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New Jersey Employment and Civil Rights Lawyer discuss the movie “The Interview” and the Terrorism by Self-Censorship

On Behalf of | Jan 12, 2015 | Civil Rights |

“The Interview” is a movie about two Americans, a reporter and his producer, who are recruited as CIA agents to assassinate Kim Jong-un. The North Korean dictator was a fan of their show, and had wanted to meet them. The CIA wanted them to kill the dictator at this meeting.

Sounds like a Tom Clancy novel, right? Except that it’s a “buddy” movie. It’s a comedy. “Ha ha.” Understand? It’s not a geopolitical thriller. But then again, who cares if it was as it relates to my point? Stay with me.

So the idiots in North Korea decided this “buddy picture” – formulaically no different than “Dumb and Dumber” or any Hope and Crosby movie, for that matter – was a “wanton act of terror.” They threatened a “merciless retaliation” against the U.S. if the movie was to be released.

Now, that was those idiots, the ones in North Korea. But those aren’t the only fools wearing caps in the corner. There’s also the “hackers” calling themselves the “Guardians of the Peace.” Those dolts threatened “9/11-like” attacks at movie theaters that showed the film.

Cause, you know, when your claim is that such a film – a film­, not an invasion – “harms regional peace and security and violates human rights for money,” the answer is clearly to kill people.

Now look. I get the worry at Sony. They feel boxed in. Do they stand tall and release the film and then get blamed later if there is an attack? Or do they hold it back and kill it and be told – as they are being told in some quarters – that this was the right decision, because it protects people?

The dialog in America about protecting others is a complicated one. We must strike a balance, as a society, between letting people have the “freedom” to do things on the one hand, and nonetheless protect them from the consequences from those things (in some cases, by curtailing or forbidding those things) on the other. It’s why we had seat belts – eventually ­– and then seatbelt laws. It’s why we had bike helmets, and then later, bike helmet laws. It’s why we have all sorts of mandatory safety rules about things we still have the freedom to do.

In an insanely “libertarian” society, there’d be no rules for safety of self – only of others – and the consequences of damage to self for doing something unsafe would rest entirely with that person. No disability benefits. No lawsuits for others’ wrongdoing. No accountability except self.

Well, that society ain’t happening any time soon. So I get Sony’s angst. And I’m not hauling them to the woodshed here.

But was this the right decision? Shouldn’t the arts community – though I get that this was executives making this call not “artists” – be the first to say “no” to censorship? Even self-censorship? Couldn’t theaters – and then movie-goers themselves – have made the decision to show and see, or not?

Would there have been lower attendance? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Maybe more people would have seen the movie – which I bet isn’t that good, it didn’t look that funny to me in the trailers, btw – just to make the point that Americans stand for courage in many ways, and no one tells us what shitty movies we see?

It’s too bad we didn’t have the right to make that call for ourselves. And it’s too bad that this happened once. Cause anything that happens once can happen twice. And when you give the bully your milk money once, he’ll expect it every day.

So watch for more of this now. Insane people can find fault with anything. And if they think they can dictate artistic and cultural policy with threats once, they’ll try again.

Next time, we can’t allow it. We have to demand the right to see the “art” we want to see, and we can’t censor ourselves, ever. It’s a terrible precedent, and an excuse to knuckle under to external and internal pressure in the future.

And by the way. Remember my point about how it wouldn’t have mattered if this were a “serious” thriller instead of a dopey comedy? Well, we can make any damned movie we want in America, and the market decides if it’s a success. Not threats.

We showed weakness when we should have shown strength. This is a national embarrassment.