Art Held Hostage: Why Sony Not Releasing “The Interview” Is Scary

You’re probably caught up to speed, but in case you aren’t:

Hackers, which may or may not be connected to North Korea, found Sony’s new film, The Interview, quite disagreeable — so much so that they hacked the unmerciful shit out of Sony (thus releasing emails and scripts and other internal company information, which our news media flocked to like a pack of starving vultures) and threatened terror attacks in the style of 9/11 if the film was released. Some big theater chains understandably capitulated, and then Sony folded like a paper airplane, too. Sony won’t even release the film on VOD. (At Time Magazine: Everything We Know About Sony, The Interview, and North Korea.)

Ha ha ha, where were those hackers when someone decided to make that new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie? Am I right, guys? Huh? Huh? Ha ha ha ha OH GODDAMNIT DON’T YOU DARE LAUGH. That was a trap. I just trapped you. You thought we were engaging in some snarky pop culture japery, didn’t you? You fool. You fool. This shit isn’t funny. As a writer? As a guy who creates things for a living? This is utterly fucking terrifying.

This proves that hackers, terrorists, and enemy nations now have a vote as to the media we make and the stories we see. That’s blood gone cold scary. This sounds like the plot of a Neal Stephenson or William Gibson novel, or worse, the plot of a novel by someone trying to emulate them. (“The sky was the color of a movie theater screen not carrying Sony’s THE INTERVIEW.”)

Disagreeable and controversial art is an essential element of our cultural discourse.

It is vital that art — no matter who finds it uncomfortable — be allowed its day. (Yes, provided of course that the art or the creation of that art isn’t actually violating anybody’s actual rights or breaking any actual laws.) Any erosion of this freedom to make and distribute art is frightening. It sets an unholy precedent. It suggests a world where, if any one group big or small finds something you’re making disagreeable, then you shouldn’t get to tell that story — and we shouldn’t get to see, read, or hear that story.

The Great Dictator? A Clockwork Orange? Straw Dogs? Bowling for Columbine? What about books like Handmaid’s Tale — or, since it has generated controversy, Harry Potter? Or television shows like MASH, or Soap, or All in the Family? Or, drum roll please, South Park?

Imagine that one person, one group, or one nation rejected one or all of those.

And threatened not just the tellers of those stories but, in fact, the audience, too?

What’s doubly puzzling to me is some of the reactions I’m seeing online.

Well, worse things have happened this week.

Yeah, no, I know. That’s not wrong, and I dunno if you’ve noticed, but the news around the globe on a good day is a horror-spackled murderfest shit-show. CIA torture, schools attacked, police brutality, racism, rape, all of it. Are those things all worse than The Interview not being released? Sure. Yeah. Yes. But, I want you to consider a few things. First, we can be upset about more than one thing. Meaning, we can manifest and maintain anger and fear over lots of the world’s horror-spackled murderfest shit-show problems all at one horrible time. Second, this one in particular is pertinent to me, and this blog, and probably all of you because we are the tellers of stories and also the listeners of stories. Third and for me, the most important?

This cuts to the heart of a very significant issue — because all of those things we’re talking about, the police brutality, the CIA, the institutional racism and sexism and rape culture? Well, part of our way of fighting back against such horror is through our media. With news, social media, and also, through storytelling. Stories are vital cultural mechanisms. Any threat — any threat at all! — to our ability to share information and to criticize the world around us is scary.

This isn’t a freedom of speech issue, it’s a money issue.

It’s actually neither, really. This isn’t a constitutional freedom of speech issue, because all parties involved are free-thinking (if somewhat craven) companies. It’s also not a money issue because I’m fairly sure that Sony is better off releasing this than, y’know, not ever releasing it. It’s going to cost Sony over $100 million to not release a film they have already made.

(Further, this controversy has probably done more for The Interview than any actual marketing or advertising could manage. If Sony would suck it up and release this movie today on VOD, smart money says they’d make bank.)

