Hollywood, offensive speech and why ‘The Interview’ actually matters

TheIntSome neocons like to argue that the protections afforded by the First Amendment really only apply to political speech — that artistic speech of a non-political nature simply isn’t subject to the same rigorous scrutiny. (Even political speech to them doesn’t include, apparently, blocking traffic or wearing T-shirts on the field at sporting events) And while no one has probably ever referred to what Seth Rogen does as art, the free expression issues raised in the controversy over his new film, The Interview, reach the level of serious discussion.

If you haven’t heard, the comedy — which was supposed to screen for local critics tonight and open in Dallas on Christmas Day — is a about the comical attempts of a talk show host and his producer to assassinate Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s dictator. Last month, pro-North Korean factions hacked the private servers of Sony (the parent company of Columbia Pictures, which is releasing the film), and disclosed all sorts of embarrassing details about the company, and threatened to blow up movie theaters who dared screen the film which dares parody the leader of the most oppressive regime in the world. In other words, to these guys, there is no such this as protection for free expression of ideas, even stupid ones. (I suppose they have that in common with a lot of folks at FoxNews — ironic, since FoxNews specializes in stupid ideas.)

Yesterday, Sony caved to pressure, and yanked the film from distribution, not even planning  for a video-on-demand or DVD release at a later date. The ironic thing was, many hours after the decision had been announced, commercials for The Interview we’re still appearing on cable TV shows, promising a movie viewers would never see.

Without defending the specifics of The Interview (which I have not seen), keep in mind what this says about society: The Interview is a fantastical comedy, albeit about one real person (highly fictionalized). Comedy is key to this. But what other films actually opening on Christmas Day? A story about another real person, only it’s a true story: Louis Zamperini was brutally tortured by the Japanese during World War II (Unbroken); astonishingly, Japan has not required that the film be censored, nor have Japanese-American groups threatened terrorism for portraying their people in a negative light. Another true story is about a gay man, who also happens to be the greatest mathematician of the 20th century, who was unjustly treated by the horrific homophobia of the British system in the 1950s (The Imitation Game). To date, Queen Elizabeth has not demanded an apology. And in the Dec. 25 release American Sniper, real marksman Chris Kyle methodically uses a long-range rifle to kill a prepubescent boy in Afghanistan, then immediately turns his site on the boy’s mother and takes her out as well. (They were wielding grenades at U.S. troops.) The Islamic community so far has not declared a jihad on the studio.

Then there’s a movie in which a key plot point is a young African-American orphan is kidnapped (Annie) … a movie where a witch practicing dark arts casts spells to keep a couple barren, and people die as a result of their bad behavior — no happy endings in Into the Woods … even in The Gambler, African-Americans and Koreans are portrayed as thuggish gangsters (I guess impugning South Koreans is OK)  All in all, this season at the movies is rife with controversy, downbeat themes, violence, injustice, and brutality — often at the hands of people who might otherwise be offended at the characterization. But only the comedy about a country that doesn’t even know the Internet exists is being pulled from theater.

To be fair, Sony didn’t have many options. Major theater chains had refused to show the film, citing safety concerns. But think about what this statement says on the same day the U.S. announced efforts to normalize relations with another oppressive dictatorship, Cuba. It’s a message that tyranny wins, and self-expression isn’t an absolute. The loudest voices can drown out the sensible ones. It’s sad that all this time, we were worried about North Korea having nuclear capabilities, when all they really needed was wifi.

It would appear that the neocons have been proven right: Freedom of expression may very well be dead … and not just in North Korea.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Ann Coulter, the right-wing Judy Garland? Oh puleeze!

Pundit turned stand-up for GOProud’s Homocon, and the jokes were all on the gays

Hardy Haberman | Flagging Left

Ann Coulter
Ann Coulter

Last weekend, the queen of the Neocons met the queens of the Homocon in a surreal event in New York City.

The group GOProud invited Ann Coulter to speak to them. This is the same Ann Coulter who called John Edwards a “faggot.” The same Ann Coulter who claims she has “never failed to talk a gay out of gay marriage.”

The same Ann Coulter who the event organizers called “the right-wing Judy Garland.”

From reports by those in attendance, Coulter delivered less of a speech and more of a stand-up routine. I have no problem with comedians, but her show consisted of gays being the punch line of every joke, if you rule out the jokes directed at black people.

Imagine standing in a group of LGBT people listening to and laughing at a straight woman tossing off one liners like, “Marriage is not a civil right. You’re not black!”

I am waiting for the laugh, and I expect I will continue waiting for a while.

Coulter continued her routine with remarks about why gays and abortion foes should band together, “as soon as they find the gay gene, you know who’s getting aborted!”

I am again left astounded at the strangeness of these self-proclaimed conservative gays who apparently feel chumming around with Ann was worth weathering the insults she spewed.

These folk, and there were only about 150 of them, claim they focus on “federal issues” rather than “state issues like marriage.”

I keep hearing echoes of 1950s white Southerner’s talking about “states rights” when they really meant retaining Jim Crow laws.

What these alleged gay conservatives miss is that to the GOP we are just a punch line.

LGBT Americans are not a group of citizens struggling against discrimination, they are just funny fags who can be so amusing and do a fabulous job decorating and styling hair.

To tell a group of LGBT people that civil rights are the sole property of racial minorities is outrageous, but for that same group to actually stand and pay some blonde bimbo to say it while clinking champagne glasses and making chitchat is appalling.

I fully realize that there will be lots of apologists for this strange event. They will say that I misunderstood the intention of the event; it was “to start a dialogue”… etc.

But a dialogue has to have some kind of give and take. It is not just someone talking and another person waiting to talk.

Perhaps there is some common ground for Coulter and her adoring Homocons in the fiscal responsibility I hear touted by the Republicans. But isn’t it funny that she decided to go for gay jokes instead of substance?

There will also be those who defend the Homocons by pointing to the Democratic Party and saying, “Hey, what have you done for LGBT people?”

To them I would say this, “Not enough!”

Still, at least with the Democratic Party, we are part of a real conversation, and we are not thought of as punch lines. We are not limited to the sidelines and asked to passively stand by while we are insulted and demeaned.

And as to the reference to Judy Garland? Well, for those old enough to remember Miss Garland, whose performances I adored, she was a tortured and sad woman who struggled with drug dependency and emotional ups and downs wilder than any rollercoaster. I suspect a lot of gay men admired her ability to persevere in spite of her problems and let her talent soar.

She was both brilliant and sad but she was bursting with enough talent to transcend the struggle and whisk audiences away over her own personal rainbow.

Ann Coulter, on the other hand, may have charmed the self-loathing Homocons with her snappy quips and tasteless attempts at humor, but for me she would be much better cast as the Wicked Witch of the East.

Now, would someone please drop a house on her?

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens