Sunday, December 28, 2014

SONY yells “Fire!” in a crowded theater

It has been more than a couple of years since my college days and there is much I don't remember.  Among the artifacts of memory is a course in Constitutional Law which included an analysis of the First Amendment (freedom of speech, et. al.) and one of the poignant points of that study was that free speech is not absolute and the classic example that it is not ok to falsely yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater.  It should come as no surprise to my regular readers that MyTurnQuips would offer a contrarian perspective from most Americans (including George Clooney and his merry band of privileged elites) in regards to SONY and the making of “The Interview” and the alleged actions of North Korea.

Yes, I understand comedy and perhaps a spoof isn't the same as a specific threat or an encouragement to riot (neither being acceptable within our framework of free speech).  However, I would point out that humor is in the eye of the beholder and while in many instances we have become too politically correct and too thin skinned in some areas in other areas we stretch the limits of free speech.  Free speech cannot dismiss common sense and good manners.  For example, I recall ancient history in high school and Danny G from New York City moved into our rural school.  Danny G was a bit of a duck out of water and it quickly became known that freedom of speech at Jefferson Central did not extend to talking about Danny G's momma.  Let's draw some modern analogies – would it be acceptable for one student to “spoof” another student on YouTube or would we consider this “cyber bullying”?  Does it matter if the spoofed student is popular and maybe a “good sport” or if the student is unpopular?  Does the subject matter of the spoof matter?  For example, is a spoof depicting someone's perceived clumsiness ok, but a spoof about killing them not ok?  I think when you start teasing out some of these analogies, the wisdom of a film such as “The Interview” becomes more questionable.

Second, lets compare and contrast a past movie, “The Dictator” with SONY's “The Interview”.  Both are comedies about a perceived tyrannical ruler.  While I suspect Kim Jong may not laugh at either, there are some very appreciable distinctions.  Both “The Dictator” and “The Interview” portrayed the main subject as a buffoon.  “The Dictator” was a composite of perceived dictatorial personalities; whereas “The Interview” clearly identifies a specific individual.  Finally, the plot of “The Interview” went well beyond poking fun; the underlying plot is the murder of a specific individual.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate freedom of speech – I'm exercising it right now by publishing an unpopular opinion.  However, if someone were to post a spoof of me on YouTube where the theme was a plan to kill me, I know I would take offense.  Similarly, if there were a spoof to assassinate a specific President, I suspect many would not be laughing.

I opened this post with a reference to the First Amendment, but of course the First Amendment does not apply outside of the United States.  Some may point to international law and the absence of a prohibition of a production such as “The Interview” pointing to legality within international law.  The reality is that international law is generally law that is agreed upon between nations and when it comes to the United States and North Korea, little is agreed upon.  Thus, ruling out national constitutional law and international law leaves only good judgment... and as is apparent from those hacked SONY emails, good judgment is something sorely lacking in Hollywood.  Perhaps during this holiday season folks should stop rattling their sabers long enough to consider the golden rule.  Happy Christmas... and that includes you too, Kim Jong.