K&M Commentary: “The Interview” Controversy

Commentary

Full disclaimer: For those who don’t know, I am not a fan of Seth Rogen or his brand of humor. As I’ve stated ad nauseam, I am so tired of the raunchy comedy, and Hollywood (as it so often does) drowns us with anything that tastes slightly successful. The vast majority of comedies these days fit into this category. The genre has become a dead zone for people who don’t find humor in the antics of Rogen and company. This is why I won’t miss “The Interview” from an entertainment perspective. But what about the precedent set by Sony’s recent actions.

For those who don’t know, Sony has decided not to screen Rogen and James Franco’s movie about assassinating North Korea’s leader. This comes after information which seems to indicate North Korea was behind the Sony hackings which released tons of personal information, emails, upcoming projects, full-length movies, and more. More serious threats surfaced, major theater chains withdrew the film, and soon Sony pulled the plug. Naturally this has drawn all kinds of reactions. But is there a clear-cut answer to who’s right and who’s wrong in this controversy?

The main player under the public microscope is Sony. Was their act spineless and cowardly? Is this some backhanded way to get more attention for the film? These are just some of the questions being asked and I tend to think it’s a little of both. In some ways Sony has modeled this climate of appeasement that we often see in our government today. It’s caving in to a threat without weighing the repercussions. But on the other hand we live in a different world. In this day and age retaliation can go well beyond hacking into a database and stealing some movies. Was this on Sony’s mind when they made this decision?

Or could it be that Sony was embracing the old adage “there is no bad press”. Is it beyond reason to think that this may have played a role in Sony’s decision? I mean look around on blogs, websites, and news shows. Everyone’s talking about “The Interview”. And how do Sony’s financial woes fit into the equation? Are they drawing attention to the film because they need it to bring in a lot of money? Are they pulling the film in hopes of not potentially losing more money?

But Rogen and Franco shouldn’t escape the microscope. They have a significant role to play in this as well. Look, I get the whole idea about creative expression and the freedoms of an ‘artist’. I’m thankful for that ideal, otherwise we would have missed out on a number of great films throughout the years. But I can’t help questioning the wisdom behind making “The Interview”. I mean we aren’t just talking about mocking a nation’s sitting leader. We’re talking about assassinating him. Regardless of how bad the leader may be or how threatening his policies are, you’re obviously pushing boundaries that are going to elicit responses, some a lot more severe than hacking a computer.

But then I think about their freedoms to creatively express themselves. Does this send the ball rolling down a hill that could squash any future project which might be deemed dangerous or controversial? And isn’t it good that this precedent hasn’t already existed? I automatically think back to “The Great Dictator”, a film by Charlie Chaplin poking fun at and critiquing the fascist and antisemitic regime of Adolf Hitler. It’s a great movie and it is rightly viewed as a classic. But there were concerns about the adverse effects of “The Great Dictator”, and it didn’t push things as far as “The Interview”. In fact, several years after its release Charlie Chaplin said he never would have made the film had he known more at the time.

So is there a cut-and-dry right answer to this? Is Sony cowardly for giving in to the pressures? Was it wise for Rogen and Franco to make a movie that could have serious repercussions for many people other than themselves? Is this one of the most shrewd and shameless marketing ploys ever used for a movie? Is the creative license subject to any boundaries? Personally I think this controversy has asked more compelling questions worthy of conversation than most people think.

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40 thoughts on “K&M Commentary: “The Interview” Controversy

  1. Good points, Keith. I, too, am not a fan of Seth’s humor. For me, this rings of “corporate” decision-making. Nothing of the artistry of cinema, or even bravery for that matter. It’s all to the bottom-line, and of course, short-sighted. The precedent reeks. If it is all a ploy to rouse more demand to screen this, it’s a dumb one. Cause, just like those embarrassing emails, it’ll come out. Adding “stupid” to “spineless”. There’s more to come, I fear.

    Keen commentary, Keith. Many thanks.

    • Thanks so much for reading and I really like your perspective. You would like to think it would be more than the bottom-line but that very well may be the case. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

  2. The damage to Sony is much bigger than the leaked e-mail. Their IT system has been wiped out. This is an aggressive act of terror and the added threats to theaters needs to be treated at least as seriously as a threat from some High School kid on Facebook. That said, you can’t give in to this sort of threat without encouraging more such actions in the future. The suggestion that this is a gamble of a publicity stunt misses the fact that there are already millions invested in traditional marketing that has gone to waste. Stoner humor and satire are far from serious expressions of artists and it is clearly a joke not a threat. The North Korean culture makes translation of these concepts difficult, and that government is crazy to begin with. If we won’t tolerate our own government restricting desecration of flags, religious symbols and other art, we should not shrug our shoulders and say so what because a fascist foreign government wants to do so. Regardless of how stupid, tasteless and unnecessary the film is.

