When You Attack Art, It Bites Back – HARD

Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise… ~ Proverbs 17:28

Silence is true wisdom’s best reply. ~ Euripides

Hollywood, Fall of 2014 — a silly comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as bumbling idiots tasked by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is about to be released.  North Korea threatens Sony Pictures (the studio behind the movie) not to release it. As marketing of the film continues, a cyber terrorist organization (allegedly contracted by North Korea), performs the most damaging cyber hack in corporate history on Sony. They follow-up with a potential physical threat to any theaters that release the movie. The result: the world reacts to the news. Sony (and other companies) respond to this attack on free speech and art. The movie is released as a VOD (video on demand) and more people see the movie than most certainly would have seen it otherwise. It grosses over $35 million in VOD sales. (And starting this weekend, Netflix will even stream it).

Paris, France, January 2015 — twelve people are shot and killed by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists at the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo.” The attack was a vengeful response to the magazine’s portrayal of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The result: the world watches and reacts. The French people rally together. A magazine that was literally on the verge of bankruptcy gets a huge boost as a record 5 million copies of the magazine are sold in a few short days.

© Miguel Discart. Creative Commons 2.0
© Miguel Discart. Creative Commons 2.0

But it’s not just communist regimes or radical Islamic fundamentalist that fall into this trap…

likeaprayerIn 1989, Madonna (who knows all too well the value of controversy with respect to marketing one’s art) was the target of outrage over her allegedly blasphemous depictions of Jesus and Mary in her “Like a Prayer” music video. Pope John Paul II even banned her from Italy because of it. Pepsi (who was a sponsor of the video) got lots of flack too and dropped a corresponding Pepsi ad. It became a worldwide news item. The result: “Like a Prayer” went on to win MTV’s “Video of the Year” that year, and in subsequent years was voted as the #1 groundbreaking video that “broke the rules.” Who knows if the video would have won those accolades without the controversy. But a lot more people and critics were talking about it and analyzing it because of the hoopla.

You see this effect in all sorts of artistic expression. It happens in photography (Maplethorp); in publishing (“Lady Chatterly’s Lover” and Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”); music (the aforementioned Madonna, not to mention Prince and any number of heavy metal rock bands); and even painting (the impressionist movement of the late 19th century was largely criticized by the art pros of the day, which only prompted organized exhibits of the art to spread. The rest is history). Time and time again history has proven that when you publicly attack artistic expression and freedom, you inevitably end up making that very art even stronger.

Disney Plays it Smart

Sundance, 2013 — Randy Moore premieres his film “Escape from Tomorrow”: it’s a dark, satirical horror film shot clandestinely at Disney World, FL. Disney gave no permission for this film. Everyone was sure as anything that lawyers at the “Mouse House” would slam a hammer down on this film faster than Thor beats on Loki (despite the fact there’s a case the film falls well within U.S. “Fair Use” laws.) But much to people’s surprise, Disney kept silent. In fact, The Hollywood Reporter article about the movie specifically states that Disney purposefully chose to ignore the film so as not to give it more press and box office. The result: the film has low Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores. Critics say it was more novel than good. Final box office: a paltry $171,000 domestic.


Disney played their cards perfectly. Had they taken this thing to court and made a big hullabaloo over it, I guarantee you more people would’ve seen it just to see what the fuss was all about. It would’ve likely at least broken the million dollar mark, if not multiple millions. Well played Mickey. Well played.

The Moral of the Story…

If there’s a piece of art that offends, the best way to “kill” it is to ignore it.

What say you?

Note: for the record, I do not personally support nor approve of the kind of work Charlie Hebdo does. I’ve seen it and it’s frankly poor taste IMHO. But it also looks like they pretty much attack all kinds of religion and politics. Again, if it were me calling the shots, I’d ignore it. As mentioned earlier, the magazine was about to go bankrupt.

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