Somebody Whose Sensibilities Probably Need To Be Offended

In his year-end press conference, President Obama spoke about the North Korean sponsored hack of Sony Pictures. He voiced his disagreement that Sony decided to cancel the release of the movie The Interview. “We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” said Obama. “If somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary they don’t like, or news reports they don’t like.” And I mostly agree with the president, although I wouldn’t call it “imposing censorship” on the part of North Korea, because this is not really a retreat of First Amendment rights. It was a business decision, and business decisions are always subject to what could be called “self-censorship,” meaning companies, particularly motion picture companies in the 21st century, craft their products to appeal to a wide audience. And that sometimes means avoiding certain topics. That could be considered a form a censorship, but it’s self-imposed, which is different then the state censoring speech. Of course that was not what Obama was implying, but I feel some people are making this into more than what it is because we hate that North Korea was able to virtually reach across a vast ocean and change our lives, in even the slightest way, by denying us the ability to watch a silly satirical film. But then Obama said something in a way you don’t normally hear from a president. “[I]magine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.” Is it just me, or is that last part pretty raw and unusually candid for a sitting president? I feel like that’s something I could have easily said in a blog post about uptight social conservatives or dogmatic religious leaders. But here we have a sitting president saying someone in the world probably needs a dose of offensive reality to recalibrate their sensibilities.


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