Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Interview, the Terrorists, and Fighting for Our Culture

NOTE: The following blog post was written before Sony decided to release the movie for independent theatres and on streaming video. As it examines a pivotal period of time in 2014, the original text is being preserved for posterity.

Truth to tell, judging from the trailer, The Interview isn’t a movie I’d dash out to see. Oh, some of the bits in the trailer I saw (the final one) looked cute, and if I got a copy of the DVD or blu-ray (ordinarily at a low price) I’d probably keep it, but it’s not the kind of comedy I really like. It’s more the kind of movie that if friends with different tastes wanted to see a movie with me, it would be a “safe” choice, probably not a lot of laughs but definitely a number of smiles. So when I say that I am appalled with the events surrounding The Interview, it’s not that I’m selfishly wanting people to die so I can see a movie I was really looking forward to. Rather, it’s what the movie has in the past couple of weeks come to symbolize, and the precedents being set here.

For the uninitiated, Sony Pictures has until recently been promoting The Interview, a comedy with a scheduled December 25 release date starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as reporters asked to become spies and kill the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un. This created some rumblings and threats from the North Korean government. At first the threats were not taken overly serious, in part because this isn’t the first time a North Korean leader had been “killed” on screen, notably Kim Jung II in Team America: World Police; more on this in a moment.  But then Sony Pictures became heavily hacked by a terrorist group called the Guardians of the Peace, with private e-mails, Social Security numbers, and aliases used by actors being released.  The Guardians made it clear that this was the result of plans to screen The Interview. The terrorists threatened 9-11 style attacks should anyone attend a screening of the movie. Despite law enforcement investigations claiming the threats appear groundless, after enough major chains in the United States and Canada pulled out, Sony decided to pull the movie entirely. No theatres, no streaming video, no DVD or blu-ray, nothing.  Some theatres in response wished to show Team America: World Police in its place, but Paramount cancelled such plans. This hasn’t entirely satisfied the terrorists. At the time as I write this, they were threatening further activity including more leaks unless all traces of the movie were removed from the Internet entirely. United States President Barack Obama publicly rebuked Sony for cancelling the movie, citing the precedent it sets, and hinted that a response was coming at a time of the White House’s choosing. While the Korean government denies being behind the Guardians of the Peace, they have threatened grave consequences should they not be allowed to participate jointly in the investigation.

The Guardians of the Peace said "Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made". The problem is, thanks to the Guardians we are not able to see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The reaction to the theatres and Sony has been divisive. Some people claimed they made the right move, citing safety concerns and the potential of lawsuits. I disagree with their decision. It’s easy to forget sometimes, but the freedoms we enjoy now didn’t come as a gift wrapped in a bow from some higher power, with no effort on our part. Rather, they were fought for and, yes, people have even died so that we could have and keep these freedoms. It doesn’t matter if you love Obama or think he’s the Anti-Christ, he’s right on this score: giving in to the terrorists sets a dangerous precedent.

You see, when we show them fear, we give them power. Most terrorists don’t stop at one demand and then go home. We’ve seen it already in fact: the theatres and Sony gave in to their demands not to show the movie so they made new demands, to remove all traces of the movie from the internet. I have no idea how that is even possible, but I doubt they will stop there. Maybe they’ll demand that older movies get destroyed, maybe they’ll demand permission on any movie coming out of a political nature. Maybe they’ll even tell us what movies to make. I don’t know what their next moves are, but if we give in and let them know we’re afraid, they won’t stop. Why would they? We’ve given them power over us, and they’re not nice people.

The people in the theatre? Most of them know what they’re getting into if they’ve been paying attention to the news. If they haven’t, have the people at the ticket booths let them know the situation and include a paper in writing with supplementary information. Let the people decide if they think it’s worth the risk. Some will go home, no harm no foul. Others will think the risk is too mild to worry about. And some will actually be encouraged to see the movie to flip off the terrorists, and perhaps want to see it only for that reason. If nothing happens, and it appears that nothing would have, then the threats, other than the cyber-attacks are rendered toothless. If the attacks do happen, it’s an act of war.

Ironically when things started to hit the fan I decided that I would see the movie in the theatre even though I wasn’t that interested in the movie. I’ve enjoyed a lot of the freedoms that were fought for but I haven’t really put myself out there to fight for them. Going to the theatre doesn’t take a lot of effort or money on my part, but it does let me take a stand for my freedoms and show that in a small way, I am willing to risk my life to ensure that future generations can enjoy the kinds of freedoms that those of us in the western world enjoy. The movie might not be to my taste, it might even be a POS, but it’s part of a culture that encourages freedom of expression in all its forms. And that means allowing the great works, the merely okay works, and the terrible works to all be made. And likewise I’d buy a DVD or blu-ray at a higher price than I normally would, not for the movie itself but what it now represents.

As for the subject of the movie, the North Koreans have their way of life just as we have hours. The western world has made less than flattering movies, fiction and documentaries alike, about its leaders. The North Korean government, being more insular could surely find ways to make sure its citizens never see the movie if that is part of their way of life. I hope that North Korea eventually finds a better way of life, but that’s for its citizens to decide.

The thing about The Interview and the cyber-terrorists targeting it is, it’s no longer about a silly Seth Rogen/James Franco movie. Oh, that’s where it started, absolutely. But it’s become about western values and whether, in the face of fear, we wish to hold onto them, even with the risk of death, or if we wish to give them up, let a foreign power walk all over our values and our culture and tell us how to live our lives even though they have no legal power over us. The Interview has become a symbol. The question that must now be decided, and fast, is, is it a symbol of a time when people became willing to stand up to bullies from a hostile power, or is it a symbol for when people decided that we were letting to let bullies walk all over our freedoms for fear of death?

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