It’s the kind of story that sounds like a bad movie plot itself, but instead the drama surrounding Sony for the past month is sadly true.
At the end of November, Sony was targeted in one of the largest cyberattacks in history. The group that claims to have hacked them, the Guardians of Peace (GOP), stole 100 TB of data, including employee social security numbers, emails, and unreleased films. Of course, one of those films was The Interview, which if you haven’t been paying attention to the news, mocked North Korea and ended in the death of its current dictator, Kim Jong-Un. Though the film was set to be released Christmas day, when the GOP made threats of 9/11-style attacks against theaters who screened the movie, Sony and the major theater chains quickly capitulated and cancelled the film’s release.
The investigation is still ongoing. The US government has officially blamed North Korea for the attack, though of course there are conspiracy theories as to who may be actually behind the attack. The Interview got a limited release on Christmas, thanks to theaters like the Alamo Drafthouse, and Sony has also released the film over various digital formats. However, ever since Sony decided to cancel the theatrical release, there’s been an outcry over free speech, art, and how Sony could have given into the GOP’s demands. The terrorists have won. The world as we know it is over.
Of course that’s a ridiculous statement, but you wouldn’t know if from the massive amounts of commentary on the Internet and social media. And while the entire scandal surrounding Sony and The Interview should be cause for concern, it’s not for the reasons that you may think.
First, the idea that this is an attack on free speech or anyone’s First Amendment rights needs to be looked at a little more closely. Sony, while a powerful corporation, isn’t the US government. There’s no issue with repressing anyone’s constitutional rights. And while there’s certainly a case to be made about how Sony is allowing anyone’s artistic expression to be suppressed by an outside source, we shouldn’t at all be shocked that it happened.
If anything positive can come out of this situation, it’s hopefully that the public will realize that huge media conglomerates, including movie studios, are businesses that are out to make money. Studios are happy to support creativity and their artists’ freedom of speech – until it costs them money. After all, they are multi-billion dollar businesses. Their main concern is profit; if a particular film or property suddenly presents a risk, it’s just good sense to cut it loose or minimize their support of it.
We as audiences seem to have forgotten this, instead getting swept up in the glamor and fantasy that is Hollywood. We want to believe that Hollywood is about making great art, risking everything on bold statements and biting satire that can make our world a better place, even if it’s only a small piece at a time. We want to believe that studios exist to make sure that the best filmmaking can reach the widest audience possible. And to be fair, the studios work very hard to make us buy into the fantasy as well – it’s a profitable arrangement that for the most part hurts nobody.
This willing self-deception goes a long way towards explaining the public outrage at Sony pulling the wide release of The Interview, because we’ve genuinely started believing that this isn’t how studios are run. That outrage has led to The Interview now being used as a symbol of freedom. We’re told that everyone who loves free speech, art, and America should go see this movie as a way to fight back against the terrorists, strike a blow against North Korea, and support free speech, all while being entertained! However, that leads to the real cause for concern behind the entire scandal.
Everyone seems so caught up in a weird mishmash of patriotic fervor and “stick it to the man” anarchy that they seem to have forgotten that The Interview is really just a mediocre stoner comedy that’s making light of one of the hugest violators of human rights on the planet. The “rah-rah” American spirit seems largely misplaced here – after all, no one is really taking part in a fight for freedom by paying to see this movie. Instead, they’re paying a huge studio to watch a run-of-the-mill comedy that does nothing to actually help the people of North Korea who actually suffer at the hands of Kim Jong-Un.
In the end, the entire scandal with Sony, hackers, and The Interview is as bizarre as it is disturbing. Hopefully after the initial outrage has passed, people will use this as an opportunity to see studios and the Hollywood system for what it really is: a huge business that happens to also make occasionally great art. And perhaps most importantly, people might use The Interview as a jumping-off point to educate themselves about the reality of North Korea and help put more international pressure on the country and its leadership.
However, whether you’re outraged or apathetic, patriotic or disillusioned, seeing The Interview this holiday season or picking another film for the evening – just be thankful that we can go out to the movies, hackers and dictators aside.