Harmless Fun?

The cover for the movie The InterviewThere’s much discussion in the media about whether Sony Pictures should have pulled the release of “The Interview” — a comedy about the assassination of the leader of North Korea.

Succumbing to hackers’ threats by delaying its release is being framed by many as a infringement of free expression.

While I certainly get that this is a movie and not an actual plot, and while I get a kick out of Seth Rogen and James Franco’s comedies, the question seems to me what we can and cannot poke fun at. After all, free speech or not, in an airport you don’t joke about hijacking a plane and in the US one doesn’t joke about “taking out” the President — do we?

Look up “Threatening the President of the United States” on Wikipedia and the opening line reads:
Threatening the President of the United States is a class D felonySo, while not agreeing with any North Korean policy, the test of our response seems to me to require asking how we would respond to another government whose citizens made a prominent, nationally released film whose central plot involved them coming over here and killing our leader. Whether or not we’d retaliate by hacking their systems or making violent threats, we’d likely not just see it as a case of free expression.

No, we’d probably see it instead as a national threat, link it to wider geo-political issues, and demonize them, in some way, for even thinking this was something to joke about, maybe by saying that no civilized government would condone such a thing.

It turns out that we have some examples, from right here in the US, where many of us would hardly defend the so-called pranksters’ actions as innocent demonstrations of free speech.

A news article titles So what makes one “a very embarrassing situation” that requires investigation, maybe even criminal charges, and the other an infringement of our freedoms to say whatever we want, whenever we want?

3 Replies to “Harmless Fun?”

  1. I just came across Adam’s blog on the film/controversy…

    “I reckon there is something else going on here, something lurking beneath the surface (at least from a marxist-inflected sociological perspective). Many Americans–the President being no exception–are coming face-to-face with the constructed nature of the capitalist economy. When the hackers caused a corporation not to release a film in which it poured millions of dollars and other resources for the sake of profit, they lifted the veil. There is no god-like free hand. There is no vacuum-like free market. But we don’t want to think that. So, people on various media outlets label as “terrorists” the people who interfered with the smooth operation of our economic system, talk about them as if they’re only interfering with our freedom of speech, and rally around such abstractions as rights (which, we would be advised to recall, are god-given and inalienable).”


  2. “While it’s (just) plausible that a North Korean elite cyber unit could have built up this knowledge over time and then used it to make the malware, Occam’s razor suggests the simpler explanation of a pissed-off insider. Combine that with the details of several layoffs that Sony was planning and you don’t have to stretch the imagination too far to consider that a disgruntled Sony employee might be at the heart of it all.


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