You’s think that, given a title like the one above, that I’d be ranting against Hollywood’s lack of innovation, its crass celebrity culture, its smug sense of self-satisfaction, or any one of the numerous sins the industry has committed in the 100 years of its existence.

You’d be wrong. I come before you today to rant about something very different: Hollywood’s double standard when it comes to censorship and activism.

One of the major points that industry professionals have emphasized is the ability of their movies to make social points and advance worthy causes, addressing racism, classism, other -isms, and oppression at home and abroad. And it’s true that movies have done that…up to a point. But it’s only recently that the line in the sand has become clear.

Remember in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Soviets were the go-to bad guys? Films weren’t afraid to point out the brutal nature and horrific human rights abuses committed by the communists. And yet, in films today, you never see the few contemporary communist regimes–with one exception as we shall see–portrayed as the rights-abusing boogeymen that they often are. Why is that?

The answer is simple: money. The old Soviet bloc, and other states that espoused similar versions of nastiness in favor of a future utopia that would never be (as opposed to the fascists, who espoused similar versions of nastiness in favor of a past utopia that never was)…they never screened American films, or did so only rarely. There was no money to be lost by pointing out horrific crimes, because there was no chance of Hollywood movies unspooling officially behind the iron curtain.

That’s all changed. In a move that can only be described as Machiavellian brilliance, nasty regimes have opened up their markets to Hollywood films with strict central control. You can make your millions from a movie-hungry foreign audience…but only if the powers-that-be say so. This creates a powerful economic incentive not to piss off a given country, like China, by calling attention to any social points or worthy causes. Thus instead you have craven sucking up to the selfsame governments where once there might have been criticism, like the scenes added to Iron Man 3 or the evil, inept Americans as a contrast to the heroic, competent Chinese government in Transfourmers: The One With Swords and Dinosaurs.

Perhaps a worse example has just been dumped on our laps, though: The Interview. For a long time, North Korea has been one of the few acceptable movie bogeymen, with its abuses and excesses and brutality always on glittering display, because the Hermit Kingdom, like the Soviets of old, allowed no American movies outside of the Kim family’s private theater and there was therefore no chance of alienating a revenue-paying audience. Only the Nazis, discredited and repudiated and dead to history, were more reliable villains throughout the 2000s and 2010s–hell, several movies and video games (like the remake of Red Dawn and the first-person shooters Homefront) were reworked at a late date to swap out Chinese villains for North Korean ones in defiance of all logic. North Korea was “safe.”

But that’s all changed. The Interview apparently touched a deep nerve with the North Koreans, portraying as it does the attempted assassination of King Jong-Un. So the Koreans retained a group of hackers to sabotage Sony, the producer and distributor of the film. Releasing internal documents, emails, and even a few completed films…all this hurt the filmmakers where it hurt most, in the wallet. Realizing that they were in the same position to lose money through hackery, theater chains have begun pulling the movie entirely. They’re billing it a “safety” issue, but it’s really a monetary one–North Korea has proven, at least for now, its ability to cost Hollywood money, and no one wants to pay that price for their principles.

So, in an even more craven move than crudely editing Wang Xueqi and Fan Bingbing into Iron Man 3 to suck up to China, the fear of revenue loss has essentially allowed the world’s most brutal dictator veto power to censor media critical of him. People are dying under jackboots in the Hermit Kingdom as they have been since 1945, but rather than let even a relatively mild “Springtime for Kim Jong-Un” satire unspool safely, Hollywood would prefer to quietly go back to making money.

I’m sorry. That’s craven, it’s crass, and it sets a dreadful precedent for everyone who doesn’t like their portrayal in free media: if you cost people enough money either by denying them revenue or hacking it away, they’ll meekly let you go about your business. That, in my mind, is the biggest reason to seek out and see The Interview if you can find anyone brave enough to distribute it: to send the message to those selfsame craven, crass bean counters that there are bigger things at stake than their damn bottom line. A thousand reboots, a thousand thousand remakes, a thousand thousand thousand vanilla rom-coms before handing the veto stamp to those who deserve the harshest, glitziest spotlight the industry has shone upon them.

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“You said it’s a par 3? That’s more miniature golf than anything, Torres, no matter what Sports Illustrated says.”

