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The Interview And When the Need for Safety Outweighs Freedom of Expression

The Interview And When the Need for Safety Outweighs Freedom of Expression:

When Sony announced its decision to cancel the release of The Interview, the Seth Rogen- and Evan Goldberg-directed comedy about the assassination of Kim Jong-un, my first thought was, “This isn’t going to stop here.”

And it hasn’t.

Today, various indie theaters (including the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Dallas) announced that Paramount had squashed any theater’s plans to show Team America: World Police in place of The Interview. This comes on the heels of reports that New Regency scrapped development on the North Korea-set thriller Pyongyang, which was to be directed by Gore Verbinski and star Steve Carell.

Believe me when I say this is just the beginning of the Big Freeze began in the wake of the truly terrifying Sony hack. There will be more after this, and the repercussions will be felt for years to come.

I haven’t seen The Interview. Based on my fondness for Rogen and Goldberg’s past work, I have a feeling I would’ve enjoyed it. When I interviewed The Interview star Lizzy Caplan for another magazine a few months back, she told me that the film lampooned the American media as much as it did anything else, and folks who’ve seen the movie tell me that’s true.

The best way to censor anyone’s voice is to tell him that using it will endanger his safety. This is true of protest of any kind. I understand that Sony needs to protect its employees, who are real human beings with real safety concerns in the wake of this hack. I recognize that I’m not an expert on terrorism, that I don’t have the inside track on the threats made against Sony employees, and that my personal disappointment at not getting to see a film does not outweigh any credible threat against innocent people.

interview franco and kim jong il

That said, I refute the popular argument that Goldberg and Rogen were foolish to even depict the murder of a sitting head of state. World leaders are not men and women around whose image we must respectfully tiptoe, bowing and scraping. Also, let’s remember that depicting an action in art is not the same thing as advocating for that action in reality.

And I have nothing but contempt for the decision to prevent a few funky little independent theaters from showing a decade-old popular film that uses satire to brilliantly pummel the United States, celebrity culture, the military industrial complex, and North Korea in equal measure.

At press time, Paramount has not released a statement regarding its decision to keep Team America: World Police out of theaters. If there have in fact been credible threats made against Paramount employees, I completely understand their decision even as I disagree with it. But my guess is that this is an example of fear gone into hyperdrive. It is an instance of the rapidly-spreading disease of “just in case”-ism.

Cancel showings of a film that’s been in circulation for 10 years, just in case. Cancel development on a film that hasn’t even been made yet, just in case. Definitely cancel any re-showings of Hot Shots: Part Deux, which depicts the assassination of Saddam Hussein, just in case. Sure, he’s dead, but some of his former Ba’ath Party loyalists aren’t, and seeing Charlie Sheen’s mullet on some cable channel late at night might really trigger their rage.

Cancel viewings of The Great Dictator just in case it hurts any German grandfathers’ feelings, and remind me again how this analogy doesn’t apply because in 1940, Germany couldn’t have done anything really bad to any Americans in retaliation anyway (this is patently untrue, but keep using that argument).

Waste time telling me that The Interview has a poor score on Rotten Tomatoes, and so it’s no great loss that Sony pulled it.

Then cancel all films except those that are specifically bland enough to not offend anyone. Come to think of it, those ultra-dull movies will definitely offend somebody, so cancel films altogether.

Cancel satire while you’re at it. A lot of people don’t get it, it requires an extra cognitive leap on the part of the viewer, and thinking has the unfortunate tendency to make people want more from their world, and that’s dangerous, so let’s get rid of satire altogether.

Cancel art. It’s weird and creepy and scary and offensive and makes us feel feelings that sometimes are icky and strange. I don’t like some art, so definitely cancel that art in particular.

Cancel everything.

There are reasonable responses to credible threats and then there are hysterical reactions to boogeymen.

We’re about to see a lot more of the latter.


Sara Benincasa is a comedian and the author of Great and Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom. She tweets @sarajbenincasa and is currently on tour: dates are at SaraBenincasa.com/shows.

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