Censorship is an interesting concept. The idea behind it is to remove speech which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive or politically incorrect. But in reality, it manages to have a completely different effect.
Sony’s latest release, The Interview, has hit the news almost every day over the last couple of weeks due to North Korea’s threats against the United States if they released the film in cinemas. It is an unenviable position for Sony. Either they kowtow to the demands of North Korea by imposing censorship on the American public or they defy North Korea’s demands and risk a potential terrorism disaster.
That is certainly not a decision that I would want to make!
But, unfortunately for North Korea, these threats have created quite a different outcome than they would have desired.
Let’s not get confused about the subject matter at hand. We aren’t talking about high-brow entertainment. It is a comedy movie about a talk show host and his producer who attempt to assassinate the leader of North Korea. In fairness, the movie’s topic is a bit tacky. Do we really need to create a movie about killing the leader of a country which clearly disagrees with the United States’ method of government? However, at the same time, demanding censorship in another country isn’t really acceptable either.
And it would have actually been in North Korea’s interest not to demand censorship.
The movie was originally planned to be released on October 10, 2014. This is not the best time of the year to release a film. Teenagers are back in school. Businesses are getting ready for the end of year crunch. And your average movie consumer is well aware that the crazy festive season is approaching very quickly from the horizon. We aren’t really looking for a reason to go to the movies.
Sure, it would have drawn a sizeable crowd of Seth Rogen and James Franco fans but it would have also alienated another section of the audience who don’t appreciate the delicate subject matter.
But what happened instead . . .
Sony were forced to publicly announce that they were pulling the release of The Interview. All of a sudden it was no longer about a comedy movie, it became a matter of national censorship. And we all know that nothing is more appealing than when it is banned. Something is triggered in our innate human desire. A new need that can only be satisfied by breaking rules.
As a result, the hype around this film built over a longer lead time. It became a matter of freedom from oppression. And the eventual release date moved to the most popular movie release day of the year . . . December 25.
Controversy is a fantastic marketing tool. It generates unbeatable word of mouth while fuelling an even stronger need to engage. That is exactly what happened for The Interview. Audiences have gone through the roof as it becomes the must-see movie of the season because two weeks ago everyone was told that they could not see it.