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.

158 comments

  • “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.” — Some sources apparently suggest that a total loss is fully covered by insurance, whereas if they’re releasing it on VOD or similar they don’t get the insurance money. So it’s not QUITE that clear-cut.

    • A fair note, then. Also, losses can be written off, one supposes. Just the same — I suspect they have an opportunity here to make a great deal of money. This entire thing has given their film an alarming amount of mostly positive press.

    • A 9-figure insurance claim due to a hacker’s bomb threat will also have a chilling effect on Hollywood, because it will make controversial films uninsurable, and those films will never get made.

  • I’m a big fan of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and I find it amazing that he saw all this kind of thing coming 50 years ago. Of course, he wrote it in the wake of WWII and book burning, and McCarthy’s Communist witch hunts. I fear a world where we decide that art — any art — is too offensive. Offense is in the eye of the beholder — if you don’t like it, don’t watch it.
    Loved your conclusion on this, Chuck. Very clever.

    • One of my biggest pet peeves are of people saying how offended they are about something. I tell people that nothing offends me. Nothing. If something bothers me then I stop and ask myself why it bothers me. Then I work through the issue. Okay… so I supposed you could say the one thing that offends me are people who are offended because they don’t seem to have the capacity to move through it, around it, over it, and then forget it. They have to rant and rave and burn things.

        • Thank you! I get a lot of different responses from people regarding this way of thinking. I wish more people were able to stop and think why things make them feel the way they do instead of simply reacting (which is usually in a dramatic or explosive manner).

      • “Nothing offends me” … I never thought of it that way before.

        Personally, I DO get upset or bothered by things. But I don’t expect anyone else to feel the same way I do … or to change theirs actions based on what I want.

        I should have the right to choose my likes and dislikes regardless of what anyone thinks or wants. Nobody should have the right to control that … UNLESS I were to ever hurt someone else.

        Sony should have released the movie.

        • I don’t want to say that I don’t get upset or bothered, because I do. I’m saying that I don’t get offended. It’s sort of like that meme going around “I don’t care what race, religion, orientation, etc you are. If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.” and actually meaning it. If someone says something that upsets me, then I stop and think, instead of reacting, to figure out why it bothers or upsets me.

          I do get upset, bothered, angry… But I prefer being content, happy, looking at something upside down to see it in a new light. I see so many people who let such little things bother them and respond by exploding their emotions all over anyone who will listen to them that I decided I didn’t want to be that person. I didn’t want to be the person that others specifically avoided going anywhere within three feet of because they’d be caught in the downward spiral of their latest misery.

          And yes, Sony probably should have released the movie… but with how wishy-washy people are these days, who knows if they will or not. However, if they do release it, I think it would be great if all the proceeds went to victims of terrorism and violence.

  • Sony knew this was going to be a risk, they thought it would pay off, it turned out it wouldn’t. I don’t see how this isn’t a commercial decision, not a First Amendment freedom of speech issue. Sony is a massive corporation which only exists to make money for its international shareholders.

    I’m not going to bat for one film which looked incredibly racist and fucking awful anyway. It would have spawned a new wave of “me so solly” jokes at people who look like me. And I don’t understand why people are invoking patriotism and US-centered freedom of speech narratives around an international corporation embedded in global capitalism (capitalism, which isn’t any less hostile to freedom of speech than other economies) which is headquartered in Japan. And Japan is right next to North Korea, pointing missiles at them.

    I respect people who do care, but I don’t. At all.

    • It may have looked like those things, but until someone sees it, we won’t really know. And that’s pretty scary. Because not going to bat for stories we find controversial means we can’t expect anybody to go to bat for our stories, then, down the line.

      Listen, I think it’s fair to find this movie distasteful, shitty, racist, sexist, any -ist — you may be totally right about the quality of the film and its problematic nature. I have no idea. But preferably that’s a thing that becomes us, the American audience, disputing it in our own media (writing countermanding think pieces, blogs, films meant to be better and do better) and also us, the audience, saying, “Fuck you, I’m not going to see that.” That’s okay. It’s our right to think stories are terrible and to speak out against them and to protest and to… well, just plain not pay money for them.

      That’s awesome. That’s capitalism. That’s the social cultural balancing act.

      This isn’t that.

      At least, by my mileage, anyway. This feels way more violent and terrifying than that. This will have a chilling effect.

      — c.

      • I don’t agree. It feels more violent, but that’s because it’s VISIBLE violence. We don’t see all the quiet, neat, supposedly non-violent censorship that goes on all the time when it comes to whose stories get the money to be told, and that’s capitalism too. It’s not a balancing act, it’s a series of chokepoints ruled by the moneyed elite.

        And yes, our movies are supposed to work as cultural imperialism, spreading US values around the world… but sometimes, the rest of the world doesn’t like that. And considering that’s where most Hollywood movies make their money (overseas profits have been bigger than domestic for a while) it’s something Hollywood is going to have to deal with in future. And that’s their problem, not mine—I’m not going to bat for them.

