I won’t keep you long tonight. I’ve just got something on my brain. It probably won’t make a ton of sense, but here goes.
I wrote my master’s thesis on the work of Salman Rushdie. I did not write directly about his most famous work, The Satanic Verses, but I definitely did read them. I read about the FATWA that was declared against Mister Rushdie.It’s interesting to think that Rushdie’s second novel, Midnight’s Children, has won countless awards including the Booker Prize the year it was released and two other Booker prizes that were awarded to previous winners on the 25th and 40th anniversary of the start of the Booker. So, Midnight’s Children is widely regarded as his best book (maybe even the best novel written by a person living in Britain in 40+ years).
But he is remembered for The Satanic Verses–a book that offended the Iranian regime at the time. The FATWA was essentially a bounty that required Rushdie to go into hiding for a number of years.
But his book was still published. It was re-published in paperback while the FATWA was young. People involved in the production of the book in foreign markets were targeted, but the book continued to find publishers when it was time for another run.
You don’t need to know what that book is about to appreciate what it means. Foreign agents of censorship–members of an oppressive regime who take pride in stifling creativity–tried and failed to shut the book and the author down. These regimes, who require all of their people to march in time as they are never allowed to question the status quo, should not get to dictate to the free world. It didn’t work, then.
And this isn’t that. I know that. Pot-head, comedy movies are not pieces of literature written by Booker Prize-winning authors. The corporation funding the endeavor has a liability, and all of that.
When The Interview started receiving threats a number of months ago, I assumed it was just North Korea throwing a temper-tantrum as they do–a “hissy-fit” as my grandpa would say. But since then, things have been elevated by the hacking scandal at Sony, and the more tangible threats to hurt people who see the film.
I think that threatening to hurt someone for wanting to enjoy the movies is disgusting.
But no matter what happens, this is Seth Rogen and James Franco’s Satanic Verses. This is their FATWA. If they look, they will find allies–for themselves and for this film.
I have a long conversation with my students on the first day of any lit course about what constitutes “art,” and we almost always land on the same thing: the consumer of said art gets to decide whether or not what is being consumed is, in fact, art. I don’t like the idea of universal standards for artistic expression–that some things don’t deserve to be protected because they are just dumb comedy movies.
I don’t necessarily care for Keeping up with the Kardashians, but apparently some people see its value.
And if you think a comedy isn’t capable of being art, remember that Shakespeare was writing popular Elizabethan theater. We just tend to think of his stuff as “high-brow” because we don’t talk like those characters. Shakespeare was a hit with the folks in the cheap seats, though.
I don’t like knowing that for right now I live in a world where something is being kept from public consumption because of someone’s brittle ego.
What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.
In this country, we still have the right to offend, and the right to be offended. And tonight, I am offended. Offense should be able to go both ways, but that isn’t the world we live in tonight.