North Korea

Watch The Interview and Stand Up for Freedom

Americans don't like being told what they cannot say or hear.

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“Every joke is a tiny revolution,” said Orwell, which helps explain why the belated release of The Interview is a big dealâ€"not world-historical, certainly, but worth celebrating nonetheless.

Sony Pictures canceled distribution of the film after hackers who had stolen troves of Sony files threatened terrorist attacks if it were released. The movie mocks North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and authorities have fingered North Korea as the culprit behind the hack. Five major theater chains elected not to show the film, and Sony used that as a pretext to cancel its release altogether.

Reaction was bracing. George Clooney and other entertainment giants, along with millions of less famous Americans, voiced outrage. President Obama criticized the decision. Suggestions about other ways to distribute the movie blossomed. Then independent chains and art-house movie theaters stepped up and said they wanted to show the flick. Which means that it will probably end up getting distributed just as broadly as if North Korea had not tried to stifle it in the first place. Perhaps even more so.

The episode may turn out to be a useful learning experience. It gave Americans a whiff, albeit a very faint one, of what life under totalitarian rule is like: Dare to say something the Maximum Leader doesn’t like, and suddenly you, your family and your friends are all facing the possibility of a hideous death.

Americans don’t like being told what they can and cannot sayâ€"what they can and cannot hear. Freedom of speech appears in the First Amendment, rather than (say) the Eighth, for a reason. The reaction to the threat over The Interview showed that Americans still hold freedom of speech quite dear, and are not about to abandon their most cherished principles because of an unsubstantiated threat from someone who takes offense.

That is a pleasant change from the trend of the past few years, which has seen a rising tide of censorship, particularly on college campuses. Many universities maintain blatantly unconstitutional speech codes that not only confine demonstrations and the like to small (and often isolated) “free speech zones.” They often enforce a nearly totalitarian culture of political correctness in which any deviation from ideological orthodoxyâ€"such as, say, questioning the merits of affirmative action or voicing moral objections to homosexualityâ€"is treated not as a minority viewpoint to be protected, but as a treasonous act of barbarity that must be punished.

Nor is that attitude confined to the campus. Just look at what happened to Brandon Eich, the Mozilla CEO who was forced out for having once supported a ballot measure prohibiting gay marriage. Conservatives sometimes cite such episodes to claim the moral high ground on free expression, but many of them have their own sacred cows too: Don’t forget what happened to the Dixie Chicks when they questioned George W. Bush at the start of the Iraq War. Or just ask a conservative how he feels about laws against flag-burning.

And while Hollywood likes to think of itself as edgy and unrestrained, it has its own sacred cows. As former Tonight Show head writer Raymond Siller and others have noted, late-night comics have trod lightly around President Obama, especially during the early years of his tenure. Part of that is partisan, but more is probably owing to a fear of being seen as hostile to the first black president.

That fear has abated somewhat. But the typical Hollywood foil is still far more apt to be a conservative Christian CEO than a Hispanic lesbian. Some targets are simply more acceptable than othersâ€"or safer, anyhow. Indeed, the makers of The Interview might have thought, at least on some level, that it was better to mock Kim Jong Un than, oh, Islamic fanaticsâ€"who already have killed one filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh, for questioning their dogmas. It’s also worth asking if Hollywood’s defense of free expression would have been as robust if the plot of The Interview had revolved around, say, blowing up an abortion clinic.

Still, it’s good to see the entertainment industry sticking up for itself, and for free speech, in any circumstance. Because doing so reminds everyone that free speech is not a principle that can be turned on and off according to the viewpoint of the speaker. It applies to everybody, or to nobody at all. Take your pick.

Finally, there’s a deliciously capitalist coda to the saga of The Interview, a film about one of the last communist dictatorships. Because of the controversy surrounding the film, the theaters that did show it raked in money hand over fist. Those that were too afraid to do so lost a lot of business. In the free market, standing up for freedom often has its rewards.

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  1. Seth Rogen is too high a price to pay for freedom.

