I had no intention of watching The Interview, the satirical comedy where a TV host and his producer travel to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-un and get wrapped up in a CIA plot to kill the dictator. From what little attention I gave it, I decided it would be crass and unfunny. Also, I don’t much like Seth Rogan or James Franco. But then Kim Jong-un told me I mustn’t watch it.
The Supreme Leader of North Korea relies on a carefully preserved public image to bolster his absolute rule. His fictional, on-screen assassination at the hands of two American imbeciles is a threat to that image. So in the closing weeks of 2014, just before The Interview was due to release in cinemas, legions of North Korean hackers attacked Sony (the film’s distributor) and ultimately succeeded in having the film withdrawn from most cinemas.
Without a traditional theatrical release, Sony has released The Interview for online streaming sooner than it otherwise would have. A few days ago, it turned up on Netflix. And because nobody gets to tell me that I can’t laugh laugh at them, I watched it.
The irony for Kim Jong-un is that I wouldn’t have watched The Interview and laughed at his expense had he not made it painfully clear that he really didn’t want me to. It’s a classic case of the Barbara Streisand effect, named after the case where Streisand fought against the publication of photos of her Malibu house, whereupon the publicity of the case caused many more people to look at and share the images than otherwise would have.
I disapprove of your teenage sense of humour, but I will defend to the death your right to make me laugh at penises
The irony for me was that The Interview was much funnier than I expected. Sure, it’s irredeemably juvenile, constantly appealing to the lowest common denominator. But if you can buy into the essential stupidity of it all, it becomes rather fun. Especially if you like dick jokes, of which there are a great, great many.
But of what worth is freedom if it does not allow us to be childish and silly; to indulge in things that have no utility; to do the sort of things that make people wonder if freedom might not in fact be a good idea after all? As Voltaire surely said, “I disapprove of your teenage sense of humour, but I will defend to the death your right to make me laugh at penises”.
And if pompous, self-righteous, misanthropic and unfunny people like Kim Jong-un don’t like it, well…