An Example of Contemporary Rhetorical Criticism

Below, I linked to an online article from one of my favorite news sources, NPR. This article discusses the “rebellious” nature of independent cinemas screening the controversial slapstick comedy, The Interview (2014). This film, a silly comedic adventure upon first glance, generated a lot of criticism from politicians and internet denizens alike when its portrayal of the assassination of North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-Un, spurned an onslaught of threats and violent outbursts from the tiny, totalitarian nation. The article discusses the rhetoric within discourse communities of film critics as well as politicians who find themselves entwined in the film’s inflammatory content.

From the minds of Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, the creators of of This is the End (2013), The Interview tells the story of David Skylark (James Franco) and Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogan), the host and producer of a trashy reality-television show. In a wild attempt to garner more viewers, the two scheme to interview the notoriously evil dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un (Randall Park). When their request is, surprisingly, approved, they are approached by the CIA and asked to assassinate the glorious leader. However, upon their arrival, Skylark is manipulated into thinking that Kim Jong-Un is a benevolent, silly, and relatable character who’s just “misunderstood” by the global community. When Rapoport confirms that all the atrocities Kim is accused of are actually true, he convinces Skylark to hijack their globally broadcast interview by asking serious, interrogative, political questions that confront and confound the tiny evil man. The two just barely escape, leaving the nation in the hands of their friend Sook.

What makes this film significant in the sphere of rhetorical criticism is it’s influence on multiple discourse communities. The film graduated from the community of film critics and artists to the political arena when demands from Kim Jong-Un (the real one) revealed the movie’s potentially dangerous consequences. North Korea threatened, upon multiple occasions, to launch “9/11 style attacks” upon any movie theaters that screened the film, initially prompting Sony Pictures to cancel its release. However, in an act of international defiance, President Obama responded “We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship in the United States.” With an endorsement by the President, the film’s popularity skyrocketed. Suddenly, it was no longer “just another dumb Seth Rogan movie”, it was a symbol of resistance, a claim to America’s right as a free nation to make another dumb Seth Rogan movie, and to hell with the consequences! It generated a national discussion about censorship and the right of freedom of speech in the arts.

The article I have linked conveys an example of rhetorical criticism because it seeks to evaluate the social, artistic, and political implications of the film, focusing especially upon its impact in the world of art house films. In the opening statement, Elise Hu states that “[the] small-scale distribution model and the politics surrounding The Interview give what was once a big-budget Hollywood release the spirit of an art house film.” The significance of this statement is that it offers a broad look at how the film has impacted multiple discourse communities. The “spirit of an art house film”, she writes, refers to the satirical yet profoundly, socio-politically critical content of independently released movies. Hu further alludes to the film’s controversial nature, criticizing major cinemas’ reluctance to release the film on the big screen. They don’t want to risk facing”9/11 style attacks”, as previously threatened by North Korea. Hu argues that, despite it’s absence from the blockbuster arena, The Interview has found an audience within the arthouse community, a rebellious group of theater-owners and artisans alike.

In its first weekend, The Interview made more than $15 million in online sales alone. Youtube made the film available at $6.99 per rental, and within the last month Netflix added it to their enormous database. Thus far, North Korea has been unable to do anything about it.

I believe The Interview provides a stark example of how freedom of speech must be upheld, regardless of the stupidity of said speech. Sure, us Americans create a lot of dumb, pointless comedy films. But dammit it’s our right as free Americans to make dumb pointless comedy films!

In Its Strange Journey, ‘The Interview’ Becomes An Art House Film – Written by Elise Hu


One thought on “An Example of Contemporary Rhetorical Criticism

  1. Hey Cole,

    I enjoyed reading your analysis and the linked article you provided – I love NPR too! I think it was the right call by President Obama to project an image of strength and integrity in response to North Korea’s “threats”, which was probably an easier decision for Washington to make than we may think. Kim Jong-Un blows more smoke than a chimney.

    It wasn’t mentioned in the article but I thought I would add that even though this instance pretty much blew over politically, Sony still took a major hit as a result. So much of a hit, in fact, that its Co-Chairperson Amy Pascal, who had been with the company since 2006, got sacked. So while the US at large was able to wipe its brow and laugh it off on their couches at home, a Hollywood “untouchable” got booted from her throne. In other words, North Korea was successful in transitioning the power at one major American movie studio and generating the highest grossing online feature film release to date. And we still got to see the movie, some of us for free! Sounds like a win-win situation to me.



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