    1. This. Can’t we just say we watched it?

      1. Pretty much what I was going to ask. Can I play it with the sound muted? Or press Play on my computer and then go shopping?

    2. Diana Bang more than makes up for it.

  2. I may not agree with your decision to watch a Seth Rogen boner movie, but I will defend to the death your right to do it.

  3. So do you have a link to The Innocence of Muslims movie so we can show Maximum Leader that we do, in fact, have a right to make and watch movies, even if they risk offending others beliefs or inciting violence, without risking being arrested by the DoJ, targeted as instigators of riots and killings, or condemned in a UN speech?

    1. Maximum Leader being Obama?

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    1. Doesn’t it hurt her back doing it on the computer?

  5. Haters gonna hate…

  6. This:

    Watch The Interview and Stand Up for Freedom

    Then this:

    Americans don’t like being told what they cannot say or hear.

    Don’t particularly like being told what to see either.

    1. “Don’t particularly like being told what to see either.”

      No humans were harmed in the creation of this article. Just a smidgen of context for you, Repairer of Crow Scarers.

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    1. You bought a BMW for only $74? If your going to post these idiotic things, at least proofread them.

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  10. I saw it was finally available on Vudu last night, so we watched it. I’m pretty easily pleased when it comes to comedy, particularly lowbrow stuff like this. All in all, it was exactly what I expected: crude, violent, generally pretty funny. Definitely worth the $5.99 rental if you’ve got a couple hours to kill this weekend.

  11. I knew it would be released. Sony couldn’t have paid for better marketing, and all for a film that would have been a blip in the box office otherwise.

    There is nothing patriotic about the act of paying to watch a shitty movie. I’m glad the Almost Certainly Not North Koreans didn’t “censor” the film, but I’ll pass.

    Now, if you want to screen The Innocence of Muslims nationwide, I’d pay to see THAT trash. I will not hold my breath.

    1. Maybe, but I wouldn’t pay very much. Most movies aren’t worth watching even if they’re free.

  12. Obama isn’t the first black president, Obama is the first half black, half white president.

    And he isn’t even African American, as his father was Kenyan. He has no African American history.

    It’s a real shame too, that Obama had to be the first black-ish person as president, instead of a real full blooded black American with African heritage.

    A real shame.

  13. “Americans don’t like being told what they can and cannot say?what they can and cannot hear.” Unless you’re a Liberal.

  14. An imaginary triumph over an illusionary foe by the mealy-mouthed.

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  16. Except today a consortium of private sector cybersecurity experts released analysis showing that Sony was probably hacked by a disgruntled former employee with no connection to North Korea. Of course the FBI is still peddling the line that it was the Norks… somebody get Susan Rice on the talk shows Sunday.

  17. Sheeple login to watch this crap.

    I’m still leaning to this being a joint Sony – state department kill two birds with one stone deal (Sony makes money on something that otherwise would have seen Ishtar like box office revenue and the state department gets to demonize a non-friendly government).

    1. I fear you give them both too much credit.

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  20. But they’ll sucker every time for being tricked into wanting to say or hear anything any time they’re “being told what they cannot say or hear” whether they ever gave a damn about saying or hearing it or not.

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  22. “Americans don’t like being told what they cannot say or hear.”

    Or what they must see. So you can see the movie if you want but don’t lecture us, ya self righteous prick.

  23. The first time I saw the trailer in a theater, my reaction was, “Oh HELL no! You couldn’t pay me enough to sit through that pile of elephant excrement*.” Nothing that has occurred since has served to make me change my mind.

    If the DPRK was involved in the hack, they were kind of stupid. Their best strategy would have been to let the movie screen unhindered and let the reaction of the audience to being insulted by a juvenile pile of crap generate some sympathy for the regime.

    * Actually, you probably could but it would take some doing. Well, 50 bucks and a tub of buttered popcorn. OK, 20 bucks. 10? Alright, alright just the popcorn, but it had better be REAL BUTTER.

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  30. anyone don’t like being told what they can and cannot say or what they can and cannot hear. freedom is more and more important for the world

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