The issue here isn’t censorship or money, the issue here is that art is under attack by an enemy entity. This isn’t your standard capitalism. This isn’t vote with your dollar where people have chosen to not go see a movie because they think it’s shitty or toxic or whatever — this is a criminal attack on a company accompanied by a terroristic threat and the company has capitulated. And… nobody seems to be doing anything about it.

The Interview isn’t art, Chuck, so who really cares? It’s tasteless.

Well, for one, obviously I care.

For two, you’re attempting to speak on the quality of the film — a film that few people have actually seen. It’s not particularly fair to excoriate the quality of movie if you haven’t seen it.

For three, who gives a hot wet shit about quality? What, we’re only supposed to make movies that everyone universally agrees are good? You get a preliminary 75% on Rotten Tomatoes or you’re denied an audience? YOU’RE EITHER PIXAR OR GTFO.

I suspect that The Interview will never be released and hung on the walls of the Louvre. For all I know, the movie sucks righteously. I wasn’t impressed with the trailers, really — that said, I’ve also liked most of what Rogen and Franco have done. I’ve seen some odd potshots against the two of them during all this. Hey, fine, you don’t like them — I do, and enjoyed Pineapple Express and This Is The End — but really, this isn’t about your feelings regarding a particular actor, writer, director, or artist. And I say “artist” in the general sense, not in the “creator of masterpieces” sense. We’re not here to debate what is good art, bad art, or art at all.

We’re here to talk about a threat to our ability to create and share art.

I’m sure if the shoe were on the other foot — if someone created a movie about assassinating a sitting US president — then we’d understand. Sony should’ve known what was going to happen — it was a bad idea.

Do you hear yourself? Seriously?

I’m not a super-big fan of blaming victims, and that’s what you’re doing here. You might as well slap a bumper sticker on your car that says I STAND WITH KIM JONG UN.

Oh, and by the way? Heard of a film called Death of a President? Detailing the fictionalized assassination of George W. Bush while George W. Bush was in office? I don’t seem to remember us burning down the UK because they made that film. I don’t recall us as a nation hacking them or threatening the creators of the film or FilmFour for releasing it.

(And let’s also recall that Kim Jong Il was killed in Team America.)

This is just like any other politically correct protest of media.

Yeah, no, you’re totally right, except for the part where a protest doesn’t hack open a company’s private data and then put a terrorist cherry on this shit-cream sundae by threatening actual harm to the audience in part referencing an actual attack that happened on our soil.

I support anybody’s right to protest media. Just as one can tell disagreeable or controversial stories, one can also — and should also! — protest the stories they find disagreeable or controversial. It’s part of the cultural discourse. But this isn’t that. Repeat: this isn’t that. This is a whole other level. This is illegal. This is violent. Not the same thing at all.

Hell, I support North Korea protesting this film. I’d get that. “WE STRONGLY OPPOSE THE RELEASE OF THIS FILM,” they could say. Sure. Fair enough. High-five, NK.

Again, though: this ain’t that.

So: what’s the solution?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t. Maybe there isn’t one to be found. I have no idea if the geopolitical stage is so fraught and fragile that our country will do nothing about what feels like an attack on American companies and, by proxy, our audiences and our ideals. Maybe America has made its own bed here by being so epically shitty around the globe. If the snakes are out of the can and nobody does anything about this — then? Expect more to come. Expect groups and nations weaponized by technology. Expect that your private information is now public. Assume that the stories you want to tell are now a risk. To you. To companies. To your audience.

That turns my bone marrow to an icy slush. Maybe you’re okay with it, I dunno.

All that being said —

It’s ironic, isn’t it? A troubling, too-goofy-for-satire reversal:

The Interview is a story about members of the media assassinating a North Korean leader.

But the opposite happened: because of The Interview, North Korea assassinated our media.

Welcome to the weird new world in which we live.