The Streisand Effect and Why We All Now Want to See 'The Interview'

By Liam Butler on at


One's an egomaniac whose violent temper and unpredictability strikes fear into the heart of world leaders. The other is Kim Jong-Un. I'm here all week, folks.

Before I start to talk about North Korea's (alleged) reaction to a film where their leader is shown burning to a crisp, I want to talk about a phenomenon called The Streisand Effect.

In 2003 a photographer snapped a number of photos of the coastline in Malibu, California. They were intended to show the extent of coastal erosion, and were uploaded to the California Coastal Records Project.

One of these photos happened to be of Barbra Streisand's home. When Streisand's attorneys demanded that the photo be removed, 'Image 3850' had been downloaded six times (two of these were by Streisand's counsel).

Once it was made public that Streisand was trying to censor this image, the internet became curious. Over the following month, there were over 420,000 visitors to the page for Image 3850.

The Streisand Effect: if you try to censor something, people will want to see what all the fuss is about.

There are so many examples of The Streisand Effect in action. The photo of Streisand's home went viral:

[Image credit Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal Records Project]

As did the photo of Beyoncé revealing her true form. Her publicist asked for it to be removed from Buzzfeed and suddenly it was everywhere:

[Image credit: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images]

And that photo of an (allegedly) coked-up George Osborne cuddling up to Natalie Rowe, who at the time worked as a dominatrix and ran an escort agency. Funny how every time she releases one of these photos, she seems to get a visit from the police:

[Image credit: Natalie Rowe]

Let's not forget the one of George dad-dancing to Spandau Ballet:

[Image credit: Natalie Rowe]

There are two parts to The Streisand Effect. Not only will folks want to see what is being censored: some will also share it to make a point.

Now, onto The Interview. Last week, it was a middling comedy that had an average rating of around 50 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes.


[Photo Credit: Evan Goldberg/Sony Pictures]

This week, it's the film that everyone's talking about. Here's a summary of recent events:

  • North Korea announce their outrage at Sony for planning to release a film about the assassination of Kim Jong-Un.
  • Sony ignores North Korea.
  • A scene showing Kim Jong-Un's death is leaked online:

The clip has been removed from YouTube, but here's a GIF made by the folks at What I found most offensive about the scene was the slow acoustic cover of Katy Perry's 'Firework'. When are musicians going to realise that slowing down the tempo and adding an acoustic guitar doesn't automatically give emotional depth to their fucking cover song?

The clip has been removed from YouTube, but above is a GIF made by the folks at

[Image Credit: Sony/Columbia Pictures]

  • Shadowy cyber espionage group 'Guardians of Peace' hacks Sony and releases lots of confidential emails that serve to highlight that Sony has some utter shits in its ranks.
  • Guardians of Peace releases badly worded statement threatening attacks on the scale of 9-11 for any cinemas that screen The Interview.
  • Major cinema chains pull out of screening The Interview.
  • The FBI say they are sure that North Korea is responsible for the attack, despite it traditionally being very hard to establish the source of a cyberterror attack. It's like trying to work out who shot JFK only using eyewitness testimonies from blind people who were five miles away at the time.
  • North Korea denies that it is responsible for the hacks. Even though it probably was them and their human rights record makes the Spanish Inquisition look like Amnesty International, their response is pretty classy:

As the United States is spreading groundless allegations and slandering us, we propose a joint investigation with it into this incident [...] Without resorting to such tortures as were used by the US CIA, we have means to prove that this incident has nothing to do with us.

He really will do anything to get out of finishing Game of Thrones, won't he?  

[Image credit: a still taken from Tages Anzeiger's video interview]

Censorship is not effective because it stokes people's innate curiosity. When I was 10, my Mum banned me from watching The Life of Brian on the grounds that it was blasphemous*. What did I do? I borrowed the tape from my uncle, got up half an hour earlier, and watched it in instalments before she got up.

(*She'd never actually watched The Life of Brian. I've since talked her into actually watching it with me. She begrudgingly admits that it is very funny.)

It's the kind of publicity that money can't buy. PR people would sell both of their kidneys to have this kind of reach. The President of The United States has talked about it. Most news outlets have been posting new stories on a daily basis.

People who weren't that bothered about watching the film are now desperate to see what the fuss is about. North Korean defectors are planning to send balloons containing digital copies of The Interview over to their homeland. The Guardians of Peace set out to suppress a movie, and has achieved the opposite.

And to think, it could have all been avoided if the hackers had shown a bit more interest in Barbra Streisand.

Liam tweets at @angryflatcap