Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Interview - Why Are We Not More Concerned About Freedom of Speech Being Censored?

You can relax Sony lawyers. I won't be discussing any of the e-mails or information leaked from the hacking attack.

I post this piece out of concern for the movie The Interview. Starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, it is essentially Argo but comedic. The plot revolves around two producers (Rogen and Franco) of a celebrity tabloid show, who score their biggest interview from one of their fans: North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un. The CIA catches wind of this and attempts to recruit the two men into assassinating the Jong-un. 

Since the hacking of Sony Entertainment, many believe it was in reaction to the release of The Interview. Currently there is a threat spreading to theaters that show the movie may face retaliation. Sony is still promoting the film, but there will be no repercussions to those theaters that opt to not show the film. As of this post, Cinemark and AMC, two of the largest chains in the U.S., have removed it from their marquee.

But what is everyone else interested in right now? The scandal of the e-mails. Did you hear what the Sony exec said about X person? Or how much they hate Mister Y? And Z! Oh my goodness! Z was trash talked about in Sony's last meeting. She is so mad right now!

It's a bit sad when you think about. We're more interested in the content of the e-mails and trash-talking in Hollywood, something that has been a part of the business for centuries (not saying I condone it, by the way - it's, unfortunately, a part of the culture), then the fact that our freedom of speech is being infringed upon. Yep. By giving in to the demands of an unknown, unnamed source threatening violence, our speech, our right to produce and show a movie, has been violated.

Let's roll this back just a bit, because this isn't the first time The Interview has stirred up trouble. In June, when initial promotion began, a statement was released by the North Korean government regarding the movie - essentially calling Americans cowards for stooping to that level of fiction, making vague references to President Obama and his safety, and promising retaliation if the film is released. In July, North Korea's UN Ambassador, Ja Song Nam, vehemently protested the movie and demanded their intervention. The commotion died down briefly before it picked back up again with the hack attack.

This also isn't the first time a North Korean leader has been parodied. There was a minor scuffle with Kim Jong-il, who is the primary antagonist in Team America: World Police. While he never publicly commented on the movie nor mentioned if he watched it (he's a noted film buff, apparently), it's well-know the the movie is considered an insult to the region. So much so that they attempted to push the Czech Republic, an area where they had influence at one time, to ban the film.

Why is this a big deal that theaters are pulling a movie? As Republicans might say, we're letting the terrorists win by giving in to their demands. What I'm arguing is that by making this decision we're slowly having our freedoms stripped away because we are allowing others to dictate what is and is not acceptable in our country.

I'll give an example to help better explain my thoughts. There is a two-part series of episodes from the television show South Park titled "Cartoon Wars" (also made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, producers of Team America). The episode parodies Family Guy and an episode being edited because a group of unknown terrorists were offended that the series would show the face of Muslim Profit Muhammad. When the network heads attempt to air the episode again without editing, Eric and Kyle (two of the four main characters in South Park) attempt to reach the studio and stop the show from airing altogether. Kyle for altruistic reasons to end violence, Eric because he hates Family Guy and knows that if the episode is pulled the series will end forever. 

Now that you know the setup, I want to focus on the end of the second episode, where Kyle and Eric confront the Fox Network executive. Kyle, after seeing Eric's plans, understands that this one incident means so much more. It's about freedom of speech. It's about allowing people to speak their minds, create their art, and divulge their opinions - to be human without repercussions. By giving in to the terrorists, we're saying it's okay to stomp on that founding freedom. When the network exec mentions he can just censor the image, well that's no better, now is it? We're basically saying only certain things are okay to show and say. To quote Kyle, "[i]t's either all okay, or none of it."

Time for the irony. In the end, the Fox exec aired the show without editing. And what did Comedy Central, the network that hosts South Park, do? They edited the scene out after a terrorist threat was made against their headquarters. (It was found to be a lone man who never intended to carry though on his threat. He's currently in jail after pleading guilty.) Double irony that fans of South Park are fully aware of: the show has showed Muhammad before. There was an episode title "Super Best Friends" that had a number of infamous religious figures, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, and Joseph Smith, to name a few, as a fictional super hero group. No one was up in arms over that. There was no retaliation. There was no threat against Comedy Central or endangering innocent lives. The show was aired on multiple occasions until "Cartoon Wars." Now you can't find it online. It's no longer apart of the Season 5 DVD and will no longer be on television.

This is what happens when you allow threats to dictate what is and is not okay. We are loosing our freedom of speech - a core product that our country was founded upon. 

If you don't like something? You don't have to watch or listen. Outright banning and creating censorship police is not the answer. Then we go down this slope of nitpicking every little thing (yes I'm looking at you Australia with your swear bans) that freedom of speech is no longer allowed - it's oppression of a basic human right.

We have enough to worry about in this world. Is a movie parodying Kim Jong-un really worth making threats against? 

Our freedom of speech is at stake. It's not about what the Sony execs said in their e-mails. It's about our First Amendment Right. Do you want that taken away over a movie? I know that I don't, and I will fight to protect my right to speak.

At least the staff marketing The Interview is maintaining their sense of humor.

"From the Western capitalist pigs who brought you Neighbors and This Is The End, comes #TheInterviewMovie - In Theaters This Christmas."

Edit #1: Variety has reported that The Interview will not be released. /sigh I don't know what to say...our freedom of speech has been trampled again.

Edit #2: The Verge stole my idea. I was talking about this with my supervisor just before I began writing this article, that Sony should release the movie online. Given it's recent publicity, they have nothing to lose and could regain the loss of funds for having the film pulled from theaters.


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