Torres lined up his putter. “Is your short game really that bad? It’s not all about whacking things with a wood, Norton.”

“That’s what she said,” giggled Bowman. Torres rolled his eyes and tapped the ball. It came to rest about a yard from the hole.

Norton lined up his shot using his putter as a kind of yardstick. “As if you’d ever know what a woman said. I think the longest conversation you’ve ever had with a double-X is her saying ‘no.'” His ball wound up much closer than Torres’, about three feet from the hole.

“Not true,” Torres said. “Sometimes they say ‘no way.’ By Norton’s standards that’s a regular lecture.” He tapped his ball, which overshot the hole and caught a minor downward slope, rolling into the rough. He swore effusively and moved to retrieve it.

“Uh-uh!” Norton cried. “You read the sign, you know the rules. No getting balls back from the rough. You’re out.”

“But it’s like two inches into the rough!” Torres cried. “I could hook it with my putter…”

“No. You’re out, Torres. Better luck next time.” Bowman cocked his head. “And that is also what she said.”

Norton, grinning, moved to sink his ball at two under par. In his haste, though, he wound up getting it at a really bad angle; the ball clipped up and arced over the green, deep into the rough.

“Ohh, look at that!” Torres crowed. “Norton chokes!”

Norton’s ball came to rest yards and yards away from the green. There was a nearly inaudible click, and a roar as a cloud of dirt and smoke was thrown up by an exploding anti-personnel mine. All three men flinched.

“Well, I guess I win by default!” said Bowman. “Come on, let’s get something to eat in the canteen. My treat.”

As they left the hole, they passed a large wooden sign set up nearby:
JOINT SECURITY AREA PANMUNJOM
The World’s Most Dangerous Golf Course
As featured in Sports Illustrated
Par 3/192 yds.
Danger! Do not retrieve balls from the rough: live mine fields!

“What outlet do you hope to find for your skills, especially in this economy?” Tanaka said, folding his hands across his lap. “You know as well as I do that Sandstorm is one of the top computer game development firms in the world. With the way you left…would anyone be willing to hire you, even if the economy improved?”

“I’m listening,” said Dennis. Clay looked like he was about to say something, but was silenced by a wave of his roommate’s hand.

“I have in this briefcase two first-class tickets to Beijing and reservations in a five-star hotel near Tienanmen Square,” said Tanaka. “There is also a twenty thousand dollar down payment, ten thousand for each of you. If you accept, you will have six weeks to put your affairs in order before the plane leaves. Our agents will meet you in China and arrange for you to cross the border into the DPRK.”

“And once we’re there?” Dennis asked.

“You will be provided with a generous stipend, use of a government villa, and all the associated privileges normally granted to high-level government workers, including access to imported materials at no charge. In return, you will use your programming skills in the service of the DPRK for a period of two years after which you will be allowed to emigrate with your accrued earnings and any imported items you wish to take.” Tanaka looked at the programmers over the wire rims of his glasses. “If you attempt to report any details of this arrangement to your government, of course, they will find that Hirosaki Tanaka has been dead since 1978 and the money and tickets are all connected with international heroin smuggling. You have one hour to make your decision.”

Ms. Jeong led the group to the next street corner, the clicking of her heels echoing down the all but empty street.

“That is factory for producing luxury automobiles,” she said, stabbing her umbrella in the direction of a nondescript concrete building with darkened windows. “Under the guidance of Dear Leader, luxury automobile production has increased 1000% and most families are issued one by government after meritorious service.”

Cora looked at the building carefully. An unfinished interior was dimly visible through the darkened windows, and there was no sign of raw materials entering or finished products leaving the facility.

“I think the brand of car they make there must be the Potemkin,” she whispered to Maya.

“Yes, and the model is the BS. I’d very much like to buy a Potemkin BS luxury autocar as a souvenir,” Maya said.

The tour proceeded apace into the center of town, where Ms. Jeong jabbed her tour guide umbrella at a line of stalls festooned with Nork Korean flags. “Here is place where workers and peasants of village have handicrafts for sale,” she barked. “All proceeds go to care of orphans created by American and Japanese imperialist war crimes.”

Cora picked up a stuffed animal from one stand and examined an attached tag: “100% machine made. Manufactured in China.”