Christmas at the Movies

Bloomberg News reported the following on December 25:

Sony Pictures’ “The Interview,” the Seth Rogen comedy that sparked a cyber-attack linked to North Korea and threats of violence in theaters, filled cinemas in a limited Christmas Day release across the U.S. without incident.

The film opened in more than 300 locations after becoming available for rent and purchase at Google Play and other websites, according to Sony Corp.’s Culver City, California- based entertainment division. Estimates for ticket sales won’t be available until tomorrow morning, Jean Guerin, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

The fictional account of a plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un became a First Amendment rallying cry when voices from President Barack Obama to the Republican National Committee criticized Sony for canceling the debut. The film has become the rare big-budget movie released simultaneously in theaters and online, and it tests the long held show-business maxim that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Years earlier, Ayn Rand had written the following in an essay entitled, “Don’t Let It Go,” published in her book, “Philosophy: Who Needs It”:

A nation’s sense of life is formed by every individual child’s early impressions of the world around him: of the ideas he is taught (which he may or may not accept) and of the way of acting he observes and evaluates (which he may evaluate correctly or not). And although there are exceptions at both ends of the psychological spectrum—men whose sense of life is better (truer philosophically) or worse than that of their fellow-citizens—the majority develop the essentials of the same subconscious philosophy. This is the source of what we observe as “national characteristics.” . . . .

Just as an individual’s sense of life can be better or worse than his conscious convictions, so can a nation’s. And just as an individual who has never translated his sense of life into conscious convictions is in terrible danger—no matter how good his subconscious values—so is a nation.

This is the position of America today.

If America is to be saved from destruction—specifically, from dictatorship—she will be saved by her sense of life.


I thought of Rand’s comments when I read the following quote by someone giving his reasons for seeing “The Interview” on Christmas Day:

“We didn’t like the fact that someone wanted to tell us we couldn’t see a movie,” said Brian Story, 41, who went with friends to a sold-out showing at the West End Cinema in Washington. “This wouldn’t be the first movie on our list but we decided to come see it just because we could.”

At the end of the day, no matter how wrong-headed or confused people may be about their political, ethical or social positions, they’re either willing to tolerate giving up their freedom — or they’re not. If people won’t tolerate a loss of their freedom, in one area, then this intolerance has the ability to spread to other areas. Rational ideas and principles are required to sustain a move towards freedom, but an emotional attitude must always be its fuel.

On the other hand, if people can tolerate censorship or control in this most personal of areas — music or movies or other forms of entertainment they choose to take in — then the way is surely paved for a dictatorship. These kinds of reactions suggest America isn’t there yet.

The sense of life implied by this quote is of someone who chooses to exercise his freedom — merely because he can. He will not be pushed around. This is an emotional reaction which implies a commitment to principle. If you asked this man to name his principles, he’d probably reply (proudly) that he has none, because principles are extreme, old fashioned and unreasonable. That’s what most of us are taught, especially in today’s intellectually shallow and tepid climate. But his emotions have something different to say, and in this area his emotions are right on target.

The degree to which this attitude exists in the subconscious minds of people is the extent which imposing dictatorship will be a problem, when and if push ever comes to shove in America.

Another example from the Bloomberg article:

Ricki Kanter, 58, said she bought tickets for the movie as soon as they went on sale. Showings of “The Interview” at the West End are also sold out tomorrow and Saturday, according to the theater’s website.

“It’s my way of taking a stand that I’m not going to be intimidated by terrorists,” Kanter said.

And another:

“It was essential for our studio to release this movie, especially given the assault upon our business and our employees by those who wanted to stop free speech,” Sony Pictures Chief Executive Officer Michael Lynton said in a statement yesterday.

I realize that a sense of life — an emotionally held conviction — if left unarticulated and undefended by the people we’re counting on to defend it (courts, members of Congress, Presidents) — will not take us far enough. But this emotional state of mind, if it exists in enough people, can be enough to trigger a course reversal. This will matter when push eventually comes to shove, as it must when all the harmful effects of our political policies to date come to bite us. (Just one example: Government is in charge of health care; now government, in order to contain health care costs, must start to dictate and manage personal choices and behaviors.)

The people saying these things probably see no contradiction between telling government to interfere in most other areas of our lives (medical care, education, redistribution of wealth, micro-regulation of daily life) and keeping its hands off our movies and entertainment. They are, of course, mistaken. Sooner or later they’ll have to recognize their contradictions or live with the consequences — specifically, the end of freedom in all areas of life, as America drifts further towards the dictatorship that’s more literal and obvious in a place like North Korea.

But it’s better to hold a contradiction than to be flat out wrong. Contradictions can still be corrected. Stupidity, as the saying goes, can be forever.

Going to see a movie simply because you can — and because you righteously see it as your individual right to do so, no matter what any thug/terrorist/dictator tells you — is the kind of emotional mindset required to foster or maintain freedom. I’m the first one to recognize that none of us, even in America, are as free as we think we are. And I recognize we’re getting less free all the time.

All the same, I’d rather live in a world where people deeply resent the idea of losing freedom, particularly when it hits them personally. To that extent, there is still hope that maybe the people who feel this way will eventually start demanding freedom and liberty across the board … and not just at the movie theater.


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