I don’t think there’s any other way of saying it: everything surrounding Sony and The Interview is a massive f**k-up of proportions so gigantic that the numbers with which to calculate it haven’t been dreamed up yet. At every turn, it was bad move after bad move, and it resulted in both a very blatant attempt to save face and a very dangerous precedent sent to would-be cyber-terrorists the world over. I have a lot of feelings about everything having to do with this whole affair, but I think what I’m angriest about is that nobody is willing to stand up for free speech, and as a result we’ve now let foreign threats dictate censorship in the United States. But should Sony have really been the one to make that call?
When the initial attacks on Sony by hackers began, it was a scandal, and then something of a joke. Sure, they were saying it was because of the Seth Rogen-James Franco film and its depiction of a plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, but all they were doing was making Sony look like fools by releasing private content and leaking personal emails, many of which detailed not-yet-inked business deals and behind-the-back name-calling that read like Mean Girls‘ Burn Book as written by very powerful Hollywood players. These hacks, in turn, produced a lot of entertainment news for a lot of days and Sony’s stock plummeted as a result.
But then things went further. The hackers released a serious threat to cinemas that would show The Interview and equated what they would do to the events of 9/11. This was enough to make five of the largest theater chains in America to pull the film from their planned Christmas weekend schedule, and that therefore led Sony to pull the release of the film altogether, with apparently no plans to release the movie ever, in any format. U.S. government and FBI officials later said they believe the hackers were acting on the direct orders of the North Korean government. Effectively, a foreign power has dictated policy in the U.S.
You know all this. You’ve read all the reports, you’ve been angry about it on Twitter just like the rest of us. It was a profoundly sad day for this country, in a year that’s already produced far too many already. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, protecting the Freedom of Speech above all else, has been allowed to be completely disregarded out of fear, and a fear of what is very clearly the least free nation on Earth.
But there’s a part of me that’s also kind of angry that nobody apparently considered the possibly globally-incendiary nature of The Interview in the first place. A movie — a comedy, no less — is calling for the assassination of an actual world leader. This isn’t like Team America: World Police which depicted the former leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, as a buffoonish marionette supervillain who was secretly an alien cockroach; this is a guy who somehow has less of a sense of humor than his father and an even more ridiculously overblown view of himself, one that he demands every person in his country recognize as fact. What are the odds this clearly unstable individual and his brainwashed cabinet would be willing to do anything to keep the Leader’s image and name from being lambasted? A nation like this under such a leader would surely see this as an act of aggression. Now, this doesn’t excuse any of the further things that happened, and cyber-terrorism should never be condoned, but for Sony, Rogen, Goldberg, and whomever else is involved not to realize that something like this could be a possibility or that they should prepare counter-PR is beyond naive.
And this is where a lot of my problems with this whole thing come in: Sony apparently isn’t standing by anything it’s doing. A lot of people have been calling for the multinational corporation to release The Interview online for free to show that they are unafraid, or just being cool and saying, “Look, nobody’s going to show it, so we’re going to let people watch it if they want to and we’ll make no money from it.” After so much bad press, it would have gotten back some cred. But they didn’t. The statement they released said, “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome,” and that they were “deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie.” But that’s essentially it. They’re not apologizing; they’re just trying to sweep it under the rug. Should they have even been put in this position?
Once the threat was made, it was determined that it should be taken at least somewhat serious, and the biggest cinema chains in the nation pulled out, what other options did Sony have? Since November 24th, the company has been caught flat-footed and has been dealing with the mother of all public relations and internal security nightmares. The company itself has been under a lot of scrutiny about the way it’s handled everything, and when the exhibitors balked, they knew they were taking more of a dive. This isn’t a healthy company making cogent decisions; this is a boxer on the ropes and ready to throw in the towel.
Still, all of this was handled incredibly poorly and is the result of the companies acting out of fear. Obviously, the safety of people should be the number one concern, but should that come at the cost of freedom of expression? Sony has given in to the demands of a small group that may or may not actually be representing a whole nation and has censored the expression of a group of people attempting to make a statement, even if that statement wasn’t in the best of taste, globally speaking. It’s the clusteriest of clusterf**ks and now there’s a precedent for how attacks like this are handled. When will it end? Steve Carell and Gore Verbinski’s new thriller Pyongyang, which was set in North Korea, has also been shelved, so is North Korea just off limits? All of Asia? Anything outside of something that’s already happened? Can nobody make a movie about what’s happening in the world? For better or for worse, these are the questions that we’re left with and there will be no easy answers in the days, weeks, and months to come.