Dangerous Precedent: My take on Sony’s decision to drop ‘The Interview’
“It was a pleasure to burn.”
Some of you may recognize this line. It’s from Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451 and happens to be my favorite opening line to any novel. For those not familiar with the plot, it centers around a dystopian future where freedom of expression, specifically the arts, such as paintings, literature, and films are either banned or severely censored. Ironically, Bradbury’s novel was itself banned in many libraries and schools when it was first released.
Up until today I liked to think that the majority of the civilized world had evolved beyond blatant and egregious censorship. As the creators of “South Park” Trey Parker and Matt Stone are fond of saying, it’s either all fair game or none of it. Like the movie obsessed geek that I am, I’ve been familiar with the content of the Seth Rogen/James Franco film The Interview for months. Just in case you live under a rock and haven’t been on Facebook, Twitter, the Internet, or television in the last day, the film revolves around a talk show host and his producer scoring an interview with North Korea’s leader Kim-Jong Un. However, when the CIA recruits the duo to assassinate the titular head of North Korea comedy allegedly ensures. I say allegedly because the film has been officially scrapped by Sony due to cyberterrorist threats from the group “Guardians of Peace.” These are the same asshats who hacked Sony a couple of weeks ago releasing internal emails, Sony employee records, and upcoming film projects. These same said asshats released threats of violence to Sony and any theaters that dared to show The Interview in their cinemas, including the movie premiere in New York City. Yet surely I thought that neither Sony or the major cinemas of the world would give into these bullies’ demands.
Maybe I was naïve, or just blindly optimistic but regardless I was wrong. Dead wrong.
First the NYC premiere was canceled, then Rogen and Franco decided to stop publicity for the film. I watched in mounting horror as the issue escalated from there. Carmike theaters dropped the film, then all major theaters such a AMC, Regal, and Cinemark followed suit, resulting finally in Sony completely pulling the plug on the movie. US officials are now even saying that North Korea themselves are responsible for this debacle, specifically a special unit in the North Korean military called “Bureau 21,” a group whose sole purpose is to carry out cyber attacks.
To say I was horrified is like saying Guardians of the Galaxy was moderately successful this summer. I couldn’t fathom it. Here I am living in the United States, a place that’s supposed to be the bastion of free speech, and brazen mass censorship had just been declared at the point of gun disguised as a keyboard. To hear Sony’s response was even more baffling:
“…we respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers”, and that “we are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”
How can you say that you stand by your filmmakers and support their right to free expression and then completely pull the movie? That’s the epitome of duplicity and hypocrisy. If Sony really possessed the courage of their convictions, they would have released the film as scheduled and told Kim Jong-Un and his atrocious haircut to go take a flying fuck at a bowl of rice! And the fact that major theaters like AMC, Regal, and Cinemark pulled the plug is just as egregious. How can they play controversial films like Obama’s America and The Passion of the Christ but completely lose their spine when it comes to The Interview? You’re telling me that Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is okay but this is where you draw the line? Look I understand that a film with both Guy Fieri AND Nicki Minaj could drive anybody to violence, but to give into these guys? There’s just no excuse.
Before you think I’m just a callous asshole who isn’t thinking about the threat to people’s lives in this situation, hear me out. Listen I get it. Threats of violence against civilians is serious business and not to be taken lightly. If anyone got hurt or killed it would be tragic. But make no mistake either, as much as Sony and the major movie chains claim to care about the innocent blood of human lives (and I’m sure there are some executives who do) they are also concerned with the color green not just red. Aside from the Summer, holiday season is where studios and movie theaters make the most box office. People are not going to go to theaters if there’s the threat of bodily harm, especially with all the streaming and illegal download options available. When you weigh the cost of the opening weekend of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies against the $44 million budget of The Interview…well you do the math. Like the old adage says, at the end of the day money talks and bullshit walks. And in a place like Hollywood, studios will take bucks over bullshit every time. That may sound harsh but it’s the truth.
In spite of the risk to human lives, I am completely against Sony and the major theater chains’ decision because it sets a dangerous precedent. This is a slippery slope. What happens the next time a situation like this arises? Do we give in again? How many times do we back down before we are standing at the precipice of total censorship? Too much blood has been shed over the decades in my country and in others for the right to the freedom of expression. If not for the actions of multiple countries in WWII, I might be speaking German right now and watching films only the Reich deemed appropriate. Fuck that noise. What good is it to give in over the threat of possible human casualties if ultimately you lose your soul? I love my newborn son Quentyn with all my heart, and I will be goddamned if I’m going to let a bunch of North Korean cyberterrorists living in their parents’ basements, jacking off to Sailor Moon anime dictate what movies my son and I can watch in the theater.
So congratulations Sony, AMC, Regal, Cinemark, et al. You let the terrorists win this round, you pandering, craven, mouth-breathing sycophants. Unfortunately, my anti-censorship sisters and brothers are legion and the cyberterrorists just brought a knife to a gun fight. If you think me or any of my kind are going to go away, you couldn’t be more abysmally wrong than the plot to Caddyshack 2. I’ll be at the frontlines you cowardly bitches and to quote Kurt Russell in Tombstone, “Hell’s comin’ with me.”