        • I agree with you about the content of the film…probably…but the fact is, this pressure was not a peaceful or democratic protest aimed at Sony. It was not a capitalist decision. The hackers threatened to bomb theaters and KILL the audience that sees the movie. (Yes, they hacked Sony, and while that’s a huge invasion of privacy, I was less concerned about that.) Sony’s decision not to release the movie is capitulating to terrorists. It is letting another nation, a VIOLENT OPPRESSIVE nation dictate what our country, our citizens are allowed to see, or risk actual death by their hands. And not just the audience of that film, but potnentially any film viewed in a theater that day. It is a threat to our freedoms.

          Shame on Sony, on shame on us for not fighting back.

          • Well said. I was born in an Eastern European communist country – there was no freedom to do anything. I moved to the US just 14 years ago. I was shocked to see that freedom of speech here is … an illusion basically. Why do we have to apologize for everything we say or do? I don’t expect anyone … let alone everyone to like or agree with what I say. Why does anyone expect me to apologize for my words? As long as I don’t hurt someone, I should have the right to form and express my own opinions.

        • What you don’t see, Solace, is that it’s NOT just Hollywood’s problem. It’s the problem of every person, everywhere, who writes, or films, or paints, or sings, CREATES, etc., something that some bully somewhere doesn’t like.

          This is Chuck’s entire point. The precedent set by Sony caving in and pulling the film can and may have a far-reaching impact on anyone who creates, and on anyone who wants to someday create, something that might be controversial to someone. AND… on anyone who wants to see, read, hear, etc., what is created.

          • No, it’s still Hollywood’s problem, not mine. As one example, Hollywood doesn’t put out movies with Asian-American leads because Hollywood players don’t believe Asians can be movie stars—which we knew anyway, but it was confirmed during the Sony leak with a direct quote from Aaron Sorkin—and that’s censorship too. It’s just not the kind of censorship white people like to get worked up about, because the bullies are a lot more socially acceptable and well-funded.

            Why am I supposed to care about THIS censorship, but and not all those other instances? I haven’t seen one good single argument why.

          • 2 points: Sony didn’t cave. Pretty much every major theater company (AMC, Cinemark, etc.) cancelled showings to the point that very few theaters would actually be playing the movie if they didn’t cancel. That would have been ridiculous.
            Second point: THIS ISN’T CENSORSHIP AT ALL SOLACE! THIS IS THREATS AND BULLYING BY OUTSIDE ENTITIES

  • I agree that we should be afraid of this folding to what amounts to terrorism. I really wasn’t interested in seeing this movie but now, hell yes, bring it on. I think Sony is now so afraid of more of their personal stuff being leaked that they just won’t take the chance.

  • We need to protest or start some sort of uprising over the non-release of the film and get Sony to release it. That’s the solution. Release the fucking film. The ball was in Sony’s court and they fucking dropped it. We need to pick it up, put it back in their hand and demand they do the right thing with it. My 2¢.

    • Don’t get me wrong, I agree with your premise––I’m all for giving North Korea a colossal middle finger whilst flying a flag for creative freedom––but is it OK to risk the lives of innocent people to preserve our right to see this film? The inherent complexity of this situation vis-à-vis constitutional rights, global commerce, international relations, terrorism, censorship by maniacal international superpower, (et al) adds about umpteen shades of color to what was already most definitely not a clear-cut black and white scenario.

      I’d hate to see us ignite a third world war over a film from the guys that brought us a movie about getting a random woman pregnant (of which I am a fan), a movie about smoking weed (of which I am a huge fan), and what may very well be the worst superhero film ever created (and I’ve seen Daredevil).

      As a storyteller, yes, this scares the hell out of me. I abhor censorship of any variety. I think Sony has every right to release the film. I think North Korea should eat a giant god damn dick. However, I think that with the added stipulation that: oh, by the way, if you go ahead and release this film, we’ll senselessly murder tens of thousands of innocent civilians… means that we MUST consider alternative options.

      • Keep in mind, NK’s ability to murder tens of thousands of innocent civilians is… pretty tenuous, at best. It’s a far cry from “we hacked Sony” to “we can improvise a terrorist attack bigger than 9/11, which, by the way, took a long fucking time to plan.”

        Theaters stayed open during The Dark Knight shooting, despite fears that it could happen elsewhere or was potentially less a lone gunman and more a domestic terror situation.

        • Yeah, and I get that. But like you said, “this ain’t that.”

          Can you honestly say beyond a shadow of a doubt that NK is not capable of pulling off an attack? I wouldn’t put it past them. Even if the attack was cyber in nature, it could still mean putting innocent lives at risk. Nuclear reactors, airports, power plants, the financial system… these are all potential targets that, if hit in the right way by the right team of hackers (of which North Korea obviously has no shortage) could be crippling.

          • I dunno. Maybe? They threaten us all the time. Like, all the time. The hack was easy. Sony had shit-ass security in place. An attack not only is difficult and compromising, but it also opens them to an actual attack — now, noting a potentially larger cyber attack? Okay, could be. But again, those take a lot of time. Either way: if that’s the threat that moves the needle, then why aren’t they making that threat for… say, anything else? They could threaten to shut down our power grid so we remove our many economic sanctions.

