Monday, December 29, 2014

"The Interview" and Censorship: What Do You Think??

Lately there's been a lot of discussion about the film "The Interview."

This movie, which is fiction of course, involves a plot to assassinate North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un. This angered him, and so to retaliate, he had computer experts hack into the company that made the movie, Sony Pictures. They stole the log-in credentials of a computer systems administrator at Sony, logged into their computers, wiped out hard drives and stole personal data of Sony employees.

Eventually, feeling it was the best solution, Sony decided not to release the movie. However, within a few days, it changed its mind and did release it for on-demand viewing.

What do you think of this? Was it the right thing to do either to not release it, or to release it?

Does it depend on how much of a threat there is by a given country? If we give in to the opinion of another country do we negate our own Bill of Rights?

Essentially this is an issue of censorship. According to Webster's Dictionary, here is the definition of censorship:

Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions.

When we refer to our "First Amendment Rights" We are actually talking about the Bill of Rights in our country's Constitution. This is the part that refers to freedom of speech:

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

"Speech" does not only refer to what you might say, it also includes freedom of expression such as in motion pictures, photographs, sayings on T shirts, signs, or artwork. Notice the freedom of assembly: this means we are free to have demonstrations, marches, sit-ins, and gather to express our opinions.

These freedoms, however, do not include saying or publishing things that are harmful or threatening to others or are illegal, such as slander or pornography. It is not permitted to create a religion, for instance, that says killing people is permitted. Employers do have the right to limit or prohibit demonstrations by their employees on "company time," and any means of threatening our government or national security is not permitted. We have the right to hold a public demonstration, but not the right to incite violence while having the demonstration.

Essentially, by pulling the movie, Sony allowed another country (and its leader) to declare what was and was not allowed in our country. At the same time, Sony had to protect its employees from further harm.

Quoting President Obama on 12-19-14:"We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States," Obama said. "If somebody's able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary they don't like, or news reports they don't like. Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don't want to offend the sensibilities of someone whose sensibilities probably need to be offended."

Then Sony changed its mind, so to speak, and decided it would indeed release the film on pay per view.

There have been forms of censorship through the years in our own country, even though the Bill of Rights was drawn up in 1789 by James Madison. There have been communities that banned books, which will be addressed in another blog, but included Harry Potter, Sleeping Beauty, and even Where's Waldo books. Why? Is there an acceptable reason to ban a book, movie, or CD?

And speaking of movies, what about the Motion Picture Association of America's rating system? Is it a form of censorship to not allow people under a certain age to see a film? Is there value in having an 'explicit language' warning on a CD?

Here is the MPAA's discussion about censorship regarding its films:

Have a discussion about this with your friends or family. What do you think Sony should have done?

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