Releasing “The Interview” on Christmas: What Would Jesus Say?


Judging from the enthusiastic response on social media, Sony’s decision to release the movie “The Interview” on Christmas day seems to be a victory for the American way of life, but there is a tragic irony in the very truth of that view. For the “way of life” thus vindicated is addicted to a view of freedom as the right to say and do anything one wants, indifferent to the substance of what is actually being said in freedom’s name.
billboardPersonally, I am repulsed by the prospect of a distributor releasing on Christmas Day a public film depicting the assassination of a living person as something “funny.” Apart from the fact that such a film is provocative toward a North Korean leadership and culture that already appears fear-saturated and perhaps dangerous, made by producers and evidently actors who think that it is some kind of progressive political act to engage in this kind of provocation, the theme of the film should be seen as offensive and even shocking to anyone with an open heart and a respect for human life. What is funny about depicting the murder of a named individual who is currently alive? And how is it reflective of any spiritual meaning of Christmas to release such a film on a day celebrating the birth of Christ, or to non-Christians, celebrating at the very least family gatherings based upon loving human connection?
The entire public discussion of “The Interview” has focused not a whit on the actual moral substance of the film and exclusively on the importance of an ideal of free expression, no matter how offensive the expression is. This amoral view of the substance of freedom is reflected not just in relation to “artistic” freedom and the First Amendment, but also in relation to the freedom of a “free market” that sees workers mainly as factors of production-for- profit rather than beautiful human beings deserving of respect and dignity and that exploits the natural world without regard to beauty of creation and the sacredness of all life through which creation, whatever its wondrous origin, is made manifest . Freedom conceived in this way also embraces, in the name of democracy, a political process that vindicates the ability of billionaires to manipulate the consciousness of a society of isolated and socially separated television-watchers in order to influence their voting patterns.
To me, the spiritual-progressive meaning of Christmas is that we human beings should affirm our capacity for love of one another, and that we should aspire to the creation of a world that embodies that loving impulse in all that we do and all that we create. This would mean devoting our moral presence in our time on earth to co-creating a world beyond the present narrow liberal worldview that, while recognizing its importance in having helped to liberate earlier generations from state-sponsored and religion-sponsored bigotry and persecution, today legitimizes a fearful, individualistic culture cut off from the deep, rarely-affirmed longing in each of us to fully recognize one another’s sacred and beautiful humanity and our equally powerful longing to bring into being a beloved community in which that capacity for mutual sight is more fully manifested.
Of course it is a bad idea for a film distributor to be intimidated into not showing a film because of blackmail or threats. But it is also important not to make a fetish of the form of freedom to the point that we cannot see and respond ethically to the moral substance of what that freedom produces. From that substantive point of view, the decision by Sony to release “The Interview” on Christmas Day, and to make such a film in the first place, is deflating and discouraging.
And yet…Merry Christmas!

12 thoughts on “Releasing “The Interview” on Christmas: What Would Jesus Say?

  1. Freedom of speech also means the right to offend. There is a lot of material out there that is protected by the 1st amendment I find offensive, an example being Holocaust denial websites.the simple fact is that our freedom of speech is protected. If Sony wants to release a silly comedy about Kim, so be it. I’m sure Kim understands that right. Too bad strict censorship is the law of the land in North Korea. It’s not the 1st time a foreign leader has been disparaged in film. Why the sudden concern? Judging by the on going threats by North Korea, Kim can be insulted as much as possible. Note that the author is commenting on a film he has not yet seen. He cannot say whether North Korean culture wa insulted. Also note, Kim us an atheist. so he never gets into the Christmas spirit. Bah humbug!

  2. What a crying shame you had to waist valuable space with this piece. I have not seen the movie and really was not interested, but have YOU seen the move? How do you know it’s provocative towards North Korean “culture”, what ever that is. And what’s wrong with it. There are words on Tikkun Daily that are provocative to a whole hots of cultures and a leaders. Should Tikkun be blackmailed as a result? or is it just the politically acceptable who can be provoked? This is not the 1st time foreign leaders have been insulted in the big screen. You might want to consider what Charley Chaplin did with Hitler Mussolini in “The Great Dictator” or perhaps Saddam Hussein in “Hot Shots Part Deux”.
    The US has these laws protection the freedom of speech that we all value. That means that we may see things that are uncomfortable. I have seen loads of Holocaust denial websites protected buy the 1st amendment. They may be vile, but it’s legal to post them. I really don’t get it. I would think one would be upset with the act of hacking and the threats leveled against the US if the movie were to be released. But no, Kim, a brutal dictator who enslaves his people is the victim here and we are the evil imperialists.
    Finally I cannot see how Kim is ever in the Christmas spirit. For a Communist atheist, December 25th is just another day. I’ll not see the movie because it got terrible reviews, but I will celebrate its release as a means of embracing free speech under the shadow of a threat but someone who believes in brutal censorship,
    Merry Christmas.

