The Interview: the best reactions to Sony’s cyber war with North Korea
Obama and the FBI blame the hacking attacks against Sony Pictures on North Korea. Who knew the DPRK regime was capable? The hacks were triggered by the The Interview, in which two American journalists played by James Franco and Seth Rogen set out to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Amid threats of movie theater terrorism, Sony pulled the film from its Christmas Day release.
Reactions have been many:
The whole Sony story has a certain twisted dark comedy flavor with CEO Michael Lynton bickering with Obama over the release of what is said to be an unwatchable movie. It sure looks that way from the trailers. If the NORKS had any brains, they should just have let the film be released and it would have sunk like a stone. But perhaps they had other intentions — or someone did — beyond making fun of inane Hollywood studio executives or even silencing a movie.
The cyber attack on the studio has a serious side and it’s not really about North Korea. It’s about who helped North Korea, the assumption being that the NORKS don’t quite have the technical expertise to pull this off by themselves. Russia, China and Iran are the three candidates whose names have been thrown into the hopper as possible co-perps — maybe more than one of them.
Hollywood came to the Rev. Al Thursday as embattled Sony exec Amy Pascal met privately with the black leader for 90 minutes in a bid to fix the fallout from the cyberhacking leak of embarrassing, racially charged emails.
Pascal agreed to let Sharpton have a say in how Sony makes motion pictures, in an effort to combat what he called “inflexible and immovable racial exclusion in Hollywood.”
“We have agreed to having a working group deal with the racial bias and lack of diversity in Hollywood,” said Sharpton.
One important point in the President’s remarks today: a potentially ominous nod to the need for more regulation and control over the internet. The internet now is like “the Wild West,” he said, “We need more rules about how the internet should operate.” Cybersecurity is an urgent issue, and the Sony hacks underscore that, said the president. But when heads of state talk about more state control over the internet, rarely does greater freedom of speech result.
The only problem: At least one cable company preemptively surrendered to North Korean intimidation, too, reportedly saying it would not air the film. Now, even if Sony had a backbone transplant, it couldn’t release the movie.
Sony could still dump it on the Internet and let it spread virally. It would lose ticket sales, but the company would strike a defiant blow nonetheless.
Don’t hold your breath. Sony would rather go the way of appeasement. And so would everyone else, it seems.
For Pascal, 56, and Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton, 54, the damage has gotten far worse as the flood of stolen material — including both of their email inboxes — keeps coming, and on Dec. 16, the hackers, dubbed Guardians of Peace, threatened a 9/11-style attack on theaters that show Seth Rogen’s North Korea assassination comedy The Interview. Pascal, the lead creative executive on Interview, tells THR she believes she has the backing of her Tokyo-based employers. But by now, high-level insiders have moved from speculating about whether she will be replaced to asking when and by whom.
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At a press conference on Friday, President Obama said Sony made “a mistake” by canceling the release of The Interview. He also praised the film’s stars Seth Rogen and James … Flacco? If, like actor James Franco, you want a new last name—one you can share with an NFL quarterback—then use our name generator below.
What I wonder is why people aren’t a little more put off by a form of censorship that is more insidious, and will likely affect far more movies in the long run: the soft censorship of appealing to the Chinese government in order to reap the Chinese box office. There have been widespread claims that recent blockbuster movies like the latest Transformers have been written so as to appease Chinese censors. There’s nothing wrong with writing movies to reach out to a particularly huge foreign box office– why wouldn’t you want your movie to play to Chinese moviegoers?– but appealing to the Chinese government is a whole other ball of wax. That’s where you can see genuine self-censorship coming in. And while I imagine that this whole thing will blow over before long, without a great deal of long-term damage, I think the urge to play in China -and for the Chinese government — will only grow over time.
