Fear Wins: The Sony Hack, a Culture of Bad Behavior and the Shame of Trepidation

interview_poster-image

NOTE: Because of the length of the following editorial, it has been divided into sections. Naturally, I would hope readers would read the following article in its entirety. Realistically, that might not be an option for everyone. Should you wish to read about THE INTERVIEW, feel free to scroll down until you reach that header. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy the following article and I welcome any reasonable feedback.


Why does terrorism continue to flourish? Because it works, or rather because people allow it to work. This is not to suggest we should blame the victim. I am not referring to the scared, poverty-stricken family half a world away, who doesn’t know what to do because the horror could live next door. I’m talking about people like us, here in our own insulated borders, who allow ourselves to be ruled by fear, when we should all know better. The latest acquiesce towards terrorism is striking American social media with greater force. Because this time, the target wasn’t a mosque or a busload of Israeli civilians. This time they hit us where it hurt, right in the pop culture, something certain groups seem to care about more than the lives of strangers.

Sony Pictures and a Culture of Misogyny

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When the so-called Guardians of Peace began their cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, it was more severe than your typical hack. However, it didn’t affect the average person in any great way. Five films, four of which had yet to be released, were leaked onto the internet, no doubt costing the studio tens of millions of dollars, if not more. What started to get people’s attention were the emails between Sony execs that leaked into the press.

Most troubling were the emails between Sony head Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin. Rudin seemed to target every powerful woman in the company, calling Oscar winning actress and humanitarian, Angelina Jolie, “a spoiled brat with minimal talent.” He referred to a high ranking female financier as “a bi-polar 28 year-old lunatic.” He even scolded Pascal, the head of the company, writing, and “Watch out how you talk to me.”

Other controversial emails between the two revealed some racially tinged exchanges about President Obama, whom Pascal was meeting at a breakfast. “Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO (UNCHAINED),” Pascal wrote. “12 YEARS,” Rudin replied and so on.

This was coupled with the release of financial records that showed a large discrepancy with white, male employees earning more than their counterparts. Also released was the amount paid to key cast and crew on 2013’s AMERICAN HUSTLE. Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, supporting actor Jeremy Renner and director David O. Russell all earned nine percent of back-end compensation. Meanwhile, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence earned only seven percent. That was after negotiations as Lawrence, who had just won an Oscar for SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, was originally to be paid five percent.

Aaron Sorkin wrote a New York Times editorial attacking the press for publishing the results of the Sony emails. And no wonder, a further leak of emails between Sorkin and NYT columnist Maureen Dowd featured Sorkin bemoaning the lack of good scripts and roles for women. Though immediately afterward, he stated that actresses aren’t as talented or versatile as their male counterparts. Again beating up on one of our most interesting new talents, Sorkin wrote, “Jennifer Lawrence won for SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, in which she did what a professional actress is supposed to be able to do.” He went onto say that Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep “can play with the big boys” but other actresses and the roles made available to them are lacking.

Kill the Messenger?

Photo credit: Neilson Barnard, Getty Images
Photo credit: Neilson Barnard, Getty Images

At this point, a narrative was spreading that the press should be ashamed of themselves for publishing the emails and private documents. As a matter of fact, there were several pieces of the leak that most news organizations, to their credit, chose not to release. These included the medical records, visas, passports, private company passwords and social security numbers of several Sony employees. There was no positive excuse for releasing that info and thankfully, most outlets recognized that.

But still there has been major criticism from Sony and its surrogates when it comes to what the press should publish. Critics compared the sharing of company information to the sharing of hacked nude photos of several actresses a few months before.

This is a ridiculous and offensive comparison. Here’s why: What many celebrities experienced was a theft of private photos, many of them intimate, taken for the purposes of sharing with their significant others. It was an invasion into their bedrooms, shining an unwanted spotlight on their private, romantic and sexual lives. The only purpose for their existence was to be shared between two people in an intimate relationship.

