Thursday, December 18, 2014

All Aboard the Censor-Ship, The Interview Edition

I really wasn’t sure I was going to get to another Bad Shakespeare post before the New Year. I’m busy preparing for my jaunt across the pond, which it turns out is an actual ocean which leads me to believe that “across the pond” is being used ironically. I just wrapped up my first semester as an English Graduate Student, which meant no final exams but a LOT of writing. I’ve probably written more on Charles Chesnutt than I ever thought I would. (Also, I didn’t know who Charles Chesnutt was before this class. So there’s that.)

But then, yesterday, something happened that I had to write about, because it tackles three of the things that I write about: movies, bullying, and censorship. Unless you’ve been living under a rock or paying attention to the much more important news about improved relations with Cuba, you’ll know that the film The Interview, in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play a pair of stoners/TV show stars who attempt to kill Kim Jong-Un, has been pulled indefinitely from theaters following an unprecedented hack in information and threats of violence against the theaters that would dare show such a film.

Personally, if you’re going to attack a Seth Rogen Film, I’d hope that it would be The Green Hornet. But hey, that’s just me.

I like Seth Rogen and James Franco, despite the fact that they pretty much just make the one film over and over (and it works). We have been treated to them playing stoners running from the law in Pineapple Express, or stoners at the end of the world in This is The End. I personally felt that, as much as I like Danny McBride, what was missing from Your Highness was Seth Rogen working with James Franco as stoners that are trying to save the princess. I’m really looking forward to their next film, which hasn’t been written yet but should totally be Seth Rogen and James Franco playing the actors Seth Rogen and James Franco who make a movie about killing the leader of North Korea and are forced to go on the run when hackers shut down the movie, and they try to get it distributed. Oh, yes, and they’re stoners. (Gentlemen… call me…)

In any event, as the story goes, Sony pictures, the multi-billion dollar corporation that owns about half the things in my house as well as not letting Marvel use Spider-man in the Avengers movies, managed to be hacked because apparently their password was PASSWORD1 (The 1 held together all of the security for them, apparently) and everyone laughed as emails from the higher ups in the company delightfully revealed the fact that even in Hollywood people were as snarky and talked behind the backs of people just like in your office, they just got paid a lot more. 

This is the kind of disturbing twist in the cyber thriller that we have been living in for the past couple of weeks. For a while, it was difficult to turn on the news without seeing some new hacked email or some new revelation about what was going on inside Sony right now. And we all laughed, shared it on our Facebook timelines, retweeted it. We were all complicit in this information leak for a little while, because at the time, it seemed harmless. It wasn’t like it was the nude pictures of a young star or bank account information, it was just a few emails, and I’m sure any of us, if you go back far enough, will find some email that we wish we hadn’t sent, or one that’s in our drafts right now. 

The problem came when specific threats started going around this one movie, The Interview. The subject was a bit “controversial” yes, but it’s not he first time there’s been some kind of controversy involving a movie like this. The remake of Red Dawn got delayed by several years because of the “enemy” in that, and not the fact that technology had advanced to the point that a sneak attack in Colorado would be nearly impossible unless they had Predator type technology. There was the multiple kerfuffles about South Park, attempting to show Muhammad not once but TWICE on camera, and getting censored in episodes, ironically enough, about censorship. Matt Parker and Trey Stone did get some threats but hey, they were used to it, as they get a lot of threats about their show. 

You all know the rest that broke less than 24 hours ago: a few theater chains (re: ALL the theater chains) refused to carry the movie, then Sony said, “eh… we just won’t release it. Go see Annie instead. It’s produced by Jay-Z”. And, presumably, features a lot less political assassination. 

And, as you know, I’m against all censorship. The old adage goes something like freedom of speech isn’t to protect safe ideas or popular ideas, but dangerous ones. It's easy to censor things we "don't like." It's hard to stand up and say "let's discuss it anyway."

Should Seth Rogen and James Franco have made a movie that featured the attempted (or possible… I avoided spoilers) assassination of a world leader? I don’t know. I don’t know anything about world politics except that Canada is putting way to many of their population along their border, if you know what I mean. I know a few things, but I don’t know enough to know if this was seriously that big of a deal. Granted, I just watched a movie by Finland which featured Sarah Palin as the President who was really a lizard person, so maybe foreign leaders aren’t really all that off limits. Quentin Tarantino literally changed history by having Adolf Hitler shot to death in a movie theater. And let’s not forget that there have been TWO movies about sitting presidents in the past 20 years that did not paint either of them in a positive light. 

Yes, there were threats. Sony, as much as I’ve spend time mocking them, were in an impossible decision. Show the movie and nothing happens, great. Pull the movie, and they’re cowards. Show the movie and someone dies (terrorist related. If they die from laughter, then that’s a bigger box-office draw!) then they ignored a big threat. So I do feel for them. But I don’t feel they should have caved into this threat… it only sets a bad precedent that threats like this will make a studio cave. 

There’s no shortage of controversial topics that can come to the theater, and they get protested, all the time. They get threats and theaters get attacked. The Last Temptation of Christ was so controversial at the time that theaters were burned down, resulting in injuries. But that didn’t stop people from showing it. We can’t be so afraid that we’re not showing movies now, and all this says is that the best way to get a movie banned is to threaten the right people, at the right time. You don’t even have to show power, beyond leaking a few emails to the press.

i get that there’s no easy answer. But at the same time, it just makes me sad to see a piece of art censored - and love ’em or hate’em, stoner comedies are Seth Rogen and James Franco’s art - and make no mistake, this is censorship through the threat of terrorism. This sets up a chain that can and will affect the future of bold filmmaking. Yes, they could have easily slipped in a fake dictator and we’d already be hearing reviews about how it wasn’t as funny as This is the End. But they chose not to. They chose to put in a real world situation for comedic affect? Because they felt like it? Who cares, it’s what they did. We can’t censor art because of a threat. It’s only going to get worse until the point that there are three movies in the theater, each one more inoffensive than the last. 

As a film lover and a censorship hater, I want to see The Interview back in theaters. I want to see Seth Rogen and James Franco do what they love best: making movies that make us laugh. Or at least are supposed to make us laugh. I love you guys, but they’re not all winners. And i want us to not be so afraid that we’re willing to compromise our art, for any reason. Rest assured, if the movie gets released, I’ll be there opening day to watch it. If it gets leaked online, I’ll go ahead and stream it, if for no other reason that the movie deserves to be seen. 

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