Why Pulling 'The Interview' Proves We've All Become Cowards
If you're the kind of person who spends a lot of time on the Internet, you're probably aware that Sony just pulled its upcoming feature film The Interview due to threats of terrorism. (If you're not the kind of person who spends a lot of time on the Internet, welcome to Cracked! We're like the New York Times of stuff you read while you're pooping.)
The Interview, starring Seth Rogen and that fuck who wiped out humanity in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is a comedy about assassinating the dictator of North Korea. Said tyrant wasn't happy with this, and his government threatened a strong and merciless response if Sony went through with the film's planned Christmas Day release. Shortly thereafter, Sony was hacked, a bunch of embarrassing out-of-touch-rich-executive emails were shared with the world, and for one brief second North Korean sympathizers actually made the world a better place.
Can you imagine life without knowing this is what an email from Channing Tatum looks like?
Then those same anonymous sources threatened mass murder if the film opened. Theaters began pulling out like a bunch of condomless teenagers and, ultimately, Sony canceled The Interview's release. New Regency followed by canceling an upcoming Steve Carell film about North Korea, and it's become abundantly clear that we won't see any movies set in that country for a long, long time.
All this may seem like a sudden burst of crazy brought on by the Sony hack, but it's really just the culmination of years' worth of wussing out. The sad truth is ...
We've Been Letting Angry, Crazy People Rule Us for Years
Remember earlier this year when Anita Sarkeesian tried to give a speech at Utah State University and had to back out because crazy assholes on the Internet threatened to murder her?
The Internet is a peerless tool for the sharing of knowledge, and also death threats.
If that last sentence was gibberish, this should catch you up: Sarkeesian is a critic on the Internet who makes videos about how video games can be holy shit, kind of sexist, you guys. In a sane world, her work would provoke discussion and lively debate among video game fans and designers alike. But because this is the real world, they've mostly provoked hordes of sociopaths on the Internet to threaten her with murder and rape.
From what I can tell, Utah State University was willing to go through with the speech, and so was Sarkeesian, but the police informed her that they'd have to let people with concealed handguns enter, and she got scared. That's totally understandable: one person can't be expected to take that kind of a risk for video games. In theory, situations like this are one of those rare times where we should be glad for giant corporations: they can afford to take those risks, because they have resources normal people can't call upon and are generally much harder to kill with a single bullet.
Walmart doesn't sell enough bullets to kill Walmart.
But back in 2006, when the creators of South Park faced death threats from sociopathic nutfucks over an episode that *gasp* might include a completely innocuous depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, the giant corporation that ran their network chickened out and refused to air the uncensored episode. Not because they thought an actual terrorist attack was likely but because they knew the ongoing threats would scare paying customers.
You see ...
Big Corporations Are More Worried About Our Fear Than a Terrorist Attack
Hey, remember when South Park was able to feature Muhammad as a character way back in 2001, and no one batted an eye?
HIT THE FUCKING DECK!
Or when Team America: World Police hit theaters around the world in 2005, and nobody gave a fuck that it made North Korea angry?
Fly, you fools!
Well, that wonderful episode of South Park is now banned as shit on TV, and Paramount just banned independent theaters from showing Team America (they wanted to do showings this week as an act of protest). It seems like the kind of thing they're doing out of craven fear that an attack will happen and they'll be liable. But for them, it's all about money.
These studios and theaters aren't pancreasing* out because they're legitimately worried about the statistically near zero risk of a terrorist attack. It turns out dogs and major media companies alike can smell our fear. Those hackers were smart enough to threaten 9/11, and despite the fact that Cheetos kill many 9/11s worth of people every year, just hearing someone say 9/11 makes us lose our fucking minds.
*Pussies are incredibly tough. Pancreases, on the other hand, can't take a hit for shit.
Cheetos make us lose our minds too, as a matter of fact.
Hollywood seems like a big, dumb sequel-shitting animal, but it's also got a powerful sense of empathy. Studio execs get to snort cocaine and powdered rhino horn through platinum straws only so long as they're able to accurately anticipate the wants and moods of the buying public, aka us. And the last few years have shown them ...
We'll Do Anything to Avoid Being Afraid
So it looks like The Interview might not have been very good at all. That may have been part of why Sony was so willing to drop it, but you've got to keep in mind that the theater chains caved first. Even if Sony had somehow found a set of nuts and gone ahead with the release, very few people would've been able to see it. The theaters backed out not because they were super worried about the threat of terrorism but because they thought we'd be scared and avoid going to the movies altogether. They bet their money on the irrational fear of the American people.
And they were right.
It's like betting on every number on the roulette wheel.
One thing we've seen recently is we scare really easily, as long as the threat is exotic and/or foreign. See: Ebola and the overreaction to terrorism. Social media lets this stuff spread with the speed of a celebrity death or a 13-minute parody of a sitcom intro. And the media knows that every panic comes with a fortune worth of clicks, even if all the coverage is nothing but lies and lies about lies.
The tiniest suggestion of terrorism is enough to get the wheels of this fear engine churning. The hackers who made these threats in the first place knew that. They hit us where we're weak, and where we're weak is that our culture and economy are based on keeping people in abject fear of everything, all the time. The only fears we're not reminded of on an hourly basis are the things we should be afraid of (heart disease, diabetes, freshwater depletion, etc.) because those can be solved only by consuming less. And that would mean spending less money.
And then what will become of our wallets?
But fears about bullshit come with whole empires worth of products. Scared of terrorists? Buy a gun! Or a bulletproof backpack! Spend money on a nice TV and good locks and never, ever leave your house. It's these expensive, bullshit fears that are going to screw us. Because when we're afraid, it overrides everything -- even the principles we hold most dear. We don't need our own dictator; we'll toss out the whole Bill of Rights as quickly as we stress-eat a bag of Cheetos, as long as it calms us down.
So here's my prediction: the media will keep cashing in on our fear of violent crazy people -- making us more scared of them in the process -- and we'll thus pancreas out every time someone makes something that might piss one of those crazy people off. You know, the same crazy people the media just gave us an irrational fear of. I mean, why wouldn't we be scared of North Korea? Hollywood just told us they are capable of wiping out the U.S. military.
And I further predict that this will not be the last time our entirely fear-based culture comes back to bite us in the ass.
For more on the subject of how the media makes you scared of the world, check out 5 Reasons America Can Calm the F#@% Down About Ebola and 5 Reasons Humanity Desperately Wants Monsters to Be Real