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Censorship, the First Amendment and Hollywood
By Peter O’Brien

When the Movie Red Dawn was released in 1984, it featured the US being invaded by the Soviets. In the 2012 remake the enemy had changed; instead of the Soviets, it was the North Koreans. That laughable plot change (North Korea might represent certain threats, physical invasion of the US is not one of them) was a result of censorship. While the Soviet Union had gone away, and the administration in Washington had poohpoohed Russia as a threat, China was certainly a possibility and the first script for the remake began with China invading the US. But, "Hollywood” wanted to maintain access to China, so things got changed, hence North Korea.

According to the NY Times, the Chinese government has played, and is playing, a hand in a number of movies, and that role is growing; China's movie-going population is growing larger, and various Hollywood production companies have either felt China’s influence or been bought outright by Chinese companies that follow the lead from Beijing, specifically the State Administration of Radio and Television - the state censors.

Hollywood producers and directors respond that they always consider the feelings of those to whom the movie is directed. Just being pragmatic. But…

Hollywood also likes to tell us that their art is more important than money. The big Silicon Valley Tech Giants like to defend their actions as based on principle. Yet, they all seem to favor making decisions that keep them inside the Chinese market.

And so, China starts showing up in a more favorable light in various movies. Any mention of Falum Gong? Persecution of Tibetan monks? Violation of International Law in the South China Sea? How about fentanyl from China? None is likely to show up.

Pragmatic. Studios have to make a profit after all.

This sort of thing has happened before. In the 1930s Germany, just as with China today, applied pressure to various Hollywood studios to subtly alter movie scripts, painting Germany in a more favorable light, and avoiding commentary on Nazi persecution of Jews.

This behavior by China is to be expected. From time immemorial potentates have worried about what others were saying about them. Partly this was, and is, vanity, but mostly it's fear of losing power - a well-placed fear, as every threat to those in power needs to develop a voice if it’s to organize.

In the 1930s it was the desire to retain access to the German cinemas that led some in Hollywood to quietly kowtow to Berlin. One might suggest that Hollywood and Silicon Valley are doing the same thing today to Beijing.

The Progressives who lead the studios – and the Progressives at the tech giants of Silicon Valley, make a lot of noise about fighting fascism. But aren’t they the ones kowtowing?

They also make a lot of noise about free speech, while giving in to censorship when money is involved. Are they going to police the internet and various social media, on the watch for anything that might offend China? Where will that end? Who decides what is offensive?

About a week ago there was one of those interviews on a college campus where students were stopped and asked a question, in this instance whether they thought freedom of speech and press should be limited. Sadly, too many of those interviewed thought that speech shouldn't be allowed to offend. This story line is repeated at any number of college campuses. And at a university in Washington state students protested a lecture on "Censorship and Free Speech in the Age of Trump," a lecture about the concept of protecting all speech, particularly that speech we didn't agree with.

Are the students ignorant of the very notion of free speech, failing to grasp that it’s offensive speech – offensive to someone – that is the entire point: speech that doesn’t offend needs no protection? Or, are they in league with those who really wish to limit free speech, and thereby extend the role of government in every sphere of our lives?

E.B. Hall described the French writer Voltaire’s beliefs with the memorable phrase: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Perhaps Hollywood – and Silicon Valley – should take that message to heart. Show some guts, even if it means foregoing some profits.


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