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Art and war: What we’ve learned from The Interview

Scott Gilmore: ‘Someone just taught the world a valuable lesson’


 
James Franco, left, and Seth Rogen in "The Interview." (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures, Sony)

James Franco, left, and Seth Rogen in “The Interview.” (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures, Sony)

It is important we understand what just happened. While details are vague, the broad strokes are clear. In order to suppress The Interview, a film that mocked the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, someone launched a cyberattack against an American company and then threatened to kill moviegoers. As a result, movie chains balked at screening the film and Sony Pictures cancelled its release.

U.S. intelligence agencies tell us the North Korean government is directly involved, but at this point if they told us the sky is blue we should remain skeptical. Others are convinced it is merely hackers sowing chaos for sheer amusement. Some pundits point out that the threats are serious; North Korea is crazy enough and weak enough to try something desperate. More informed observers argue that the “nuclear madman” shtick is a calibrated strategy with definite limits, and a physical attack is almost impossible.

These details are not especially significant. The few reliable facts are enough: Someone illegally attacked the United States, and the United States immediately yielded.

Granted, the terms of surrender were not punitive. Seth Rogen and James Franco will still get to star in other movies. Sony Pictures may lose some money, $100 million by some estimates. But it is only the subsidiary of a Japanese corporation, not the United States Army. Another film studio cancelled an upcoming thriller starring Steve Carrell because it was going to be set in North Korea, too. All together, this was not the Treaty of Versailles. Nonetheless, it was still a defeat.

This has happened before. In 1939, Charlie Chaplin began to film The Great Dictator to mock Adolf Hitler and his anti-Semitic views. Before it was even finished the British government prohibited its release in accordance with its policy of appeasement. Hollywood has also been criticized for kowtowing to the Germans in the 1930s. Studios avoided productions that were “detrimental to German prestige” and even allowed Nazi diplomats to vet scripts.

But in those cases we decided to prostrate ourselves. This week, someone else decided for us. Who it was does not matter. It may have been Kim Jong Un, one of his generals, a sympathetic arm of the Chinese army, organized criminals, or a disgruntled teen in his parents’ basement. Regardless, it was not us. This was not our choice. We were bent to someone else’s will. And that matters.

It is easy to shrug at the stakes and say, “It’s a bad comedy, who cares?” If this were a poignant film about a young woman surviving in a North Korean prison camp, we would likely feel differently. If this were a book about a child living and dying in Aleppo, we would not let Islamic State stop it from being printed. If this were a speech about the oil sands, we would not allow Exxon to cancel it. It’s easy to defend art and ideas that are important to us. It is harder to see the value in movies like The Interview. We think we are defending the idea, but in reality we are defending the act of expressing them.

America was created with the notion that free speech is critical to a free society. Other nations, like ours, have agreed. Over two centuries the Western world has built democracies upon the belief being able to write, or paint or film what we want is so important we are even willing to go to war to defend it.

So, as we debate this over the kitchen table, in Congress, or on Twitter, it is important we acknowledge this for what it is. Someone just taught the world a valuable lesson. You can successfully attack the United States and force it to betray its most hallowed founding principles. You just have to know what buttons to push, who to attack, and what to demand. You could even say there is an art to it.


 
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Art and war: What we’ve learned from The Interview

  1. The web has changed the world….and it’s power structure….it’s about time the west catches on.

    Amazing the third world countries figured it out first.

    No preconceived notions I guess.

  2. The United States has tortured hundreds of people during the Bush years. It has created a national surveillance state, with a massive server farm in Utah to collect every piece of information on everyone from everywhere that it can. Obama rains drone missiles from the sky on the brown people of the world (seven countries, I think). It has militarized police forces across the United States with tanks and other assorted gear in preparation for Tiananmen America. It abandoned its founding principles a long time ago.

  3. Scott,

    Well written article. However, I would like to highlight some points you made and challenge you on the merit of those fundamental ideas. *I found this article through the Atlantic’s, “North Korea Is Not Funny”.

    The developments of this hack are intriguing because it brings fundamental issues to the surface for all of us to examine. Overall, I think your take is too simplistic and off base.

    “Someone illegally attacked the United States, and the United States immediately yielded.”

    “Over two centuries the Western world has built democracies upon the belief being able to write, or paint or film what we want is so important we are even willing to go to war to defend it.”

    The broad stroke of symbolism that you use to describe the events and the “lessons” we have learned might as well be from Team America: World Police. Nobody “attacked” the United States. Sony, a corporation, was hacked. I get the free speech argument and the notion that once our American ideals have been stifled by an outside force, an outside force that happens to be an actual country (allegedly) instead of a ring of terrorists, that we lose a little bit of ground that our forefathers died defending. I agree with you in principle, but this notion that the Sony hack was an “attack” on the United States is absurd.

    “You can successfully attack the United States and force it to betray its most hallowed founding principles.”…..” someone else decided for us..This was not our choice. ”

    Well, it was our choice. Sony canceled the opening of the movie due to the actions of the American business owners showing the movie. The risk far exceeded the monetary gain for those businesses, and Sony as well. Sony’s hand was forced. They just got punched in the face by a bigger, badder bully. They saw North Korea in the light that they were portraying in fiction, and didn’t have the foresight to actually acknowledge the founding principles of life: the big eat the little. They picked a fight with an actual dictator with nuclear weapons and torture chambers and were surprised this kind of thing happened.

    Lastly, lets not forget that Sony’s executive team was having deep conversations with the FBI and others about the risk potential. Regardless of the risk factor, the damage had already been done nationally and the only move left for Sony executives was to cover their asses. Can you blame them? Hmm, lets see, should we A) release an overrated B level stoner flick and be true to our American values or B) bang the release and save my family- bank account-job from spiraling further out of control.

    In hindsight, Sony executives who changed the original fictional dictator to a real dictator kinda had it coming. We have artistic freedoms in this country to do and say what we want, but the rest of the world don’t play like that homie.

  4. Here we go again.The art of deflection in full display.Remember Iraq’s WMD ? Well,now we have North Korea and Sony.If you believe that North Korea has the sophistication to unleash this level of cyberwar then you believe that on the night of December 24 a jolly,rotund,old man will leave gifts under your tree.
    Just as the Bush administration went after Iraq instead of Saudi Arabia,the Obama administration is going after the small fish rather than the big one:China.Morals and free speech be damned,America only cares about the protection of capitalism.The media will turn a blind eye as always and the US government will continue to disseminate falsehood, knowing most of us are willing recepients.

  5. Censorship does not just come from governments. Remember also Citizen Kane and the successful campaign of the Hearst press to not publicize or review the movie and persuade cinema owners not to show it. How many people criticized that? Similarly release of documents by wikileaks and others have met with government condemnation because it tells us information that they would prefer us not to know.The internet just provides a new way to exert pressure against free expression but also provides a way to distribute unpopular and critical views.

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