            I think we give them a lot of power by suggesting they’re capable of things that so far haven’t been demonstrated to be true.

          • You make a point, and it is a hard decision. If you release the movie and attacks happen, everyone is going to point the finger and go “why did you do that?” That could be devastating for Sony, not just economically but for the people who made the decision.

            At the same time though, where do you draw the line? Do we then pull everything because someone threatens an attack? Can a group stop Rom-Coms from being released by threatening to shoot up theaters on their release day? If not, then how large does the loss of life have to be before you get to dictate what can and can’t be released?

            If a group capable of making large scale attacks like this is willing to do it over a movie, then it is a safe bet that they’re just looking for an excuse to make the attack. Even scarier though is that by succeeding here they will be emboldened and empowered to make such threats again, as will other groups.

            As a species we have a tendency to cave in to fear even when we know that we shouldn’t. If this threat is real and will happen, then we’re left in a position in which there is no right answer. But either way the line will have to be drawn eventually, and when that line is drawn there will be blood. Does it happen now? Or do we do it later? Because there is no other answer aside from the genocide of the human race. There are just too many extremists that will always be willing to kill people to get their way. Especially once they see it can work.

          • I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that NK does NOT have the ability to bomb every theater that plays that movie (as they threatened to do). What do they have someone at all the thousands of theaters across the country, waiting until Friday to see which ones play the movie? Sure they might have one or two set up, which is awful and would be a terrible tragedy, but no, they can’t attack every theater.

            That said, you realized you just made Chuck’s point right? Absolute paralysis because Sony was hacked, so now we have to bend to their will because they might do that to a nuclear reactor? Really?

          • J.T., I understand what you’re saying, but we can’t live that way. We can’t and, in general, we don’t. Do I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I won’t get killed in a car accident while I drive my kids to school today? Nope. But I’m going to do it anyway…not because it’s unlikely we’ll be in an accident (happens all the time all over the world), but because we can’t live lives based in fear. And the moment radical asshats start thinking that they can threaten terrorist attacks if art they object to is released…that’ll be the death of art.

            And sure, we’re talking about what is probably a juvenile, shitty movie in this case…but what about books like Chuck’s with (gasp) bisexuals in them? What about the bazillions of other books whose authors were threatened for exploring themes that made zealots uncomfortable? My own stories are full of LGBT characters and interracial relationships. Will I find that no agent wants to touch my stuff because it might ignite religious fundamentalists or white supremacists?

            We _should_ be pushing for this probably crappy movie to be released…even if it’s only so we can refuse to see it and say shitty things about it on Twitter.

          • Someone else may have brought this up already, but Homeland Security has declared the threats against the movie chains as non-credible. This is the same org that used daily color charts during the Bush years to heighten panic whenever they could.

            There’s no chatter on this, no plan, no nothing. At least that’s how I’d read Homeland’s take on it.

          • Valid point. Major wars started for completely ridiculous reasons.

            In the end though, it comes down to priorities. In my mind, the US has just lost more “we are a free nation points”. North Korea has complete control over its citizens … unfortunately. Somehow, they’ve started controlling the US also … that’s even more scary.

          • It was suggested to me that one wouldn’t park on a train track because trains never come through at that time of the day. So why would one go to a theater because it is highly unlikely that this theater will be the one that they decide to target on this weekend? After all, it’s a movie and there will be other opportunities to see it (talking about the other movies that are playing, not THE INTERVIEW) without taking an admittedly miniscule chance that one would be in the theater that they decide to attack, in the also miniscule-probability case that they do anything…

  • I agree with you 100%. This is a terrifying precedent, full stop. It doesn’t matter *at all* what the content of the film was or if it was offensive or tasteless. So long as it wasn’t a snuff film or something, it should get released and no entity, no matter how many missiles they have pointed anywhere, should get to say otherwise.

    To allow this to pass is tantamount to somebody raising their hand and saying “I have something to say about Ted” and Ted (or his sketchy friends) in the corner yelling “NO YOU FUCKING DON’T! I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU AND YOUR FUCKING FAMILY!” and the rest of us, collectively, thinking this whole situation is okay.

  • Totally agree with you Chuck !And even more messed up the hackers will still probably release more emails anyway..smh. This is simple textbook schoolyard bullying at its finest and everyone knows how you stand up to a bully!I just hope Sony grows some shred of balls and releases this on VOD .

  • On one hand, I get the decision. Sony wants to protect its employees and audience. I get that.

    On the other, my thoughts, when the decision was announced, are pretty much outlined in this blog post. In catering to terroristic threats, Sony isn’t just protecting its employees and audience, they’re sending a message that art in any form should be risk free. Of course, art without risk isn’t going to be good art. Every artist (no matter the prefered medium) takes a risk with what they produce. Sure, people could say that risk doesn’t threaten lives and livelihood, but I’d ask those people to look at art history and the history of literature as well as current art around the world. Risks are taken every day. Amanda Palmer could have decided NOT to let people draw all over her, but she went with it, even with the risks. And when she was assaulted, it was the person who assaulted her who was blamed.

