It’s kind of a strange day when a comedy vehicle piloted by the stars of stoner movie Pineapple Express is at the center of an international cyber-terror debacle highlighting the strange intersection of government coercion, freedom and national security, the refreezing Cold War, and the politicized entertainment industry. What a weird world we live in.
So, here’s what has happened so far. Sony Pictures produced a movie called The Interview. The protagonists in the movie are courted by the American secret service to use an interview opportunity with Kim Jong-Un to assassinate North Korea’s dear leader. The movie is clearly a comedy, and not a commentary of any sort on anything in reality (unless Dennis Rodman is being secretly trained by the CIA, that is).
But apparently, some people who called themselves GOP (Guardians of Peace) weren’t so tickled with the movie’s premise, so they cyber-attacked Sony Pictures, stole and started revealing sensitive e-mails and other info, and basically made a nuisance of themselves. As the cyber-attacks and leaks escalated, GOP continued sending emails in broken English to a few of the executives of Sony Pictures, and it became clear that the root cause of the attacks was The Interview.
Then GOP threatened violence at movie theaters if the movie were released. And soon after that, a source within the FBI revealed that the hackers were operating on orders from the North Korean government. Which, if you’ve read GOP’s emails, could have been easily inferred from the unintentionally cheesy air of self-importance mixed with the heavily ESL flavor of the language. And soon after that, Sony Pictures cancelled any plans to release The Interview in theaters. It was scheduled to open Christmas Day.
Anyway, after North Korea was fingered for the attacks and Sony pulled the release, all sorts of people, including President Obama, started talking about how Sony had “caved” to international terrorists and damaged our national security positioning. They all said Sony should have stood up for themselves, Sony had made “a mistake,” Sony was just giving the terrorists leverage, etc., etc.
But there is more to this story than Sony making an isolated decision in response to an international security threat. See, before Sony Pictures pulled the plug on The Interview, potential distributors for the movie said they were not going to show the movie in their theaters because they didn’t want to risk a drop in audience attendance during this very important and lucrative movie-going season. Their argument was that threats of violence could keep people at home. It’s a sound economic argument, really. It is likely that many potential movie-goers would be afraid to visit any theater showing The Interview.
So the threats of violence and the North Korean connection were only indirectly responsible for the assassination of The Interview. Sony Pictures was forced into this situation by the bottom-line economic thinking of distributors and the predicted cowardice of the American populace. So really, it wasn’t the commies that killed The Interview. It was the capitalists. And the cowards.
But is the American public actually that cowardly? Sure, some people would have decided not to show up from fear. But if movie theaters had just invited concealed carriers to come see the movie and protect other moviegoers, I’m sure everything would have been fine. And I actually don’t believe GOP could have done much. Like the overblown nuclear tests North Korea did everything they could to publicize, these threats of violence were likely paper tigers and saber-rattling. Their bluff and bluster may have worked this time, but a foreign policy based on baseless boasts of strength will eventually fail as soon as one international actor calls the bluff.
I wish that had been Sony and the United States in this case. But let’s not be too hard on Sony Pictures. They’ve had a pretty hard time of it so far. And it seems to me they’re doing their best to salvage a very embarrassing, and financially debilitating, situation. The only way to oppose international terror is to have a fearless people. Sony isn’t at fault for our fear. We are.