The problem of willingly selling out to the Chinese reminded me of Ayn Rand, whose bracing moral lessons I’m sure Freddie had in the back of his mind. Rand’s finest novel,The Fountainhead, is an anti-capitalist screed about the spiritual and cultural evil of catering to market demand. Forget the problem of giving the commie censors what they want. It’s wrong to give the free market what it wants, when what it wants is aesthetically debased, which it always is. The architect hero of The Fountainhead, Howard Roark, is the ultimate in spine, the patron saint of never selling out. When one of his perfect, austere modernist buildings is bowdlerized the better to suit the public taste, he blows it up. That’s right, Howard Roark is a terrorist, a jihadi for artistic integrity. Maybe Howard Roark is the answer. Maybe can show us the way. Maybe Sony needs to feel that it is unsafe not to release The Interview. Maybe Seth Rogen needs to blow something up! Or maybe Brian Beutler is on to something, and the best we can do is call on Anonymous to steal the movie and make sure that, in this case at least, market-based American spinelessness can’t put a gag on our precious stoner auteurs.
Sony is a for-profit entity, and not even an American one, that effectively has important influence over American culture. We don’t entrust for-profit entities with the common defense. And recognizing that the threat to a Sony picture is actually a threat to the freedom of American culture ought to lead us to a public rather than a private solution.
The federal government should take financial responsibility. Either Washington should guarantee Sony’s financial liability in the event of an attack, or it should directly reimburse the studio’s projected losses so it can release the movie online for free. The latter solution has the attractive benefit of ensuring a far wider audience for the film than it would otherwise have attracted.
After Sony Pictures announced yesterday that it was pulling the release of The Interview, a film about two American journalists sent to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, from its scheduled Christmas Day release after threats of movie theater terrorism, several theaters across the U.S. said that they would show Team America: World Police instead.
The basic idea was to replace one movie mocking the North Korean regime with another. Team America, an all-puppet comedy from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, pits its heroes against a sad-sack version of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. At the end of the movie, he’s impaled on a giant spike, and it’s revealed that he’s actually an alien cockroach. Fitting!..
The Daily Beastreports that theaters in Cleveland and Atlanta that had planned to make the switch say that Paramount, the studio behind Team America, has ordered them to stop. The Alamo Drafthouse in Texas, which also planned to show the puppet comedy, announced on Twitter this afternoon that due to “circumstances beyond our control” its Team America screening has been cancelled…. blocking replacement screenings of Team America can really only be described as next-level cowardly bullshit.
Sony was just the latest – Janice Turner:
Not only has Paramount pulled Team America, a decade-old puppet comedy parodying Kim Jong Un’s father, but a Steve Carell movie based upon the graphic novel Pyongyang. This is no comic, but an account by Guy Delisle of his time as an animator in a North Korean studio, constantly monitored by minders yet getting glimpses of the regime in all its absurdity and horror. This is a film that needed to be made.
And when the Sony cave-in was announced, Carell tweeted a still from The Great Dictator. It is an apt comparison: Charlie Chaplin’s devastating and humane 1940 parody did not bring down Hitler but it gave succour to those who were trying. Such was its propaganda value that while it was in production and Britain was still pursuing appeasement, the government planned to ban it for fear of riling the Führer. It was inspired by Chaplin watching Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will: while other anti-Nazis were awed and dismayed by its grandiosity, Chaplin fell about laughing…
…too often, the response to any threat has been cowardice and complicity. Hollywood just behaved like the entire British establishment which dropped Salman Rushdie after The Satanic Verses rather than turning on his illiberal persecutors. And even now Newsnight refuses to show an affectionate Jesus and Mo cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad, siding with Salafist extremists rather than moderate Muslims who argued the image was inoffensive.
What if one of America’s violent anti-choice groups threatens cinemas showing a film in which a woman has abortion? Will we capitulate every time the lawyers get nervous? Because Sony Pictures just put artistic freedom in turnaround. And this is no joke.
Free speech has been under attack for an age. North Korea was just picking up the vibe…