    What Sony needs to do is release the movie and blame the hackers and terrorists behind the hack and threats. By backing down and being cowed by the hackers, they are taking the blame on themselves. Guess what Sony? It’s not your fault.

  • I think there are two bright sides to this very dark moment ::

    1. Art is doing what art must do—create historical, communally-reflective moments that move people into action. The best artists in history have always lived under harsh criticism, threats, and have often suffered death. This gives me hope for a way out of much of the meaningless art we Americans have made in the last thirty years. Ironic, morbid even, but it’s hope none the less.

    2. This will undoubtedly prompt a surge in more and better artistic critiques of North Korea.

    • I’m reading too much today. I just read an article that makes a really strong argument about how Elf on the Shelf is encouraging children to be comfortable with increased security/privacy invasions. Not comforting thoughts.

      • Because St. Nick, who “knows when you are sleeping and he knows when you’re awake” is not enough of an invasion of your privacy? *snort*

  • I agree! Whatever the company’s bottom line reason happens to be (be it fear of more leakages or fear of money loss) they’ve capitulated to terrorists. This growing belief/trend that we can fight evil (or rather prevent evil happening) by indulging the whims of nut-jobs and psychos is very disturbing. Nut-jobs are nut-jobs…feeding their power play will only encourage more feeding. Security is a mirage. I partly blame the US government for encouraging citizens to believe that if we sacrifice a few freedoms here and there we will all be more safe. It’s just not true. Every time we capitulate another freedom to a possible threat we weaken our ability to defend ourselves (partly because we presume to be more safe when we’re not).

    There is another disturbing aspect to this situation. We don’t know for sure if it is the North Koreans, but we’re publicly blaming them? This in it’s own right is very Bully-behaviour. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t…who ends up suffering? It won’t be the starving souls in North Korea! It will be people like my American cousins who happen to be half Korean who’ll have to endure all sorts of stupid social comments made by stupid people who believe anything reported on the news as facts.

    • The US intelligence community says it tracks back to NK. Now, the US intelligence community is also under fire this week for, ohh, that’s right, torturing the unholy fuck out of people, which was something we thought was a big no-no, so — ? Who knows.

  • This whole thing is so …. arghhhhhhhh!!! Dammit, dammit, dammit. Sony blew it. They capitulated, dammit. They did this spineless, craven thing instead of sticking their finger up the nose of the hackers and saying, “Who the hell are you to tell us what we can and cannot do?” Now whoever is pissed and crazy enough to threaten our artistic creation, they will expect us to roll over and beg for forgiveness. EXPECT. What happened to our balls? Our backbone? Boot-licking, cheek-spreading, permission-asking… what a horrible precedent to set. Arrrgghhhhhhh!!!! Stupid, stupid weak idiots.

  • I’ve also seen people comment to the effect that this must be one giant-ass publicity stunt, meant to drive up interest in a movie they shit-canned and sloughed off to straight-to-DVD.

    • Yeah, a curious and conspiratorial assertion, given how much the hack has legitimately shanked Sony in the kidneys. No publicity stunt would do that — it’s like burning down your house with you still in it just to get some insurance money.

      • Aaron Sorken’s response debunks it as well.

        And honestly, not even the best ARG creators could pull off something like this. This would be on the scale of the movie The Game.

  • December 18, 2014 at 9:13 AM // Reply

    I agree with you Chuck. I’d like to point out though that Sony was under immense pressure, not from the hack. IF Sony released the film on schedule (which I think they should have done) and a catastrophy *did* occur, everyone would have a field day. Media would be screaming that Sony knew of the threats and released anyway, how irresponsible! The family of victims would OWN Sony.
    I guess it’s fair to call it a money decision, but I think the price had the *potential* to be much higher.
    As I said, I don’t think they should have pulled the film. Potential risk is different from real ricsk. I’d like to think that with our military power, our homeland has a small real risk. Then again, maybe I’m off base.
    Just my 2 cents.
    Melinda

    • The liability issue is probably right on. I don’t know about the blame, though — an attack on actual Americans would change things. And not in the, SONY, HOW DARE YOU, way, but in the IT’S TIME TO GO TO WAR way. We didn’t blame the architects of the World Trade Center for daring to build such a Babelian tower to capitalism when it was attacked — we excoriated the actual terrorists. And then Iraq and all Muslims because people are horrible and shitty and we can’t just blame a small group of terrorists but rather an entire group who had nothing to do with it and hey now I’m rambling so I’ll stop.

      • Yeash I didn’t think about the liability issue. Very good point.

        This raises a question in my mind, though: What would be the reaction if, for instance, the CIA linked this to American (instead of foreign) hackers, if they pulled this same stunt – infiltrating and threatening to blow shit up – to Sony? We do have our fair share of home-grown fuckheads. Immediate cyber-lockdown? Instant raids on suspected hackers?