    • You get to a lot of the complexities behind this whole thing. It is hard to balance the dangers of this modern day terrorism and psychotic regimes with protecting our creative freedoms. To surpress that would be tragic and at the same time the threat is concerning.

  3. I think if Sony bankrupted over this it would still not be enough for that massive cowardice and raging incompetence. Government actually encouraging them to cave in is the worst – I guess it’s less potentially profitable to risk war against Korea than countries with lucrative resources. I always admired America’s principals but I can see they are dead and gone. This will not stop the threats and because of Sony’s action this is gonna happen over and over again now. A shameful mistake one that the whole civilized world is laughing/crying at.

    • I think a policy of appeasement is doomed to fail in the long run. As you mentioned, this won’t stop future threats. No way. I think we also should look at the wisdom behind making such a film. We aren’t dealing with rational minded leadership. An argument could be made that Sony screwed up when they green lit the project from the start. Now we’ve got an utter mess.

      • They should do whatever they want. If Serth and James wanted to do that movie, kudos for them finding the way. But sony should have realized how gutless they are before they got involved.

  4. I agree Keith. Sony should have not Greenlit this project in the first place if this was going to be the end result. I thought I lived in a country where I had the choice to view what I want without threats from other countries. Despite what you may think about this film.It’s unfair to remove it because of fear When will enough be enough. We should stand up to bullies like this and not let thm dictate what we want to watch .

  5. Very interesting points Keith, and I agree with nearly all of them. Like you I am fairly tired of the general Rogen / Apatow idiotic fratboy direction that comedy films have taken during the past decade and probably wouldn’t have watched The Interview anyway, but I still don’t like the idea of this happening. We’re both lucky enough to live in countries where people are free to express whatever they like through artistic media, to a point; I think what a lot of people find particularly galling about this incident is that a government that presides over a country where that isn’t the case is able to apply its own values so forcefully.

    The one thing I’d say is that Sony is a business and as such I don’t necessarily think they have the same duty to stand up to threats or actual acts (cyber- or otherwise) in the way that, personally-speaking, I believe a government does. If a cinema went ahead and screened this film and something awful happened a lot of people would criticise Sony straight away, suggesting that they were putting profits ahead of the well-being of their customers (though ultimately it’s the individual’s own choice whether to go to see a movie or not, of course). Regardless of bottom lines there is a duty of care and a requirement to act with common sense.

    I don’t like to see this kind of thing happen but I’m also surprised it hasn’t happened sooner in relation to the movies: there have been decades of Hollywood-produced films that, when analysed neutrally, could be accused of being racist or exacerbating strained or tense relationships between countries and even religions – though I’m not for one moment suggesting that the movies are to blame for those situations in the first place. Doesn’t justify the cyber-terrorism angle of this story or the the threats, of course, but I’m surprised this hasn’t happened sooner.

    • I think you make some strong points. The outcry would be enormous if something were to happen at a theater or if one of the bigger threats are carried out. I was telling a buddy of mine that we aren’t dealing with a rational leadership. Even more their retalliation could be resourced out. It could be taken out on service men and woman or at home. It’s not a scare tactic. It’s the reality of who we are talking about.

      I don’t know. There are so many needed discussions that I hope branch out from this.

  6. I honestly don’t think it’s the threat to theatres that Sony is scared of. I think they’re scared of more hacks. Obviously they realise how shitty their security systems are and don’t want hackers to attack again. It’s all about money

  7. Most everyone above has said it all and the possible repercussions. I worry about the direction technology and the those in charge “Who watches the watchmen?” of it or those who abuse it have over my life.

  8. The precedent for assassinating leaders in film and literature is not new, although the stories can be somewhat sanitised by being retrospective (Day of the Jackal) or hypothetical (Hilary Mantel’s recent story about the assassination of Margaret Thatcher.) A film about assassinating a serving leader is fair game unless it’s state sponsored propaganda; and The Interview, which I haven’t seen and I know next to nothing about the people who made it, can hardly be described as state sponsored!

