But the more immediate, prevalent, and troubling reaction has been, in a nutshell, “Eh, who cares, it’s just a dumb Seth Rogen movie.” My Twitter feed is full of progressive, artistic types, so I was a little shocked to see how many of them weren’t feeling the anger because the movie wasn’t worth it. Another Rogen/Franco stoner bromance, who gives a shit, huh? Call me when it’s an important movie. To which I say, right-on, cheerio, let’s all get together and make a list of the filmmakers and authors and musicians and artists who are worth fighting for.. OH WAIT, THAT’S NOT HOW ART WORKS.
Even if the product is dubiously artistic, the battle for artistic freedom is everyone’s, and if you don’t defend it when it’s something that doesn’t matter to you, you can’t say much when it’s something that does. Or, as Larry Flynt puts it in The People Vs. Larry Flynt, “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbug like me, it’ll protect all of you.” That film dramatizes how a cheap, vulgar parody ad in Hustler magazine became one of the most important free speech cases in American legal history, and I don’t think you need me to connect the dots here.
The precedent has been set, and it’s a chilling one. As film writer Noah Gittel asked last night, what happens if a white supremacist group makes a terror threat because they’re mad at Selma? Does it get pulled? And as far as the long-term implications, studios are already running scared; Sony hadn’t even made the final call on The Interview yet when New Regency pulled the plug on Pyongyang, a North Korea-set thriller starring Steve Carell, which was set to shoot in March. Sure, The Interview was a stupid, goofy, mildly offensive stoner comedy about North Korea. But, as Kyle Ryan sensibly asks in Entertainment Weekly, “When someone does finally write a big, important movie about North Korea — the nation’s equivalent of The Killing Fields — will Hollywood be too skittish to make it?” If you don’t know the answer to that question, well, you haven’t been paying attention.