by Will Wilkinson
The hacking of Sony and the studio’s subsequent decision to halt the release of The Interview is incredibly weird and it’s left me pretty well stumped. First of all, I’m not 100% positive North Korea is the culprit. I’m not aware of dispositive evidence (maybe the government has it) and it’s more than a little surprising that the North Koreans could do anything so competently. I guess they could pay somebody to do it. In any event, the idea that the North Korean dictator gets to decide what Americans are allowed to watch is outrageous. What leaves me baffled and vexed is what to do about it.
Jonathan Chait wants to the feds to step in and backstop the studios:
The federal government should take financial responsibility. Either Washington should guarantee Sony’s financial liability in the event of an attack, or it should directly reimburse the studio’s projected losses so it can release the movie online for free. The latter solution has the attractive benefit of ensuring a far wider audience for the film than it would otherwise have attracted.
I don’t think this is a bad idea at all, but it’s not clear to me that it gets us far toward solving the problem of the hacker’s veto. What if the Guardians of Peace threaten to blow up Amazon or Netflix server farms, or Comcast HQ, and once again the studio, or the distributors, with perfectly understandable myopic capitalist prudence, capitulate? I mean, when several theaters resolved to show Team America: World Police in the place of The Interview, Paramount said “Nope, shut it down” – a move, in the words of Peter Suderman, that “can really only be described as next-level cowardly bullshit.”
It would seem to me that, in the end, the only real answer is spine. It’s hard not to agree with George Clooney:
We should be in the position right now of going on offense with this. I just talked to Amy an hour ago. She wants to put that movie out. What do I do? My partner Grant Heslov and I had the conversation with her this morning. Bryan and I had the conversation with her last night. Stick it online. Do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I’m not going to be told we can’t see the movie. That’s the most important part. We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un, of all f*cking people.
Quite so. But, again, how do you ensure that all the players down the distribution chain don’t get the jitters? As Jonah Golberg notes:
The only problem: At least one cable company preemptively surrendered to North Korean intimidation, too, reportedly saying it would not air the film. Now, even if Sony had a backbone transplant, it couldn’t release the movie.
Sony could still dump it on the Internet and let it spread virally. It would lose ticket sales, but the company would strike a defiant blow nonetheless.
Don’t hold your breath. Sony would rather go the way of appeasement. And so would everyone else, it seems.
Clooney worries, and I think he’s right to worry, that our lack of spine is going to lead to insipid, bland, inoffensive, a political film-making. Freddie de Boer observes that we’ve got that problem already:
What I wonder is why people aren’t a little more put off by a form of censorship that is more insidious, and will likely affect far more movies in the long run: the soft censorship of appealing to the Chinese government in order to reap the Chinese box office. There have been widespread claims that recent blockbuster movies like the latest Transformers have been written so as to appease Chinese censors. There’s nothing wrong with writing movies to reach out to a particularly huge foreign box office– why wouldn’t you want your movie to play to Chinese moviegoers?– but appealing to the Chinese government is a whole other ball of wax. That’s where you can see genuine self-censorship coming in. And while I imagine that this whole thing will blow over before long, without a great deal of long-term damage, I think the urge to play in China -and for the Chinese government — will only grow over time.
The problem of willingly selling out to the Chinese reminded me of Ayn Rand, whose bracing moral lessons I’m sure Freddie had in the back of his mind. Rand’s finest novel, The Fountainhead, is an anti-capitalist screed about the spiritual and cultural evil of catering to market demand. Forget the problem of giving the commie censors what they want. It’s wrong to give the free market what it wants, when what it wants is aesthetically debased, which it always is. The architect hero of The Fountainhead, Howard Roark, is the ultimate in spine, the patron saint of never selling out. When one of his perfect, austere modernist buildings is bowdlerized the better to suit the public taste, he blows it up. That’s right, Howard Roark is a terrorist, a jihadi for artistic integrity. Maybe Howard Roark is the answer. Maybe can show us the way. Maybe Sony needs to feel that it is unsafe not to release The Interview. Maybe Seth Rogen needs to blow something up! Or maybe Brian Beutler is on to something, and the best we can do is call on Anonymous to steal the movie and make sure that, in this case at least, market-based American spinelessness can’t put a gag on our precious stoner auteurs.