    If a serving leader behaves like a clown he can hardly be surprised when he’s portrayed as one. Whilst there may well be an army of sycophants in North Korea prepared to put up with this family of despots, the rest of the world is under no obligation to patronise this particular maniac. Remember, this is not a democratically elected leader, and with his track record of organised mass murder he is a criminal. And we have no problems with stories about killing criminals.

    But, inspite of all that, (if there’s one thing tyrants hate more than anything it’s being laughed at) I suspect Sony’s decision might have more to do with their business interests in China. They are looking to expand there, and are probably more worried about upsetting China, sponsors and supporters of North Korea’s regime, than upsetting North Korea itself.

    • Great comments.

      I do think movies like Day of the Jackal are sanitized and shielded from this criticism mainly because they do look back in time. Plus few if any of them are open mockeries mixed with the assassination angle.

      I definitely agree with you on who we’re dealing with. Yet in a way I think that adds to the uncertainty of the whole thing. I think that’s where some of the complications come in. Then again there are a lot of questions that have came out of this.

  9. Keith, great questions…and I don’t have the answers for each. But I am very concerned about the precedent here. Hypothetically speaking, suppose these same hackers post a threat over the next two days, railing against the Christian nation that we are…if they were to post a similar threat of violence against, say, all Christmas Eve services, do our churches feel obligated to follow the example of the movie chains for the safety and security of their members? I worry that this action by a movie studio may have repercussions far beyond the economic impact of a Christmas Day movie release…

    • I think that is very well said Ron. This attitude of appeasement is a scary one. It opens up a lot of doors for other people wanting to hurt our country or our ideals. They could target any group and if said group were to follow this example we would be in a constant state of concern and worry.

  10. Sony set a precedent that’s already going into effect with Paramount responding in kind as well, refusing for theaters to show Team America in The Interview’s place. I haven’t really said much myself on the issue, as most of what I feel has been said countless times and probably better than I could express, but yeah, I do think the decision was cowardly, and the whole situation is damn shameful.

    • It seems so abrupt and without any careful thought. But Sony also created this problem for themselves. They should have weighed the potential problems and backlash before making the film especially if this was going to be their reaction after taking heat. They don’t look good at all, do they?

  11. Precedent has already been set. Paramount has not stopped viewing of ‘Team America’ due to it’s inflammatory depictions as well. So the ball is rolling. I feel it comes down to the same reason why governments have a ‘will not negotiate with terrorists’ policy, (in theory, despite the practical precedents) the damage or follow through of the threat may definitely be harmful in that one instance, but giving in to demands at gun point (or mouse-point in this case) creates opportunities for other instances to be created.

    In terms of movies, so far countries have only had the option of banning films they find inappropriate in their respective countries. Now they make demands to affect the industry outside of their country? What next? Holding back resources, trade, treaties, and other things that may affect the studio or country to protest a film or other piece of media that offends them?

    I’m not trying to be alarmist, but it can lead to more than what it is now. I understand Sony’s looking out for their own interest, but I don’t think they’ve realized how their decision affects the rest of the film industry.

    • I think you have put it extremely well. They have definitely opened the doors for any other nation or group who opposes something as simple as a movie. If we have shown we will cave, you know that they will take notice.

      What an absolute mess.

  12. This reminds me of what Comedy Central did to South Park a few years back. While Sony certainly does have a justifiable reason to pull “The Interview,” they shouldn’t just sweep the movie under the closet. We shouldn’t live in a world where our entertainment is dictated by threat of violence, and Sony’s actions send a poor message to the film community.

    • I’m with you. The quick reaction to the threat of violence sends a bad message. Personally I think Sony should have considered all of the potential problems with this film well before now. It appears that they most certainly did not do that.

  13. I’ll note in passing that Chaplin’s comment was because he didn’t know how bad the atrocities Hitler was committing really were; the gas chambers, etc., weren’t widely known about at the time he made the film, only the concentration camps. His comment was that he feared it was tasteless to make a comedy of the subject in retrospect; he never, to my knowledge, expressed any fear of retaliation from Hitler.

    As for The Interview, while I know Sony would indeed get criticism if they released the film to theatres and something happened, I still think that a full cancellation with no planned release is the wrong response. It’s already having that chilling effect on future productions. Read in my local paper today that Fox has canceled production on Pyongyang as a result. I know nothing of that film except its name, and yet I have to consider that the mere fact that three different studios (Sony, Paramount and Fox) are now kow-towing to terrorism is a very bad sign for the future of the industry and for our culture.