By contrast, the emails and documents, no matter who was meant to see them, are data and correspondence meant for business purposes. The emails and financial records are not an invasion into the private lives of Sony employees; they are elements of their business. People who downloaded and shared nude, private photos were complicit in a sex crime. The Sony emails instead represented transparency with which Sony was not comfortable.

And no wonder. They show a shocking culture of misogyny (yes, even with Pascal at the top), racism and backbiting. While shaking hands and smiling during the day, those people are thrown under the bus in private missives, and are henceforth disciplined by outside forces for daring to assert themselves. “But how could this have happened? Surely, you couldn’t suspect me?”

I don’t care if you’re a movie studio, government organization or the local grocery store. When any entity engages in such shameful behavior, the exposure of such behavior should be encouraged and the perpetrators held accountable. Too often in this world, and in this country, we reward people for bad behavior. This can be seen everywhere from the office, to our government and even to the plastic world of reality television. We exploit people instead of helping them. We manipulate people instead of working with them. We step on people when they’re down instead of offering a hand to help them up. You may say this talk is naïve, I say it’s human.

At this point, I was on the fence about the hackers. I could never approve of the personal records being made public – the social security numbers, medical records, visas, etc. But though the manner in which the ugly behavior of Sony came to light was troubling, I was glad that it did. It has made other studios nervous. Right now, they are wondering how to protect their information. Perhaps this will evolve into a better way of doing business. I seriously doubt it, but hope springs eternal.

THE INTERVIEW Is the Cause and North Korea Is the Culprit. Possibly. Perhaps Not.

interview_rogen-franco

Then came all the damn theorizing. With nothing to go on but wild supposition, news outlets and casual users of social media wondered if the Sony hack could have been related to THE INTERVIEW. The comedy, which features Seth Rogen and James Franco being enlisted to assassinate Kim Jong-Un, had already been condemned by North Korea. And it was to be released just one month after the hack took place.

Messages from the hackers, who now identified themselves as the Guardians of Peace, eventually pointed to North Korea being a culprit. These messages seemed to be written by people without a fluent knowledge of the English language. And then THE INTERVIEW started to be mentioned explicitly.

Now, the FBI and the U.S. State Department have said that North Korea was behind the attack. This is now the official story. And because of what would eventually transpire people are understandably livid. The problem is that aside from our suspicions and some very circumstantial evidence, there is little to suggest that North Korea was responsible. The FBI has been reluctant to share any concrete evidence for their beliefs. They have instead noted that the cyberattack contains the fingerprints of North Korea. Deletion malware used in the attack is similar to software previously used by the oppressive regime. But then, this is also malware shared amongst hackers of various nationalities in internet forums. All the watermarks, including IP addresses, can be forged.

Kim Jong-Un’s regime is a human rights nightmare and it’s documented that they have taken delight in seeing the blowback from this attack. Please don’t label me a truther like the fools who believe 9/11 was faked or that vaccinations lead to mind control. I am not counting out the possibility that North Korea is responsible for this attack. I merely state that there I have plenty of questions while the public has been given few answers.

For every article that stated North Korea could be responsible, there were others saying that this was highly unlikely. Some experts have expressed doubt over whether North Korea has the technical skill to pull off such an elaborate and untraceable attack. It also shows a sophistication for which they not known. North Korea’s original condemnation of THE INTERVIEW was aimed at the United States and its government. The targeting of Sony suggests that North Korea now understands that it is movie studios and not governments that are responsible for American film. It suggests an understanding that entertainment is wholly separate from government. This is different from the seldom seen North Korean film industry, in which the comparatively sparse productions are state approved, propagandistic and often remain within the country’s borders.

If getting Sony to bounce THE INTERVIEW from its schedule was the aim, than the timing of the attack is also suspicious. The Guardians of Peace carried out their attack in mid-November, just over a month before THE INTERVIEW’s planned Christmas day release. But this release was changed. For many months, THE INTERVIEW was to be released in the slower month of October. It was only recently that the release date of Rogen and Franco’s film was changed. If preparations for a strike against Sony were being planned for November, it would have occurred after THE INTERVIEW had practically finished its theatrical run.

