Recently the movie The Interview was pulled from distribution by Sony Pictures Entertainment. Like most I turned to the first sources for news on the subject, Facebook and Twitter, to make sense of this complicated issue. Of course, there were people saying that the buckled and free expression was dead. Then you had a line of people bemoaning the loss of artistic integrity and, obviously, pictures of cats. I do however have a hypothetical situation I’m curious nobody has considered. What if the movie went on as planned and something terrible happened and people died?
Seriously, what if a theatre screened the movie and was blown up and forty people died? Simply playing devils’ advocate people could die and is that worth a movie? A comedy no doubt rife with dick and weed jokes, do people have to die in order for people to see this? What would the internet be saying then? Given the history of tragedies over the last twenty years I would speculate we would search for a place to point a finger. Would Sony be responsible for the deaths of these people? What about the theatre owner that screened the film? What about the sixteen year old taking tickets that didn’t see the suspicious bag?
In situations like Columbine, Sandy Hook, the attack on the world trade center and the bombing in Boston we, as a society, have an inclination to find fault. Things like controversial music, or violent games, or even religious doctrine become scapegoats to help us understand the horror of murder. Someone wasn’t doing their job properly or our public officials were negligent to all the signs one could obviously see after the fact. Like most of these instances the fault rests on the perpetrators of these terrible acts. So who would be to blame for the hypothetical deaths of forty people? That would be the crazy and terrible dictatorship of North Korea.
We are having the wrong argument. It shouldn’t be about whether or not the movie should be shown. The argument we should be having is can we accept the consequences of a marketplace of free ideas?
This is where we come to the unspoken part of the American idea, the cost. Artistic expression is an exercise in what it means to be an American. We need to understand that sometimes that expression carries a price tag. I am a believer that art should be made regardless of consequence. And if the unthinkable happens and people die am I looking to Seth Rogen and asking how he could have let this happen? No, I am taking this attack on free expression, however satirical, and placing the fault squarely on the shoulders of the North Korean regime. My argument to anyone that thinks we should do what Kim Jong Un says and pull the film is this, you cannot argue with crazy.
I say crazy because we are talking about a government that has allegedly orchestrated a hack on a corporation simply to threaten to pull a movie that disparages the dear leader. This government meets dissent with brutal force and creates a culture of fear. People are placed in camps and children are born into, and live, in starvation. All of these things happen for no other reason than to prop up the ego of one personality. Say what you will about our President (because you can) but we don’t put people in camps for speaking ill and create fear and terror in our populace.
We cannot, as a nation think that it is okay to stifle expression. Understanding that we have to own that expression is what is important here. The principle and argument here is bigger than any movie. There is a cost to the expression and we have to bear that cost. If we don’t then our argument and principle have no weight.
It’s not enough to say slippery slope and it’s the easy way out. You cannot argue with crazy and you certainly cannot pacify it. Don’t listen to people that say, “It’s just a movie”, either. It was important enough to a crazy dictator to allegedly fund a hack that cost a studio millions of dollars. It also could have cost someone their life had things proceeded. That is the danger we have to bear in order to say that expression, in any form and regardless of content, should not be hidden from view. Instead it should stand as a beacon to show all that we like dick and weed jokes. And we like speaking our free minds even more.