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Two years before George W. Bush left office, Universal Studios produced a movie called American Dreamz in which terrorists planned to kill the president — portrayed by Dennis Quaid as a manipulated idiot — in a suicide attack on an American Idol-like TV singing contest.

The movie never made back the $17 million it cost to make. It fell so far into oblivion that I had trouble finding it on IMDB. I saw it years ago and I'm betting it was a funnier, more clever movie than The Interview. My point? If Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un didn't want people to see The Interview, he should have let it flop.

Now it is the movie just about everyone wants to see. That's because Sony Pictures, which made it, pulled it from distribution after Kim Jong Un threatened to kill movie-goers who try to see it.

That's what it takes to get some people to see a Seth Rogen film.

There was once this other movie called Wag the Dog. In it, Robert DeNiro plays a presidential campaign adviser who hires a movie producer, played by Dustin Hoffman, to produce fake news footage of a war in Albania to distract American voters in the lead up to an important election.

It so screwed up the way I think, that I can't help doubting everything my government says about North Korea, a country so cut off that no outside media can get in to independently cover. This is especially so on a story so preposterous, if it were a movie it would have to be a spoof:

A giant Japanese-owned company backs a movie by a group of guys known for infantile male angst movies, set in a country with which Japan has bad relations. The movie ends with the death of the North Korean dictator. The dictator threatens to blow up the studio if it releases the movie causing the studio to pull the movie from release, which makes everyone want to see it. But if this were a movie spoof it finally would get released and the movie company and team of producers of infantile, male angst movies would get rich and plan the sequel, to be set in Yemen.

Now, in my Wag the Dog mind, I look for the distraction, especially when you have the U.S. president calling for a movie company to release a movie to the public.

I teach media history, which is all about governments trying to quash media and media producers pushing back. Here we have the opposite: a media producer fighting its own government's call for distribution.

And that's where we get to the crux of this issue, for me. The great distraction is the fear that Kim Jong Un will kill us for seeing a movie. The real problem that this fear blurs is total control of our media by a very few corporate entities.

Want to get people itching to read something? Have the government or church ban it. Want to stop people from reading something? Make reading it inconvenient.

Real control isn't through legislation or armed forces. Real control rests in those with their hands on the distribution channels.

Here's the question that's bugged many of us this month. Why, in a world where pimply teenagers download pirated movies while they're still in the theaters, is it so difficult to get a stream of The Interview? Why isn't it on YouTube?

The story of The Interview shows us the double farce of Internet freedom and free expression. Ten companies control almost 24,000 screens in this country. That's the least of it. Six companies — Warner Bros., Disney, NBCUniversal, Sony, Fox and Viacom produce almost 80 percent of our movies.

Comcast is in the midst of merging with Time-Warner, which will place control of almost everything we watch on TV in the hands of one company. For those of you who snicker that you cut off your cable and now stream TV on Hulu — Comcast owns that, too. Youtube, Google and Amazon control most of what we watch on video. Google and Yahoo control our ability to find anything over the Internet. Twitter, Facebook and Google control our ability to digitally chat with each other about the media they channel to us.

To keep any particular media product out of our hands would take a Skype conference of maybe a dozen people.

By law they can't do that to fix prices. But there isn't a law that I know of forcing corporations to distribute something they don't want to distribute or keeping them from coordinating non-distribution.

Julius Caesar came to rule the Roman world because he wrote up his own exploits daily and had scribes who could make copies and slaves who could run to Rome and distribute them throughout the city. The Nazis came to power because Goebbels understood how to quash what was anti-Nazi and massively distribute what was pro-Nazi.

Many people believe that the Internet eliminated the gatekeeper between media producers and consumers. But if that were true, the second Sony pulled The Interview from screens someone would have sent me a link to a download. I'm sure some clever hackers have copies. But they aren't finding it easy to distribute them to those of us who aren't so digitally capable.

The Internet didn't eliminate gatekeepers. It just made it so that there are way fewer gates.

—– Marcy Burstiner

Marcy Burstiner is chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Humboldt State University. She asks this: Where have you gone, Tim Berners-Lee? The Internet nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

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About The Author

Marcy Burstiner

Bio:
Marcy Burstiner is an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at Humboldt State University. If there's something about the media that confuses you, e-mail her at mib3@humboldt.edu.

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