Many Americans, including President Obama, are righteously concerned about North Korea’s seemingly blatant attack on freedom in its hacking of Sony Pictures, and the threats of violence against any theater that dares screen the movie ‘The Interview.’ The film’s depiction of the assassination of Kim Jong-Il goes beyond acceptable standards for the North Korean dictatorship. The threats go beyond acceptable standards for attacking films, attacking freedom.
Americans should be more concerned though about subtle assaults on American freedom. Assaults where the attacker’s identity is not known, where it’s not even known that an assault is underway. And as in some forms of computer hacking, the participants in the attack don’t even know that they’re being used in one.
America Attacking Freedom
From the 1920’s the American film industry guarded itself carefully from government regulation by imposing self-censorship. Religious leaders applied constant pressure to ensure that Hollywood upheld their standards of morality, in the dress of the characters and the values they portrayed. By the 60’s, the counter-pressure of the demand for profits began to overwhelm the moral codes, to the point that contemporary actors are often expect to fully expose themselves, as they participate in simulated on-screen sex. Morality, restraint was framed as attacking freedom. Censorship and sex swapped positions, as the former became a dirty concept, in place of the latter. On “The Simpsons,” when Marge starts a campaign against a violent children’s television show, she ends up having to defend a Michelangelo statue against censorship. The lesson is that any restrictions or limits are wrong. A cartoon cat having its head blown off is equated to renaissance art.
The fact, in short, is that freedom, to be meaningful in an organized society must consist of an amalgam of hierarchy of freedoms and restraints.
The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives worked intensely to keep Communist influences out of American cinema. Recognizing the tremendous influence of Hollywood on American culture and beliefs, the Committee members understood that films by people who supported socialist ideology could easily sway the public. The heavy-handed blacklists created by the Committee provided fodder for the progressive self-righteousness of the 60’s and 70’s.
In the 21st century, flesh and sex are ubiquitous in entertainment. If the House Un-American Activities Committee were to be examine contemporary Hollywood politics, it would blacklist virtually all of its actors, producers and directors. Today entertainment media conservatives have to keep their beliefs to themselves. Repression and censorship is a two-way street.
So free expression is attacked by an enemy state, North Korea. Free expression is attacked by religious American moralists, by secular American moralists. Congress suppressed liberal Hollywood. Now liberal Hollywood suppresses conservative Hollywood, to the point of driving it underground.
Emirates Attacking Freedom?
But there’s more. Although American religious leaders have lost any say about what goes into films, this doesn’t apply to the Arabian Gulf States. The United Arab Emirates, especially Abu Dhabi, is working hard to attract entertainment production, offering tremendous cost advantages, but with certain strings attached, such as not offending religious sensibilities. While there is little profit to be had in being sensitive to the concerns of American religions, there are significant incentives to follow the rulings of the Imams of the Emirates.
And the Emirates are not just limiting their cinematic influence to Muslim moral standards. Environmental propaganda, funded in part by Middle Eastern oil producers’ campaigns against Western energy independence. Many Arab nations stand to lose a substantial amount of income if fracking opens up an alternative fuel source inside the United States. The actor Matt Damon seemed sincerely surprised that his anti-fracking movie was funded by Mid-East oil interests. Most of the films Abu Dhabi participates in are innocuous, such as The Hundred-Foot Journey, or Men in Black 3. Some are overtly political.
No one will contest that the ruler of North Korea is a lunatic. No one will contest that a nuclear-armed nation led by a lunatic is a serious threat to America and the free world. It’s harder to accept, and more difficult to respond to threats to freedom from friendly nations- ones we do business with. It’s hard to accept that the entertainers we obsess about are collaborating with foreign governments against our interests. That they are, however inadvertently, attacking freedom.
The entertainment industry— movies, television— play a large role in shaping the beliefs and aspirations of America, indeed of the world. Who is shaping, who is controlling the entertainment industry? Who is shaping America, and to what end?
Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.