19 December 2014

On the Cancellation of "The Interview"

Much has been made in the last few days of Sony canceling the release of The Interview in the wake of North Korean threats and the linking of that state to the massive cyber attack on that company. There are several talking points that need to be straightened out.

This Is Not a First Amendment Issue

If the government issuing threats was our own, then it would be a First Amendment issue. This is a "North Korea doesn't understand that we don't live under their laws" issue.

Sony as "Cowards"

Sony has been castigated for capitulating, but that, too, is unfair. They made the decision after the top five theater chains - AMC Entertainment, Carmike Cinemas, Cinemark, Cineplex Entertainment, and Regal Entertainment - each elected not to screen the film. Sony really had little choice in the matter at that point except whether to go through with the charade of a release that would at best play in a handful of indie theaters in Los Angeles and New York.

To put this in perspective, filmmakers make several rounds of edits to each movie released in order to accommodate the entirely arbitrary taste of the Motion Picture Association of America to secure specific film ratings. Why? Because each rating is associated with a different size audience. The greatest fights are to get an otherwise R rated film down to PG-13, to catch the largest audience, and to get an otherwise NC-17 down to an R - because at NC-17, none of those five chains will ever bother screening it.

Theater Chains as "Cowards"

I'm surprised that the theater chains haven't been attacked the way that Sony has been, since it was their decision that forced Sony's hand. But in fairness to them, we live in an era where it's wholly irresponsible to ignore even the slightest threat. If I'm at Cinemark, for instance, and I hear that North Korea has threatened retaliation on the order of 9/11, my reaction isn't to laugh at the absurdity of the threat. It's to think of what has just transpired in Australia at the prompting of ISIS, and to remember the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. It doesn't take skyjacked commercial jets to decimate a theater chain. It really only takes a handful of assailants dispatched to a handful of theaters. A coordinated attack in just a handful of theaters would be sufficient to injure or kill countless people, first and foremost, but it would also have a devastating effect on the public consciousness about the safety of movie theaters during the second biggest time of the year.

Where Does This Leave Us?

There are two fronts to this question. The first is a political matter. President Obama isn't the saber-rattling cowboy that many Americans wish he was, but he has managed to work through diplomatic channels to address most of our antagonists throughout his time in office - and quite successfully, at that. Kim Jong-un presents a different problem. He's little more than a terrorist leader, but one who enjoys the protection of sovereignty. North Korea is pretty much already as run down as a country can get without being bombed on a daily basis, so I don't know that increased sanctions would make much difference.

The other matter, of course, is the film industry and how it proceeds. This is an extreme situation, but it does highlight one important matter: Hollywood isn't just making movies for Americans anymore, and being mindful of that isn't even a matter of sensitivity or defiance or anything in between - it's a matter of necessity. So far, all we've really seen is that our blockbuster movies have been light on dialog that may not translate well into different languages, and heavy on action sequences which require no translation. A perfect example is this summer's Transformers: Age of Extinction, which was clearly crafted to appeal to Chinese audiences - who did, in fact, respond with unprecedented enthusiasm. I'd like to think, though, that there are storytellers out there who can tap into the global consciousness with more sophistication and in the process create films that can speak to greater matters.

10 December 2014

Rape Is More Than Legalese

Much has been made recently about how to handle reports of sexual violence. There's the high-profile matter of the more than twenty women who have come forward with allegations of being drugged and raped by Bill Cosby. Recently, Rolling Stone magazine published a piece written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely about University of Virginia student Jackie's account of being gang-raped at a frat party. Erdely did not interview any of the alleged assailants, publishing only Jackie's account. In both cases, there has been a fierce insistence that the reports be framed in specific wording emphasizing that these are presently only "allegations", that both sides should be heard from in equal measure, and that taking accusations at face value is irresponsible.

I like to consider myself a fair-minded person, though I'm sure most people do. I can appreciate why our legal system is designed the way it is, with the burden of proof on the accuser and the defendant having the right to face said accuser. The basis of our system holds that between a Type I error (wrongful conviction) and a Type II error (failing to convict a guilty person), the Type I is the greater sin, and I personally believe in that. This is what everyone else seems to be arguing about, but I have no intention of addressing it further because the whole reason I'm writing now is that something greater is being missed:
We are collectively outsourcing the truth of a rape to the courts.
As a society, we have declared that a rape has only occurred if a jury says so; otherwise, we're simply too squeamish to even talk about the matter. It's okay not to be trained in counseling, of course, but the greater issue is that no one even wants to have that conversation. The only context in which we collectively have an interest in discussing rape is to suss out whether or not we have a villain on our hands.

We're not even nearly as committed to that aspect as we like to think we are. Study after study shows the unlikelihood of a conviction for rape. To begin with, the majority of survivors never report in the first place, for various reasons. It's customary to mention fear of reprisal as a key reason, and it surely is, but there's another more practical matter that's still poorly discussed or understood: It can take a long time for a survivor to process what happened.

TV shows and movies have taught us that rapists break in with knives or catch victims unawares on the street and drag them into alleyways. What we don't hear about, though, are instances of rape within the context of an established relationship. There's still a perception that being in a relationship includes some kind of implied consent for any and all sexual activities, carte blanche. Victims of this kind of assault may not even realize themselves for months, even years, that what happened was wrong. And when they do, self-blame becomes a paralyzing issue.

We could discuss ad infinitum the reasons why survivors don't report. There's a whole discussion to be had about how reluctant law enforcement agents can be about even pursuing these cases, or prosecutors who simply don't believe in the case, or why juries who hear the minority of cases that ever get that far and then declare it's unclear to them that what happened was, in fact, a violation. But all of these issues - which do matter in their respective contexts - are outside the focus of my point because in the end, it doesn't matter whether there's an arrest, a trial, or a conviction.

Rape survivors need to heal. Knowing that their rapist was held accountable can bring some peace of mind, of course; whether because it reaffirms their belief that people who do bad things ought to be punished, or simply the peace of mind knowing that that person will be behind bars and unable to attack again for the duration of the sentence. Most survivors will never know whatever comfort that brings, though.
It's unhelpful to link their healing to the conviction of their assailant, and it's outright unfair that we as a society have linked whether it even happened with that conviction.
If there's a conviction, we celebrate a job well done serving justice...and that's that. Except, it doesn't end there for the survivor. Those survivors who do get to see their rapists convicted and locked away are ultimately left with the same issues that all survivors face: How to heal? How to feel safe again? How to trust again? How to feel peaceful again?

We can accept at face value those who come forward and say that something happened to them. We can offer compassion to them. We can try to help them to feel safe. We can listen. We can trust. We can do all of these things independent of whatever may (or may not) take place in a court room - and we must, because living with the experience and aftermath of rape exists outside of a court room.