Isn’t that a question that got Herman Cain into trouble during his 2012 presidential bid when responding to actions by Israel and relating them to his would be actions here regarding Gitmo? The United States’ refusal to negotiate with terrorists has been the bastion of public policy since the horrific days just after the tragedy that was 9-11 and throughout all the subsequent threats and near misses from the Time’s Square would be bomber to the successful Boston Bombing. So, many are wondering how we managed to have our international reputation once again handed to us over a movie; reaching past how a movie depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, comedy or no, ever got off the cutting room floor, sidestepping, for a moment, what the Sony Pictures hacking scandal reveals about the supposedly progressive Hollywood that turns out isn’t so progressive, once it’s done you cannot back down. But back down is exactly what Sony did in response to the one two punch it was landed having all its embarrassing secrets exposed; then hackers, according to U.S. intelligence, linked to North Korea invoked 9-11 warning people to avoid theaters showing the film or face possible violence, prompting the movie giant to pull The Interview. Trying to blame it on theaters refusing to show the dubious comedy in the name of public safety didn’t work, nor did saying they couldn’t release it online, on demand because not one such provider would carry it, when in truth they hadn’t been asked, dido with trying to blame the government, those defending Sony’s actions asserting the movie studio should not have been left to stand alone, if they wanted Sony to take this on, as seemingly indicated, then it needed to be backed up by a larger public policy. Except we already have that policy; we do not, under any circumstances, negotiate with terrorists. And everyone from politicians to Hollywood, to Sony themselves is quick to call it an attack, an act of war, namely when a foreign power was implicated, pointedly stating we lost the first battle on the new frontier of technology, we lost the first cyber war by giving in, by displaying cowardice, capitulating; thereby setting a horrible precedent for anyone who comes after, anyone with the same idea. Though Sony in the end made the right decision, theaters rose above any genuine fear to show the film across hundreds of establishments nationwide, it was released online to create the highest gross totals for online content breaking records, that’s the way it always should have been without the ball fumbling, back peddling, making the so called “free world” look weak, unprepared and utterly caught with it’s pants down.
Hardly new, are entertainment news programs, tabloid television exposés supposedly spilling secrets on Hollywood’s divas, most demanding in the business, from weird green room requirements, usually around food and beverages, to what is kept on A list singers, bands’ tour buses at all times, from strange conditions to even considering doing person X’s talk show appearance, to who has the worst attitude, the biggest entourage, it’s all old hat and old news. Where it crosses the line into definite PR nightmare is when it reveals bad, poor taste jokes about celebrities’ kids, origin people with whom you think you have created a mutual respect; especially considering legal moves in California to protect said children, who did not sign up to join the fame of their well-known parents, from intruding, dangerous paparazzi intent on snapping their photo, getting their scoop regardless of the consequences. Making no mistake these aren’t entertainments bottom feeders, has been, washed up talent personified by Cathy Griffin’s shtick My Life on the D List, poking fun at her subpar celebrity life, only without the success; leaked e-mails discuss Hollywood heavy weights, much beloved actors such as Will Smith, the, seen as successful in spite of himself, Adam Sandler, Angelina Joe le; people who Hollywood producers, film makers need to create their art, their movies. Where it crosses the line to tarnishing a solid reputation and calling into question everything we thought we knew about the positives of tinsel town formerly regarded as ready willing to give actors around the globe a shot provided their talent was up to par, people like Djimon Hounsou, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, is when executives are caught making racial jokes about films president Obama, the first black president, might like; practically unconscionable considering current tensions on race, police and justice playing out across the country. It becomes a huge problem when the shocking e-mails reflect the issues of the day; beyond petty infighting, competition for roles among Hollywood’s elite, essentially bosses opinions on the finicky workers comprising their payroll, discovering conflicts in equal pay for equal work. Pay discrepancies centered on gender rather than the popularity currency so common there, women despite years of inroads and stunning performances still making less than men for no other reason than their sex, surrounding an industry who has profited from knowing better, doing better for decades. And like Bill Cosby who thought he could salvage his reputation asking for positive twitter memes that backfired, who thought he could stay silent, the problem going away as the public lost interest, Sony too thought they could say ok, fine we won’t show the movie, we’ll remove billboards, scrub our website, pretend like it never existed, things will go back to normal. Fat chance of that, once it’s gone viral, once it has hit social media there is no taking it back, no erasing it from public knowledge; then there’s the question of why should they even try to forget what they have found out? Hollywood has forever been seen as a place of hedonism, debauchery, decadence the only thing keeping it of any interest to millions is their ability to provide solid entertainment and escapism for the public; remove that and ordinary people no longer have a reason to pay attention. It’s as if Sony executives forgot if you don’t want it to come back to haunt you, don’t let it be recorded in any format; never mind the newness and perception regarding e-mail for older generations, neither Amy Pascal nor Scott Rudin, both at the center of the unflattering, racist remarks are too young to remember Watergate and the tapes that sundered president Nixon or Chris Mathews’ reference to Regan and Munich, actions taken that had profound consequences for both parties. Today you’re not in a back room making deals, participating in negotiations for film plots, star salaries, and even if you are, someone is bound to have a cellphone camera handy; that’s how Mitt Romney’s devastating comment about the 47% became public knowledge. Someone attending the fundraiser captured it on video and audio; subsequently people battered by a recession, job losses spawned out of downsizing and business closures, who saw their 401k’s dissolve before their eyes weren’t about to elect a future president calling 47% of the nation lazy. Surpassing what kind of person says the things exposed by the e-mails, the fact these were business, work, supposed to be professional correspondence, this has been an ongoing conversation to educate the public spanning nearly 15 years; your e-mails, posted online content are not private, no matter what site settings are available and activated, if you put it on the internet, place it in cyber space it’s there and there forever.
