I don't like Seth Rogen. I don't like James Franco. Their brand of comedy is unappealing to me. I would have loved to not see their movie. And I am loathe to participate in any conflict that will place me on their side.
Nonetheless, that's were we find ourselves. I'm in the corner with James Franco and Seth Rogen. In the other corner are North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un with his legion of hackers, and the anti-political correctness police who roam Twitter.
The new Rogen/Franco joint, The Interview, looks terrible. It also was the reason given behind the massive Sony Entertainment hack, with the culprits reportedly North Korean government agents. And Sony agreed not to release the movie to kowtow to the demands and threats of those North Koreans.
Beyond having regular old bad jokes, The Interview also contains tasteless jokes, sexist jokes, and un-politically-correct jokes. For these latter sins, its removal from the theaters, by any means necessary, is a net good for the world. At least by the standards of Twitter's PC police.
Ebony senior editor Jamilah Lemieux lamented the mourning of the death of The Interview in a series of tweets, saying that those who put the movie in the category of "art" are like "petulant trust fund kid[s] who can't be held responsible for anything," and that The Interview's defenders hold up the "art" defense as a shield from criticism:
Freelance journalist Aura Bogado, who has written for The Nation and Colorlines, echoed a similar sentiment. After saying "Good riddance" to the film, she responded to someone asking if pulling a movie in response to North Korean threats sets a bad precedent by saying that defending a movie by "two white men objectifying Nikki Minaj's..." is not productive.
The point that comes across here is that, for Twitter's PC police, it's more important that The Interview doesn't see release than the means by which the movie is shut down. It doesn't matter that a sadistic small-minded dictator has succeeded in getting a crummy movie* dropped; it only matters that the movie is dropped and that Rogen and Franco's casual sexism won't be inflicted on the world. The ends may not justify the means; the ends merely render the justice of the means irrelevant.
Defenders of The Interview aren't saying that art should not be subject to criticism. They're saying that terrorist threats are not a legitimate reason to shut down a display of art, no matter how dumb that particular art form seems to be. Some people think interpretive dance isn't art; some people think the Piss Christ is not art; some people think that video games aren't art. Regardless of the merits of any of these media, terrorism is not a good reason to abandon their pursuit. Bowing to terrorism is notable - and is more important than even the potential misogyny of a film.
An alternate timeline that did not involve North Korea might see The Interview get released, do mediocre numbers at the box office, get roundly denounced as juvenile, crude, and misogynistic** by critics, and maybe even marginally - in some small way - incentivize film studios not to produce things that are juvenile, crude, and misogynistic. Maybe (probably?) that won't happen, but as it stands, the movie studios aren't being punished for making a bad movie, they're being punished for making fun of a totalitarian dictator. There's no way that a North Korean-spurred movie cancelation moves our culture to a more just place. There is a chance - perhaps small, but nonetheless a nonzero one - that the spectacle of a movie that is crude, juvenile, and misogynistic that bombs at the box office and is roundly denounced actually does accomplish what these writers want to accomplish.
Furthermore, and this can't be emphasized enough, we have private American companies bowing to the terrorist threats of a totalitarian dictator. This should shock us, as members of a western liberal democracy - and it certainly matters that we have Americans cheering the decision and ignoring the means by which it was accomplished.
They may not be endorsing the means by which a dislikable movie has been removed from the market, but it should still surprise us that they're ignoring those means. We might have one fewer bad movie to watch out for - but we also have set a precedent for our artistic autonomy to be subjugated by a terrorist foreign power. This was a bad week for American expression.
* Editors' note: I have not seen The Interview. Noah from Hot Air denounced commentators attacking the movie without having seen it. If you want to preface every adjective I use for the movie in this piece with "I think it looks," that would be fine, but was awkward to write. For all I know, it could subvert my expectations (that's happened before, after all).
**Note 2: Again, I have no way to judge if the movie actually is crude, juvenile, and misogynistic, but I'm granting those premeses here to take on those authors' arguments.