    • I think Pyongyang was that Steve Carrell picture. I think you’re right. It is a bad sign. I still believe Sony poorly handled this from the start. They should have looked at the material way before they started promoting the film to see if there would be potential. Especially if they were going to cave to threats so easily.

      As for Chaplin, he was indeed speaking more to the atrocities towards the Jews. But I also took it to not just be about taste. I mean that type of film would probably never come back to hurt Chaplin or most people who watched it. But would it instigate more hostility and brutality towards the Jewish people by the Nazis. I think that came into play as well.

  14. It has been interesting to see how Sony handled this, but think the decision to not show it in any way is a weird one. At least make it available on something like VOD if you are worried about the threat on movie theaters, but not releasing it is just giving into the threats and sets a bad precedent. I agree with you that actually assassinating him is going too far. Look at Team America…that one mocked North Koreas leader (can’t remember if he was killed in the movie) and everyone seemed ok with that.

    • I think you can definitely get away with a level of mocking. But this did seem to push things too far. And things are complicated more by the fact that you’re dealing with such a radically unhinged regime.

      One interesting aspect of this revolves around what else the hackers have. They told Sony that their decision to not show the movie was a good one because they had a lot more they could release. I could see where that is a scary prospect especially for a company that is struggling financially.

  15. It saddens me that people let fear and threats determine what they do or do not do 😦

    Just wrote a post myself and my views are far more decided than yours. Although I get your weighing of opinions.

    • I think it is easy just to embrace the ‘creative freedom at all costs’ angle. That’s what I would love to do in this instance. But truth be told, this is a different time with a very different threat. I’m mixed on Sony’s latest actions simply because there are a ton of variables to consider. Where I really condemn Sony is on the front side of all of this.

      I mean anyone should be able to see that a movie like this was going to cause a pretty strong reaction from that particular regime. If they weren’t willing to follow it through they shouldn’t have gotten behind the film to start with. That is where they really screwed up IMO. I wouldn’t have distributed it from the start and that would still leave Rogen and Franco to make their movie (as immature as it may be) and get it distributed through someone who would stick it out.

      • Nothing happening now is new though. The only difference is that Its Cyber Warfare.

        North Korea makes a daily threat to destroy the west, south korea etc. very specific and very outlandish. Never happens. Even if it did, they have far better reasons to use bombs than a film. Seth Rogen will not be the cause of the first strike from North Korea in over 50 years

      • I don’t think its necessarilly about war or even a homeland attack. It’s the connections North Korea now has. Its attacks that they could hire out. Trlargets could be embassies, troops abroad, etc. And I don’t want to oversimplify it and say Seth Rogen would cause it. It’s more that they are an unstable regime looking for a reason.

        On the other hand Sony put themselves in this position. Now they are in trouble because they don’t know what else these hackers have stolen. Just a total mess.

      • Ah that is actually a common misconception. Not your fault though, a lot of the media fear monger. North Korea is a very stable country, more than any other in the world. They have complete control over their people not seen since Hitler.

        The leader ship in North Korea know that making threats and attempting to build WMD’s keeps them in their positions of power. They don’t have to fear invasion or civil dissent because it is its own “perfect” system. The civilians are brainwashed and the outside world wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

        There are some excellent documentaries about North Korea, absolutely fascinating stuff.

        I do feel sorry for Sony. But at the very least they get a chance to start over with their film studios. They were in a pretty pethetic state before this attack 😦

      • No, you musunderstand my use of unstable. I’m talking about mentally unstable. Kim Jong-un is a madman as evident by his past actions. I do think he’s a little more aware of consequences than some believe. That’s why I mention him resourcing out any kind of physical response.

  16. Great and timely discussion post Keith! I too am not a fan of Rogen’s style of humor and wasn’t planning on seeing it. At the same time, I have mixed feelings about this whole censorship and canceling a release because of terroristic threat. I heard about The Great Dictator and Chaplin’s regret for making it after he found out how bad Hitler was and what he’s done, so part of me think Rogen/Franco probably are careless and flippant for making it. At the same time though, what SONY did with it sets a worrying precedent about censorship and it makes me sad that we as a free country caved in to a terrorist’s demands. As what commenter Ron Hearne said above, how far would this go, y’know?

    • You’re right. Once you open this door all sorts of other threats can come in. It is a sad and scary precedent.

      Sony should have considered all of the potential issues before signing on. Now they look really look bad and the terrorists feel empowered.

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