Due to pressure from North Korea, Sony Pictures has decided to cancel all plans to release The Interview, a previously upcoming comedy in which the CIA enlists two journalists (Seth Rogan and James Franco) to assassinate Kim Jong Un. Many are aghast at this decision. They wonder why Sony would cave, and decry this cowardice as a major loss for freedom of speech. Well, it’s not a loss, folks. This is actually good news for freedom of speech. It seems that people have forgotten, once again, what freedom of speech really means.
You see, “comedians” James Franco and Seth Rogan decided they could make a movie in which they parody the murder of a human being. Fair enough, make your movie, you have freedom of speech. What you don’t have is freedom to release the movie or make money off of it. That’s not something you’re entitled to. Show me in the first amendment where it says that. It doesn’t.
No, Sony realized that the movie was offensive, and because of that, they realized Kim Jong Un probably wouldn’t purchase a ticket to go see it. Is Sony required to lose that 15 dollars they would have made, just to make a point about not censoring artists? Of course not. We can’t infringe on Sony’s right to bend to the demands of a dictator, just like we can’t infringe on the rights of corporations to fire a disposable employee because some anonymous person on Tumblr said they were racist.
Yeah, it seems like it’s been a rough year for comedians who just don’t understand what freedom of speech means. Never mind the fact that “comedian” is just a code switch for “racist white man,” and is essentially the job title equivalent of saying “I’m not racist I have black friends.” It appears that comedians think freedom of speech means you have the right to make money off of jokes that make people uncomfortable. But that’s not what freedom of speech is. Freedom of speech is about speaking truth to power, punching up, and only criticizing the things that I disagree with.
Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences. James Franco and Seth Rogan have the right to say whatever they want. Kim Jong Un has the right to call them assholes. And he also has the right to put economic pressure on their employers to make sure that they don’t say things he doesn’t like in the future. It’s not censorship. It’s only censorship if the police are involved. If it’s just threats, then it’s not censorship. Let me know when the police arrest Seth Rogan and James Franco. Then it’s censorship.
It seems like any time a white man loses his job for doing something offensive we have to remind people that it’s not censorship unless you go to jail. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to just say unpopular things and not face financial and social consequences. It doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to criticize authoritarian governments and keep your job.
Paula Deen? Not censorship. Anthony Cumia? Not censorship. Donald Sterling? Not censorship. The Interview? Not censorship. What these cases represent are painful but tiny stepping stones to a world without offensive speech. It’s called progress, people. It’s called changing the way we interact with each other. It’s about understanding the true definition of freedom of speech. The one in which people are free to say things that don’t disrupt the branding strategies of their employer. It’s about making sure that anything you say, especially in an age where everything is recorded and documented, is carefully processed through the subconscious fear of insolvency. It’s about freeing speech itself from the oppression of dissent.