        • Well, and this is precisely one of the risks, isn’t it?

          Anyone, anywhere, threatening violence to shut down anything they don’t like.

          Movies/books that critique war, America, religion, or ones that some small but vocal group even thinks do so, can rely on the instantaneous fear response to shut down their release. That’s the real chilling effect and why, to me, it makes no difference at all whether this particular movie is any good in the first place. It’s no doubt racially insensitive and crass at the very best, and it may be far worse than that. But ultimately, it’s not *this* work that I’m interested in fighting for. It’s the idea that we mustn’t be afraid to engage with our cultural products, to essentially be afraid to conduct our lives at all.

          I think many, many people in this country have given in to vast array of fears, let them become a creeping paralytic toxin that keeps us from anything with a whiff of risk. It causes us to take down the tire swings because our kid might fall out, to seek blame and monetary compensation in every accident, and which worst of all allows us to commit and apparently forgive one horrifying atrocity after another. Burying “The Interview” may be a teeny tiny pellet added to that vast shit-pile of fear, but as Chuck says, one can be outraged and concerned about many things at once, and I am.

  • Frankly I’m gobsmacked that no one at Sony thought this would happen.

    You’re taking the leader of a country that is, at the best, crazy bat-shit nuts, and portraying him in a film where he dies and his country isn’t put in a good light.

    Why is ANYONE at Sony surprised? And WHY didn’t they prepare for this by updating their cybersecurity and taking precautions to keep their people (and files) safe?

    One doesn’t poke a rabid dog with a stick and then wonder if their vaccinations are up to date…

    • Did you read this bit in Chuck’s article about blaming Sony? Here, allow me to paste it in for you:

      “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.”

      So yeah… if you could not say that Sony got what they had coming to them and/or that they should have known better, that would be great….

      • Except that’s NOT what I said. I said that I have no idea why Sony is surprised that this movie prompted a crazy over-the-top reaction from a country and a leader who is known for this sort of thing.

        What I DID say and let me quote myself: “And WHY didn’t they prepare for this by updating their cybersecurity and taking precautions to keep their people (and files) safe?”

        If you READ what I posted you’ll see I’m not saying Sony shouldn’t have made the movie – I AM saying that they should have prepared for a backlash from NK by updating their security.

        Thanks for playing.

        ;)

        • Let’s play mad-libs:

          What I DID say and let me quote myself: “And WHY didn’t **they** prepare for this by **updating their cybersecurity** and taking precautions to keep their **people (and files)** safe?”

          What I DID say and let me quote myself: “And WHY didn’t **those women** prepare for this by **dressing respectably** and taking precautions to keep their **vaginas** safe?”

          Different nouns, same bullshit argument.

  • I commented on this over at Huffington Post yesterday. Basically, my thoughts were:
    Sony: Oh shit. Let’s call the Big Bad Lawyer and Insurance Company.
    Lawyers/Insurance Company: THIS IS BAD. If you SHOW this film and PEOPLE GET HURT, you WILL BE SUED and we will not protect or cover you because YOU KNEW.
    Sony: Okay.

    Same thing with the theatres that yanked it before Sony pulled the plug.

    See, being in America means that you can sue the living daylights out of people/corporations for pretty much anything. And those corporations usually prefer being sued, because even if they are sued, they still make billions of dollars in profit on the product they are being sued over. However, I think that wouldn’t be the case with the movie. People go to see the movie, something really bad happens, even though the people knew it may happen (unless they live under a rock in a cave on Middle Earth), they would still find a way to sue the theatre, Sony, their neighbors’ dog. . . .

    Yes, they could release it as VOD, which means they can charge an outrageous price for it and make a lot more money on it because people WILL pay and say “I bite my thumb at you, North Korea.”

  • Let’s be careful and put the blame where it should be, on North Korea (assuming the US Govt is correct in linking the hackers to the nation).
    I don’t blame the theatres for pulling it and I don’t blame Sony. I do blame North Korea and feel this should be considered an act of war. If a country came and physically bombed Sony or the theatres and they had to stop production for a while, we wouldn’t chide them for that. We wouldn’t say they were “caving.”

    They were bombed. There are millions of dollars in damages. It could have been catastrophically worse. I’m glad they pulled it, because these fucks aren’t kidding around and it’s not worth the risk. But it’s in the hands of the US Govt now. What are they going to do about it?

    Maybe we should stop putting our best hackers in prison and start hiring them to prevent and retaliate in a similar manner.

  • In addition to everything you raise, what’s chills me is the effect this could have on individual artists, ones we’ll never know about, who might make that small personal decision to shy away from a controversial topic when they create their next work–and the effect this will have on studios deciding whether to greenlight such projects. Perhaps I’m naive to be more worried about the creeping self-censorship this might cause than any threat from the outside.