North Korea being fingered the culprit, opposed to say known hacking group Anonymous who has an equal reputation for antics causing old fuddy-duddy freak out and social justice leaks aimed at making citizens aware, seen to law enforcement as a nuisance rather than an ongoing true threat, elicited more panic than it ever should have. Independent of drudging up 9-11 remembering, despite the vigilant watch kept on the national nuclear power; this is a nation that cannot feed its people, depends on foreign aid to do so, who has conducted missile tests meant to reach Western shores with laughingly embarrassing results, in which flamboyant basketball star Denis Rodman was used as in impromptu diplomat due to Un’s affinity for the star and the sport. There was never any tangible, physical threat to movie theaters, movie goers nationwide; geography aside, their first weapon of choice being a computer aside, whoever this was, there is still debate questioning the authenticity of evidence blaming North Korea over potentially disgruntled employees, look at their choice of target. Yes thought process being the hack was a response stemming from their anger about The Interview, but most terrorist, hackers, people affiliated with organizations to lone individuals looking to make a statement choose big public spectacles; the World Trade Center was demolished by Islamic terrorists calling America the great satan, angered by the immorality depicted on MTV and Girls Gone Wild believing it represents all of America. Times Square, the Boston Marathon carried out by individuals radicalized by the same ideas still choosing large targets. Examine Anonymous itself, exposing the Steubenville rape case, hacking Pentagon social security numbers to prove vulnerabilities; other foreign powers, China for example, have been caught hacking, caught engaging in corporate, even military espionage. Why, to steal strategy secrets, business information, product, military hardware blue prints; things they can copy to get there first, information they can learn from getting one up on their international, in this case, US competitors. The Guardians of Peace, claiming responsibility for the hack chose a movie studio distributing previously unreleased movie content, notes on the next James Bond script and embarrassing tidbits about Hollywood stars; if this really was North Korea, and they really wanted to get back at the United States, logic, even in the mind of a terrorist, would say pick a target that gives them for more to worry about than their petty entertainment. While of course we are thankful they didn’t zero in on a vital symbol, section of American infrastructure, function, power, utilities, financial sectors, long held as the cyber dooms day scenario, it does seem odd. Now to some it’s proof positive Sony’s troubles did not originate from North Korea the vengeful employee theory fitting much better; we may never know. But it is an ultra-sad day when the president of the United Sates has to call out Hollywood for a mistake in not exercising its creative ability, choosing not to stand behind their work. It’s a sad day when the president of the United States has to tell the American people to go to the movies, not post something like the crazed gunman who opened fire in an Aurora Colorado theater, after an actual attack on any theater across the country, but after the mere, unrealistic threat sends movie executives scrambling like frightened children. Because, where Newt Gingrich clearly overstated declaring the hack an act of war, John McCain got it right, despite his recent foibles, it sets a dangerous precedent encompassing more than the encouragement of bad actors. Further unless we want hackers bent on whatever agenda to next blindside critical systems grinding our nation to a disastrous halt, we must learn to adequately respond to threats, regardless of the form they take. Welcome to the 21st century.
