m always writing about the power of art to change the world, and I just wish Hollywood would aim a little higher. I love satire and I think the work that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do is smart and funny and can change the wind … and I get that not everyone has my same taste, that’s fine, it doesn’t have to please me, it can be low-brow as well as high-brow. I’m not a big South Park fan but I see the same social commentary there. I loved “Idiocracy,” which was pretty low-brow but made some really sharp comments about where we are going as a country.

      This movie didn’t seem to do that. I saw jokes about hiding bombs up ones’ butt. Har har. So again, not my taste, but not everyone is me, I get that, but this isn’t the movie on which I’d plant my “free speech” flag, as I said.

      • Jim 'Prup' Benton

        Yes, it IS trash, and I’ve never disputed that. It is a regrettable movie. and one I would not be tempted to watch at home.

        But the defendants in important free speech cases have rarely been great works of art. The Minnesota newspaper that caused the first statement that the prohibitions of the Bill of Rights (that had previously applied only to the Federal Government) applied to the states because they had been ‘incorporated’ into the 14th Amendment was a bigoted, vicious piece of trash. The Jehovah’s Witnesses who won several cases involving civil liberties were, back then, pests who set up a phonograph in the middle of a town square and blasted unwanted speeches — then much more bigoted than would today’s Witnesses be — at the crowd. Even the sainted Zenger was praised for his courage and determination more than for the accuracy of his reporting. And few people who defended the Nazi March through Skokie had anything but gut-wrenching disgust at their ideas.

        It is easy to fight for the rights of someone you agree with. It counts when you fight for the rights of fools like the people who produced THE INTERVIEW.

      • Well now you’re conflating civil rights with corporate rights. Sony Pictures owns that film and is under no obligation to release it. It’s their property. Again, it’s not like the US government is telling them they can’t release it because it violates some kind of community decency code.

        Again, movie studios halt production, bail on releases, withdraw funding, demand changes, etc. all the fucking time. For lots of different reasons, including content.

        We can agree or not, but this is a Japanese multinational corporation, not Uncle Sam.

  4. ThresherK

    Odd to think that Parker and Stone, who have a very poor sense of targeting the right person to satire, and taste in the meta sense, even, are an example of “doing it right”. Must say loads about that new movie.