  • “I dunno. Maybe? They threaten us all the time. Like, all the time. The hack was easy. Sony had shit-ass security in place. An attack not only is difficult and compromising, but it also opens them to an actual attack — now, noting a potentially larger cyber attack? Okay, could be. But again, those take a lot of time. Either way: if that’s the threat that moves the needle, then why aren’t they making that threat for… say, anything else? They could threaten to shut down our power grid so we remove our many economic sanctions.

    I think we give them a lot of power by suggesting they’re capable of things that so far haven’t been demonstrated to be true.”

    You’re right. I agree we shouldn’t empower them, I’m just saying the risk should be considered. And yeah, there’s no question that hacking Sony was a frolic in Hello Kitty Playland Adventure time compared to taking down the U.S. Financial system, so… Touché.

  • The problem isn’t the content of the movie (which I agree is crap beyond crap and should have never made it past screenplay) BUT, the point is that we are allowing others to dictate and terrorize our own freedoms of expression. We are giving into terroristic demands made by cyberbullies. What will they threaten next? Batman Vs Superman because Batflec?

  • This scares me too, but not for the same reasons. Remember how, after 9/11, people were so afraid that they were willing to sign off on all kinds of draconian crap? This is a marvelous opportunity for the MPAA to reintroduce SOPA or get the TPP ratified. I’m sure Sony is more than happy to toss The Interview into the wastebin if it gives them the pretext to get all of the bugfuck crazy control over the internet they’ve been after for a decade.

    FWIW, I don’t think the “terrorist” threat was real or credible. I do think that the Sony data dump probably contained a lot of juicy blackmail material…

    • I honestly think Sony is more concerned about further leaks of worst emails and docs than violence, given what’s come out has been pretty mild and only targeted one movie and one woman. :P I would guess there are execs sweating about what they’ve said in private emails.

      OTOH, things that NK can actually bomb: US bases in Okinawa, the 7th Fleet, most of Japan and S. Korea…

  • I agree wholeheartedly with your words, Chuck. I am very much saddened that SONY cowered to that evil dictator. Did not realize those who work for SONY are cowards. It is truly frightening that they actually listened to a dictator and pulled “The Interview;” although I think it was a bad idea for Hollywood to even make a comedy about having someone killed. But let the American audience be the judge of that…not a dictator from a communist country overseas. Scary indeed.

  • I would like to point out that this is part of a larger problem: Hackers have a LOT of power. This doesn’t bother me all the time, but a lot of people have to be afraid that their bank accounts and social security numbers, their home addresses and where their kids go to school could be published online for the slightest offense.

  • Not to rouse the rabble and all that, but this has happened before with South Park and the Muhammad controversy. The censored episode 201 where Muhammad was removed (or censored out) under the guise of religious sensitivity. Additionally, any other episode depicting Muhammad was limited in availability following the controversy.

    I agree wholeheartedly that there is a dangerous precedent being set, but knowing the American populace, I’d be willing to bet that if Sony releases the movie in any way, there will be a rush to watch it because of the controversy. (After all, you can find that South Park episode online.)

  • Everythings been said already, so conspiracy theory:
    This whole thing was cooked up by the “west’ as a pretext to go to war with NK.
    Straight out of the 9/11 playbook, which “was” a pretext for war in the middle east.
    If so, I guess they are disappointed the movie was yanked so they can’t do their staged attack.

    • Its usually brought up when someone (uneducated in the topic) is offering advice for depression and anxiety.
      “why are you sad/stressed there are worst things” the go to response “why are you so happy people are doing better than you”

  • A lot of people are saying that SONY shouldn’t have buckled and just have shown the film. However although I agree that the film should have been released, I wouldn’t have the guts to do so. Be it a possible or a bluff this jerk threatened to kill tens of thousands.

    My main concern isn’t that SONY buckled and gave Kim Jun Un control over media and art but that this was allowed to happen. I turn to the US government and say “how can you let this man threaten your people”

    I am Scottish so people can say this threat doesn’t affect me but this does threatens media and art around the world.

  • Chuck: Your blog, as usual, speaks to me. I’ve been writing about censorship in general, and in the Japanese and American markets in particular, since I started blogging. I am in some sense a “creator.” My significant other is a “creator.” We write/draw/chicken-scratch ideas that we hope others may see, unfettered. By simultaneously setting up each dumb argument in favor of censoring The Interview and then knocking it down, you’ve done us all a great service. Your writing cuts through the BS, while also, managing to make the whole awful mess funny. The only question now is: What the hell do we do about it?

  • Y’know, the go-to solution to this problem has always been not to name specific names. It’s one thing to make a film about a group of CIA operatives trying to take down “a Russian official” who’s made to look and sound like Putin but is given a totally different name (such that the audience knows exactly who’s being portrayed, even if it’s not explicitly stated), but it’s a horse of a different color when that same film is made and DOES have an actor portraying the REAL Putin. Naming ANY specific, real-life individual, especially the real-world leader of a sovereign nation, in a story that mocks that individual or lays out an assassination plot against that individual (that’s backed by the U.S. government) is asking for trouble. This is why the Roman A Clef has a long and celebrated history.

