“The Interview” is another example of American global naiveté
Americans take our entertainment seriously. When “The Interview” was first announced, I rolled my eyes and sighed. I knew that it would dominate the news cycle for a while—cable news would endlessly debate the reactions ...
I did not expect hacked emails, a Sony surrender, the cancellation of other North Korea-based projects, and Paramount banning “Team America: World Police” from theaters. It’s a strange reaction for a strange time. The outcry afterwards is expected, of course. Americans refuse to be told what media we can and cannot consume. Others have pointed out that our intense reaction at this particular incident (beyond other issues like the CIA torture report or the newly minted economic relationship with Cuba) is indicative of a larger disconnect between the American Public and things that really matter.
It’s a fair assessment, to be sure, but one that misses the mark. This isn’t about a James Franco movie. No one is really clamoring to see “The Interview” because it’s good. It’s about expectation and appearances. It’s about a precedent that has now been set. But mostly, it’s about money. It always is.
Americans revere business as much as they revere the Constitution. American companies are expected to follow a certain set of unspoken rules, one of which is not capitulating to known dictators. However, it’s important to note that Sony Pictures Entertainment is simply an American subsidiary of a multinational, Japanese-based technology and media conglomerate.
It’s easy to get confused, as Sony Pictures owns the rights to very American products, like “Spider-man” and “Men in Black.” It’s also easy to laugh at North Korea when it’s so far away and not test-firing missiles into our ocean a few times a year. When North Korea declares that the release of a film will be considered an act of war, we can giggle and make jokes and ignore it.
But for many areas of the world, North Korea isn’t funny. It is a threat—how much of one depends on whom you ask.
The Sony Corporation has considerable stakes in the Asian market. They are unlikely to actively contribute to regional instability for an American comedy film. Some 70 percent of film profits come from the international market. Maintaining this is extremely important; losing distribution in China, for instance, would be devastating. China has relations with North Korea and an interest in keeping them placated. We don’t know what type of pressure Sony is under. They are in the business of making money, after all.
At the same time, Americans abhor “cowardice” for any reason. Our love of capitalism is frequently set aside for patriotic bravado. As the world becomes a global marketplace, our ideals are going to clash with the outside world. The primary export of the United States is culture. The prevalence of McDonald’s in every corner of the world is as responsible for our position as a superpower as our military might. American film is a carrier for our values, and when those values are rejected, we consider it a threat.
I have asked many people how we would react if an entertainment film depicting the assassination of a sitting president by North Korean operatives were released in Asia. They all agreed that cable news would erupt in a firestorm of seething anger but that we would never hack the emails of another country in retaliation. And, of course, we wouldn’t, because…we’re already doing that in the name of national security. Let’s not hold our heads so high.
This is not the first time an American film has been affected by the Asian market. The original script for the 2012 remake of “Red Dawn” called for Chinese aggressors. A leaked script caused uproar in Chinese state-run newspapers and the antagonist was changed to an alliance between a highly militarized North Korea and an ultranationalistic Russia. The change was made so that the film could play in Asia.
Instead of asking why Sony canceled “The Interview,” maybe we should ask how the film got made in the first place. Someone at Sony dropped the ball, but it happened long before now. Art is a commodity in the world and we shouldn’t be surprised when it’s treated like one.