It was a no-win situation, which was probably why the hackers made the play they did. When the “Guardians of Peace,” drunk with the power of infiltrating and publicly humiliating one of the biggest entertainment conglomerates on the planet, fired off their comically villainous missive Tuesday (I mean, seriously, “how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to”?) threatening 9/11-style attacks on theaters showing Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s Kim Jong-un assassination comedy The Interview , it put Sony Pictures in a helluva spot. If they kept the release date and (contrary to all available intelligence) an attack did occur, then moviegoers and theater employees could be hurt or killed, and the narrative would be, “Greedy Sony is responsible for this, because of their greed.” If they pulled the movie from release, it would mean that any hackers worth their salt — and, as is probably the case here, the totalitarian government behind them — could dictate what we see. It would be a loss of backbone and credibility and “face,” but that’s not the kind of thing that results in liabilities and lawsuits, so it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that Sony made the call they did. Corporations gonna corporate, after all, and there’s really nothing we can do about that. But what we can control is what our takeaway will be from this whole affair — how to deal with it, and what we’ve learned from it.
The first thing we’ve learned: it was all the media’s fault! Oh, sorry, no, that’s what Aaron Sorkin learned — and who’re we kidding, that’s his answer to everything. Aaron Sorkin is incapable of learning anything anymore. Sorkin’s was one of the first Hollywood Elite™ responses to Sony canceling The Interview’s release, so he took the opportunity to restate his specious argument from earlier in the week, when he explained journalism at/to The New York Times. “The wishes of the terrorists,” Sorkin announced/pontificated, presumably with inspirational music underneath his quavering-with-righteousness voice, “were fulfilled in part by easily distracted members of the American press who chose gossip and schadenfreude-fueled reporting over a story with immeasurable consequences for the public – a story that was developing right in front of their eyes.” tl;dr version: Because of the media, the terrorists won, and I only read Defamer.
Numerous celebs took to Twitter to voice their displeasure, and then, right on cue, we saw what happens when comedians and actors start talking about freedom of expression and speech — shade and eye-rolling. What’s surprising here is where it was coming from, and what it was ultimately about. There has been, first of all, a fair amount of priority-splaining: utter fury that people were worked up over this instead of All the Other Injustices of the World, as though no one’s capable of intellectually walking and chewing gum at the same time. There’s plenty of outrage to go around, if you haven’t noticed; different people react to things with different degrees of intensity (and, often, at different times. This was a new thing!). And as for the notion that people are more upset about this than the atrocities in North Korea: hey, guess what might’ve brought those atrocities to the attention of a demographic previously unaware of them? Ding ding ding.
But the more immediate, prevalent, and troubling reaction has been, in a nutshell, “Eh, who cares, it’s just a dumb Seth Rogen movie.” My Twitter feed is full of progressive, artistic types, so I was a little shocked to see how many of them weren’t feeling the anger because the movie wasn’t worth it. Another Rogen/Franco stoner bromance, who gives a shit, huh? Call me when it’s an important movie. To which I say, right-on, cheerio, let’s all get together and make a list of the filmmakers and authors and musicians and artists who are worth fighting for.. OH WAIT, THAT’S NOT HOW ART WORKS.
Even if the product is dubiously artistic, the battle for artistic freedom is everyone’s, and if you don’t defend it when it’s something that doesn’t matter to you, you can’t say much when it’s something that does. Or, as Larry Flynt puts it in The People Vs. Larry Flynt, “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbug like me, it’ll protect all of you.” That film dramatizes how a cheap, vulgar parody ad in Hustler magazine became one of the most important free speech cases in American legal history, and I don’t think you need me to connect the dots here.
The precedent has been set, and it’s a chilling one. As film writer Noah Gittel asked last night, what happens if a white supremacist group makes a terror threat because they’re mad at Selma? Does it get pulled? And as far as the long-term implications, studios are already running scared; Sony hadn’t even made the final call on The Interview yet when New Regency pulled the plug on Pyongyang, a North Korea-set thriller starring Steve Carell, which was set to shoot in March. Sure, The Interview was a stupid, goofy, mildly offensive stoner comedy about North Korea. But, as Kyle Ryan sensibly asks in Entertainment Weekly, “When someone does finally write a big, important movie about North Korea — the nation’s equivalent of The Killing Fields — will Hollywood be too skittish to make it?” If you don’t know the answer to that question, well, you haven’t been paying attention.