    Sure, in a perfect world any artist should be able to make whatever art he or she wants so long as it doesn’t break actual laws or harm actual people. But there’s ‘a perfect world’ and the world we actually live in, which is populated by plenty of crazy and heavily-armed people, and when there’s a very simple alternative that can accomplish the same artistic ends *without* putting anyone’s data or lives at risk, why not just go with the alternative? Would you rather compromise a little and still get your art and message out there, or dig in your heels and see your art wielded as a tool to do gross injury to innocent people?

  • I haven’t read through all the comments but maybe, just maybe the government had a hand in Sony’s decision. If this was a true terrorist attack (which I believe it is) then maybe the government told Sony “You better not release that film until we get this squared away”. Anyone else think this is a possibility?

      • Seriously. Why wasn’t our government all, “Heya Fearless Leader? That shit isn’t going to fly so unless you want to be wiped off the map, STFU and let us eat our popcorn at the movies in peace… m’kay?”
        Or perhaps something more diplomatic. ;o)

        • Exactly. I don’t think this issue should be swept under the rug, for all the reasons Chuck states. But I also think Sony made the right call, for now. I don’t like the idea of censorship in this fashion but I also don’t like the idea of innocent lives being lost. And like other’s have pointed out, Sony is in Japan. A wee bit closer to North Korea than we are. That most likely played a part in their decision. It may not have been “American” innocent lives lost.

  • Does anyone really think that North Korea was going to hijack planes, and fly them into movie theaters? We are talking about one of the poorest most incompetent nations in the world.

  • Good commentary. Just a couple notes: “South Park” did an episode where they had drawn the prophet Mohammed but the producers would not show it for fear of reprisals and danger to the staff of the network. So, instead, they put a big black box around Mohammed and then had Jesus shit on the American flag to show how crazy pressure from out-side groups is to deal with and how conservative Christian groups didn’t burn down the studio for showing Jesus defecating on the American flag.

    2nd. Wasn’t “The Interview” the same film that Kim Jung Un said was an “act of war” like six months ago and was treating like an “act of war” against North Korea? “Act of war” gets nary a moment of press but Sony’s decision to not release it and everyone goes ape-shit crazy.

  • Art is never immune from this world.
    12 years after the great dictator, the great Charlie Chaplin exiled himself away from the USA; and who knows how many great ideas emerged and then died quietly during this exile?

    Sure, terrorism against art or artist is cowardly and useless, only some people from the USA and any part of the world were and are like that also.

    By all means, I think this situation has its own context and does not necessarily point to darkness. it’s Christmas time, and even if we don’t mention the 170-death tragedy in Pakistan, some psyco just single-handedly held a coffee shop hostage and caused 2 death in Sydney.

    ps: South Park has to circumvent and compromise in multiple cases, like not showing the face of certain religion prophet, and putting Tom Cruise (?) in an actual closet.

    ps2: Do you think somebody can publish something in UK without pissing anybody off using this idea below?
    Jean Charles de Menezes, innocently killed on July 22, 2005, in London;
    Prince George of Cambridge, innocently born on July 22, 2013, in London.
    Look out for revenge, English people!

  • Excellent post. Freedom of artistic expression, a free media, is one of the cornerstones of democracy. But while many of the worlds democracy’s are capitalist, capitalism, itself, and democracy are not quite the same thing. I guess what we have here is the world shifting from democracy towards capitalism.

    Cheers

    MTM

  • It reminds me a lot of the outrages from back in the 80’s over Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses”. I grew up a christian, but when that whole debacle happened, I was furious. Yes, even at fourteen I thought a lot about subjects like this. Just because someone feels uncomfortable with art, doesn’t mean they have the right to tear it down, or ban it. This, of course, is on the extreme side, making terroristic threats because they have no other avenues to display their own anger over it. Perhaps North Korea should try fighting fire with fire, they could write, film and produce a movie about two of their actors coming to America and doing the same… thought I am betting we’d find that funny and not threaten to bomb them.

  • I’m pissed. I’m so pissed. I’m mad as hell. And I’m scared as hell, too. We’re writers, here, and artists, and we know that our words and our art are our power. We LOST our power. There is a screenwriter out there who had a statement to make and a story to tell, and now that right is gone. We should be SCREAMING about this. Obviously there is no clear-cut answer, given the threats of violence that may or may not have any real credibility, but for right now, WE still have our words, and we should be using them to generate as much discourse as is humanly possible.

  • It’s fucking terrifying. I can only repeat what others have said this morning–it’s fucking terrifying and it makes me so angry. I don’t care for the movie by itself, but that Sony capitulated is basically giving it up to terrorists.

    So, yeah. Angry. Scared, because now we let an extremist regime (and not even our own!) tell us what we can and can’t see?

  • North Korea: “If you release this film, we might kill some people.”

    Sony: “Hey, let’s not release this film.”

    Artists: “Pfft, wusses.”