Neither was Hollywood’s creative community buying the serious threat to national security line Sony leaned on to justify scrubbing the film at the absolute last minute; equal parts disappointed, bewildered and outraged that a country priding itself on freedom of speech, freedom of expression saw the leading industry for that expression, powerhouse moguls in Entertainment cave so readily to outside forces half a world away. Jimmy Kimmal openly saying on his show theater owners should be ashamed of themselves, George Clooney circulating a petition he was surprised no one would sign, Rob Lowe and Ben Stiller using twitter to express their astonishment at the reaction simultaneously mourning the cornerstone freedoms that epitomize America. To them it smacks of censorship, rightly so, a heated topic within our own borders certainly not tolerated by a foreign power when the point of contention is not copyright; instead the content was unflattering, not in documentary style, a question regarding inaccuracies but in a comedy next to no one was going to take seriously anyway. Later revealed information shows justification for their scorn indicating what Sony actually did was give theaters, theater chains the choice to opt out of showing the film; theaters feeling pressure from the movie giant pulled the show at what felt like their request. Then doing an abrupt about face deciding it would show the now controversial movie the announcement, 2 days before the original release date, came with an astounding amount of bravado highlighted by commentators and no small amount of irony when the president praised their decision sidestepping the embarrassment they changed their minds. Ironic too, America is no stranger to controversial movie making throughout the years whether in being the first to cast a minority in a leading role, first to tackle groundbreaking historical events in a dramatic fashion, use film to render comment on defining social issues. America’s entertainment industry has allowed pictures like Monster’s Ball, Crash not only to be made but go on to win prestigious awards, depicting gritty streets, baser natures and harsh realities; it has permitted unhindered docudramas like Bowling For Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko predictably drawing criticism to creator Michael Moore. However that criticism has always been about accuracy, poor taste and satirizing profound events of huge cultural significance while the wounds are still raw to say nothing of defacto political advertising. Going outside our boarders, outside commentary, criticism of our own people The Last King of Scotland gave us a look at notorious Ugandan dictator Idi Amin to critical acclaim. Comedy has given us movies like Inglorious Bastards (2009) Borat covering both dramatic portrayal of historic events and looking at America from the point of view of other cultures; also The Dictator satirically looking at a general from a fictional foreign country come to America to be sure democracy never reaches his boarders only thinly disguised to be poking fun at Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi using humor to expose things subsequently uncovered to be wholeheartedly true, which was ill-received by the academy especially when character actor Sacha Baron Cohen wanted to appear dressed as his fictional version of Gaddafi at the Academy Awards. They called his internet circulated ban false and Baron Cohen showed up with 2 unnamed persons looking like Gaddafi guards carrying an urn purported by the film to contain the cremated ashes of then North Korean leader Kim Jung Il, represented by pancake mix; no pulling of films, no panic just people saying what they think. The appropriate response to threats allegedly brought by North Korea is what star Seth Rogan did at the final decision to show the movie, turn it into a huge press junket, reward the people coming to see it with your presence, distribute it online complete with the story of why it went directly to on demand and let Americans continue the work from there most likely choosing to see the movie in order to stick it to, quoting Chris Mathews “the bad haircut boys in Pyongyang.” Point of fact, once contacted about adding The Interview to their digital libraries, exactly none had a problem with that.
On a relatedly serious note here is our wakeup call to all sectors of corporate America to invest, attend to cyber security understanding it’s no longer just China and other Asian countries enviously looking to get ahead by cheating, though it costs billions in American business annually, it’s no longer the holes in point of sale devices used by major retailers falling victim to the times as much as poor technology protocols to keep hackers intent on selling your personal data out, though that may well cost billions more in lost consumer confidence; it’s everything. If they can hack Sony, indeed what is next; and more importantly what do we do about it? The singular biggest issue with those point-of-sale devices where we swipe our credit and debit cards at Target, Home Depot, popular restaurants is the chains’ refusal to heed security expert advice about overhauling current systems to make it more difficult for hackers to achieve their goals, getting their hands on your data. Equally card makers have put off significant upgrades needed to secure our information including a chip and PIN system imbedding chips in every card and requiring a PIN to unlock the card; were it adopted nationally, A it would be lock step with Europe and B it would replace the vulnerable magnetic strip and signature system originating in the 1950’s, before modern technology, before the internet made fraud so easy. Rumor has it Sony engaged in some of the same missteps in protecting their intellectual property unreleased movies, scrip information, movie ideas and employee personal data, not possessing uniform security across all their systems; yes hacking is wrong, bad, illegal, expensive, not to mention cowardly and petty if this was North Korea angry about the release of a movie unflattering to their leader, beyond the pale of either description if it was anyone else. But identical to the way you prevent your home from being robbed by locking your doors, prevent being the victim of assault in all forms by walking in well-lit places, being mindful of where you park your car and attending your drink at a club, bar, failure to take basic steps in protecting yourself only invites victimization; this time victimization of the consuming public who has no choice but to depend on you for product or service. Governmentally we don’t need another, stronger policy on terrorism, on hacking, cyber warfare as it is being called even in cases like what happened to Sony; here is where we need the government to step in ensuring the people handling our data, retailers, social services, gym memberships, have the best protocols in place, making it a matter of federal law. If you run a business, employ workers thus having on file their social security numbers, the social security numbers of their children for insurance purposes, also part of what Sony hackers put out en mass, then these are the standards you must adhere to; no more whining it costs too much for card making conglomerates, giant retail, restaurant chains amassing profits in the billions to spend a million or two preserving your business, holding onto your reputation, solidifying people’s ability to buy your product or service. A costly lesson Sony had to learn the hard way. In the end the public too voted with their tickets, their video on demand, online viewing choices, if nothing more than to see what all the hoopla was about, if nothing more than being drawn to something someone tried to tell them they couldn’t have, if nothing other than to say this is America and no one is going to tell us what we can and we can’t see, certainly not from the opposite side of the globe.