See ‘The Interview,’ Or Don’t — Neither Option Makes You a Hero

Some people like to spend their holidays surrounded by presents, family, and an inadvisable amount of sugar cookies. And some people — Texans, obviously — like to spend their holidays not only seeing The Interview, the bro comedy that inadvertently made Amy Pascal America’s favorite poet, but singing “Proud to Be an American” at the screening. This, like many reactions to The Interview and its release, is dumb. 

Last week, film editor Jason Bailey handily dismantled some of the more fallacious arguments against releasing the latest Franco-Rogen bromantic comedy. These largely fell into two camps: arguments that The Interview didn’t look very good, and (this part is implied) only movies/books/etc. that pass an entirely subjective, ever-shifting standard of “good” deserve to be protected; and attacks on a hastily constructed straw man, who believed The Interview‘s cancellation was the worst thing to ever happen and was constitutionally incapable of caring about both this and other bad things. Never mind that the latter school embodied this very straw man by claiming they’re too busy caring about said bad things to give a crap about The Interview.

Neither of these claims held up to much scrutiny, but luckily, they didn’t have to! The Interview may not be in wide release, but should you desire to watch our nation’s foremost Instagram creep collude with Janis Ian to blow up the leader of North Korea, you can do that in 300 independent movie theaters across the nation, including the Alamo Draft House in Austin, where that Lee Greenwood karaoke sesh went down. The Interview is also available on YouTube, and Google Play, and XBox Video.

In short, Sony did the right thing: the studio allowed distributors to assume the risk of showing The Interview, whether in a theater or via VOD, if they wanted to, while major chains like AMC could — and did — opt out for entirely understandable reasons of safety and/or business. State-supported cyberterrorism did not successfully bully a creative product out of the marketplace, and a horrible precedent was not set. Whether or not people saw the movie was now entirely up to them, not Sony or North Korean hacker. Fight’s over, right?

Nope! Because the aggressive grandstanding on both sides of the argument has continued, only worse. On the one hand, there’s the “Proud to Be an American” crew of free speech crusaders, who now insist it’s our patriotic duty to spend money on a movie that, frankly, looks terrible. And on the other, there are those who loudly declare via social media that they’re not seeing the movie, presenting a slightly retooled version of the it’s-too-dumb-to-defend argument: now that The Interview‘s available, we can all see how unworthy it was of defending all along. The straw man’s been slightly adjusted, too, in the form of the Interview-pushing hordes said non-viewers position themselves against. Those hordes exist, but judging by The Interview‘s paltry earnings so far, they’re hardly the majority of the American public.

Clearly, no one is obligated to see any movie, let alone one that is, in all likelihood, as crudely unfunny and racist as its premise makes it look. I wouldn’t know: yesterday, I opted to spend my time and money marveling at Steve Carrell’s prosthetic nose, not Kim Jong Un’s fictional assassination. But just because I have no desire to see a movie doesn’t mean it’s not important that people be able to see it if they want to. 

It’s true that once a movie’s cleared the hurdle to release, it’s fair game to be judged on its own merits. No one claiming that The Interview plays a bona fide human rights atrocity for cheap laughs is stifling free expression; they’re participating in it. And those who argue otherwise are the same boneheaded portion of the population who wave around the First Amendment whenever the Daniel Tosh side of the Great Rape Joke Debate rears its ugly, sophomoric head.

And yet. And yet! Just because The Interview is out in the world doesn’t erase the fact that Seth Rogen and his fans and even President Freaking Obama fought way, way harder than they should have had to for its right to exist. People with bad taste seeing and enjoying a movie in bad taste may not be the most important right, but it’s still a right. Staying away is a right, too, but it doesn’t make anyone a valiant holdout against the hive mind — it makes them a person with the ability to make that decision for themselves, rather than having Sony’s cowardice make it for them.

In short, no one here’s a hero: not Seth Rogen, not Sony, not viewers, not boycotters. But whether we like it or not, The Interview‘s release is a victory. Acknowledging it as thus and avoiding it, or even disliking it, are not mutually exclusive.