    Moan about North Korea all you want, but Sony have done nothing wrong. I mean, you wanna talk about victim blaming? Maybe don’t badmouth Sony for being the victim of an attack and then doing what they could to keep people safe afterwards – despite it, as you say, costing them over $100 million.

      • Fine, maybe there wasn’t any threat of physical violence, but no one can deny that Sony and their employees were harmed by the hack. How would you react I f it was your livelihood being threatened? My point is that the wrongdoers here are the hackers, not Sony for being hacked. Victims have no responsibility to do whatever it is that’s perceived to be in the public’s best interest.

  • This story is newsworthy for so many reasons, but I think people need to talk way more about it in the way you do here. Because if the ‘war of terror’ doesn’t only work on people but also on culture, we’re really in danger for all the reasons you mentioned. I hope this addition to the discourse gets more traction soon.

  • Although, I find Sony’s decision unfortunate, I’m not entirely surprised. One issue that few seem to consider is the geographical considerations of this situation. Sony is a Japanese Company. The threat of North Korea is a larger factor for them than for North America. Not simply from terrorism, but actual military responses. Only four years ago, North Korea was lobbing artillery shells into South Korea and killing civilians. They’re obviously not afraid of carrying through with threats. So, when your corporate headquarters is located in a country with missiles pointed at it, you have to weigh that into your decision-making. And lest we forget, we’re still at war with North Korea… there was no peace treaty. Krazy Kim can do whatever the hell he likes.

    Was pulling the movie the right choice? Absolutely not, for all the reasons mentioned and more. And, honestly, the only bomb that would have gone off is the movie itself. So, rather pointless, yet incredibly harmful choice.

  • Perhaps if people understood history a little better they’d be as freaked out as you are about this. One of the first things to go in a tyrannical state is the free thinkers – which naturally includes writers, painters, singers, satirists, etc.

    I’m not sure the government can step in because this happened to a private company – however, at the very least the State Department should be having private discussions with NK. Hell, maybe the Justice Department would be within its rights to sue NK for the attack. Dunno.

    I do know that you’re right to be freaked out and you nail what this kind of action and reaction means.

    Maybe Sony should get a security makeover and grow a pair and release the film anyway. Sadly, they probably won’t.

    Great piece.

    Annie

  • While I agree with this article, I think we should ask ourselves the question “How would America react if North Korea released an international film about assassinating our current President?” Not just how would we react publicly, but what kind of drones would be sent out to kill the North Koreans responsible for that film. We take the security of our leader VERY seriously, and I have to wonder why we’re surprised that North Korea does too.

    • I feel like you didn’t actually read the blog. Which covers this. Because it happened. When filmmakers in the UK did it. And we didn’t blow anybody up. Or threaten to. Or hack them. Because really, who gives a shit?

  • Maybe it’s because my film school professors were all cynical lefties, but I DO think this is about money–and about Sony trying everything possible to keep the hackers from releasing more of its internal docs. Christmas day is a BIG $$$ time for the studios with films like Annie plus The Hobbit and others . The American public got one whiff of “terrorist threat” and — if that’s not resolved — could very well stay home. Homeland Security has trained the sheeples well. The Franco/Rogen stinker is a tiny handful of pocket chain in the big picture. Throwing it down the drain –as one commenter said, covered by a fat insurance policy,most likely, so the studio recoups its costs, is a Win Win! Cynicism 101. Threat Level — Corporate Green

  • Chuck, a quick thought: If your local movie theater (or your office, or your child’s school) received a bomb threat, the managers of said theater (or office, or school) would essentially have no choice but to evacuate the building and call the police and bomb squad; it is the only responsible action once a threat has been lodged, regardless of whether the threat is believed to be “real” or not. In fact, stuff like this does actually happen with unfortunate frequency all over the US all the time, and has for decades, targeting everything from churches to kindergartens to abortion clinics. And the decision to treat a threat seriously isn’t just because of legal (read: financial) liability issues (which are real, if you are someone who is liable, as the theater owners and Sony would be in this case), but arguably because morally it’s the only defensible course. If you are responsible for the safety of others, you have to act to make them safe once a threat has been made against their welfare.

    Somehow we’ve managed to survive as a democracy and as a nation despite bomb threats (or envelopes filled with white powder or even actual shootings and stabbings) in the past (though admittedly the scale of this particular bomb threat might be something new). Pulling The Interview from theaters isn’t going to end democracy now, anymore so than the attacks of 9/11 did us in either (well, given the damage we’re doing to ourselves I suppose the jury could still be out on that one).

    Part of the problem, I think, has been our habit of treating virtual threats (whether FB posts by husbands threatening their wives or GamerGaters going after Anita Sarkeesian or wacko hackers writing bizarre verse on behalf of North Korea) as less “real” than actual threats; so I would suggest that part of the broader solution would be tracking down and prosecuting individuals that make virtual threats with the same vigor that we would track down and prosecute a nut job that phoned in a bomb threat to a kindergarten. There’s a reason you don’t joke about bombing a plane when you’re on one, because it’s a pretty fast way to find yourself in handcuffs.

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