  3. I think Jack is missing the point of this blog entirely. Gabel isn’t advocating censorship or celebrating the North Korean dictator, merely pointing out that there is something seriously wrong with making a movie that depicts assassinating a living person, even if that person is a dictator. North Korea was the US’s first Cold War battleground and is a country we helped destroy. Since ahistorical demonization of foreign dictators has gotten this country in a lot trouble in the last decade, I think Gabel is brilliant to reach beneath the arguments about free speech–which he is not advocating against for Christ’s sake (literally) – but rather questioning the frothing idiocy of the celebration of its release on a day that once stood for the birth of one of the most radical, commie Jews that ever lived. Personally, I’m so grateful to have this view represented. I was disappointed to see Mother Jones posted “USA! USA!” on their blog as a response to Sony’s release. This is WHY I read Tikkun and is Tikkun fare through and through. Never stop, Peter Gabel!

    • Deborah,
      You really are painting North Korea as a victim of US military aggression. I really think yu need to get your facts straight to begin with. North Korea invaded South Korea and it was a UN action that defended it. North Korean aggression continues today. I guess history really was not your forte.
      As for the movie, it probably would have been buried in the pile of lousy movies, but North Korea of who ever decide to hack into a company to stop the release. That is a serious crime. I support freedom of speech no matter how ugly it is.
      By the way, Charley Chaplan demonized Hitler and Mussolini in “The Great Dictator” prior to the US going to war against the Axis. Was that wrong as well?

  4. Thank you so much for bringing your expert opinion of law and human behavior to this issue of world wide interest. Many my readers are exposed to incredible bad news concerning North Korea and frightened by the prospects of retaliation. Others insulted by the idea that Americans are being bullied. Thank you for your perspective. Merry Christmas!

    • Why fear retaliation? i really do not get it. is that how yo want to live, in fear of expressing yourself? It’s not America being “bullied”. It’s company being blackmailed. Why does Kim escape condemnation by the Tikkun community while Sony is being condemned for making a silly movie. Is that how the Tikkun community is? Tikkun writers think nothing of comparing Israel and its leaders to the Nazis. I disposes readlng such material, but I embrace the right to put in print. I am beside myself.

  5. I support Peter Gabel’s viewpoint on this 100%. Free expression is a democratic value, yes; but it is not unlimited. The classic example: one does not have the “freedom” to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre.
    It is obvious that the values of the market, and not the human and humane values to which Peter Gabel refers have been the dominant ones in this whole sad saga. The political relationship between North Korea, a paranoid state, and the west is a delicate one. No-one with a sense of the possible political difficulties the production of this inane film could generate for the American government could want to make or distribute it.
    I am particularly glad to see this article because I have been planning to write a blog on the subject, linking it with another previous and egregious, indeed foolish incident (the publication of The Satanic Verses), and with the classical virtue of prudence. I will certainly be quoting this article in my blog.

    • What about Charley Chaplain’s, the Great Dictator where Hitler and Mussolini were demonized before the US entered the war. Was that like shouting fire in a theater?
      “I am particularly glad to see this article because I have been planning to write a blog on the subject, linking it with another previous and egregious, indeed foolish incident (the publication of The Satanic Verses), and with the classical virtue of prudence. I will certainly be quoting this article in my blog.”
      I noticed that yo did not condemn those who called for Rushdie’s death. Yeah, I get it.

  6. Deb is right. I am thankful for Gabel’s uncomfortable reminder that I should not have been relishing Sony’s decision. His column isn’t about free speech or in defense of wretched North Korean leadership but about our failure as Americans, especially as spiritual progressives, or rather my failure in both roles to notice the most important value violated, reverence for all life.

  7. That assumes that it would have been possible to determine, when they were 18, that Stalin, Mao, and HItler were going to end up being bloodsoaked tyrants.
    I despise the North Korean state, but, really, how could we be surprised that Kim Jong Un would be offended at a film that ends with his own(gruesome)assassination?
    And really, what good would it do to assassinate the latest Kim? EVERYONE ELSE in his regime’s leadership shares all of his views. It’s not as though killing one guy was going to liberate the place.
    As to Chaplin satirizing Hitler…The Great Dictator ended up with Chaplin’s tramp character(speaking for the first and last time)who had been impersonating “Adenoid Hynkel”, the Hitler figure, dropping character and issuing a stirring call for the people of Tomainia (the country substituting for Germany) and the world to reject fascism and create a life of justice, freedom and beauty for all-it didn’t end with Chaplin’s tramp blowing Hynkel’s brains out in extreme close-up. So it’s absurd to compare Chaplin’s film(one of the only anti-Nazi films made in Hollywood before World War II-others were only made after the war had started, at which time they had become pointless and superfluous)to Rogen and Franco’s excuse for combining stoner jokes and splattered cerebral tissue.
    Yes, movies have a right to criticize, to lampoon, to satirize, and to call out tyranny, injustice and hypocrisy. But they also have an obligation not to be stupid, gross, and reckless in doing so.

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