Moreover, the hackers had already made their intentions clear in an email to Sony executives, and it had nothing to do with any solemn act for a Communist regime. “Monetary compensation we want. Pay the damage, or Sony Pictures will be bombarded as a whole,” it read. “You know us very well. We never wait long. You’d better behave wisely.” This email was dated November 21st. There was no mention of North Korea, no mention of THE INTERVIEW, just a ransom demand for Sony to pay up or see their secrets exposed. This email is not signed by the Guardians of Peace, but by “God’sApstls,” a signature that can also be found on files left in the initial cyber attack.

In a Dec. 1 interview, a Guardians of Peace spokesperson stated flatly that THE INTERVIEW was not a target, but did stress that the film was troublesome. “THE INTERVIEW is very dangerous enough to cause a massive hack attack,” the spokesperson wrote. “Sony Pictures produced the film harming the regional peace and security and violating human rights for money. The news with THE INTERVIEW fully acquaints us with the crimes of Sony Pictures. Like this, their activity is contrary to our philosophy. We struggle to fight against such greed of Sony Pictures.” The spokesperson made no reference to North Korea and said that his/her organization instead consisted of, “famous figures in the politics and society from several nations such as United States, United Kingdom and France.”

This same exaggerated line has been used in the past by Anonymous, LulzSec and various other groups. I am not saying that members of either of these groups had anything to do with the attack. I am aware of no evidence to support that claim. However, the more evidence one does consider, the more it seems as though the Sony hack was perpetrated not by North Korea or any group acting upon their behalf, but by the same groups we’ve seen carry out cyber attacks on corporations in the past.

But if they were simply hackers trying to have some harmless fun, that point is now moot. Because since then, things have gotten so very, very ugly.

The Hackers Become Terrorists and THE INTERVIEW Is a Casualty

Photo credit: David Steinberg, Associated Press
Photo credit: David Steinberg, Associated Press

Earlier this week, the hackers released a message that overtly threatened any theater that was showing THE INTERVIEW. “The world will be full of fear,” they said in an anonymous online posting. “Remember the 11th of September 2001.”

So, the hackers can congratulate themselves. If there was any slight support amongst people in the earliest moments of the hack, that all but evaporated. If they weren’t terrorists before, they certainly are now.

There is in fact, very little evidence that any kind of attack could be carried out. How would this occur exactly? THE INTERVIEW was slated to appear on thousands of screens. Was North Korea, as the hackers now expect us to believe them to be, supposed to carry out a terrorist attack on every one? Or even a single one? If so, where? And with what, exactly? The North Korean government is terribly repressive and even monstrous in the way it treats people. But as previously covered, there is little evidence to suggest they are able to carry out a 9/11-type attack.

And yet, even the threat of violence is a terrorist act in itself. And people were indeed scared. Because while a massive strike on American soil was unlikely, we are too aware from recent history that it takes very little to shake us to our core. People are still reeling from the Aurora movie theater shooting from 2012. Even back then, people were wondering if it was safe to go to the movies, despite the fact that this was one single, horrible event amongst dozens of showings and thousands of screens.

Sony immediately seemed to be looking for a way out. Theater chains that had signed on to show THE INTERVIEW were worried, and made their fears known to the studio. In addition to the potential loss of human life, they didn’t want the publicity another Aurora could bring. Sony offered them a chance to opt out of running the film. Within a day, the top five theater chains in the United States all decided not to run THE INTERVIEW. Later the same day, Sony announced it would pull the film from its schedule entirely. There are also currently no plans for a Blu-ray/DVD or Video On Demand release.

So, just like that it was over. While the attention was on Sony pulling the film, the hackers were successful in completely destroying Sony’s fourth quarter. The multimillion dollar ANNIE was leaked to the internet and thus received less fanfare for its much anticipated theatrical run. Their prestige films were leaked as well. And as for THE INTERVIEW, that’s a complete no-show. Where Sony was counting on success, there is now nothing but a black void. And because of their cowardice, they might just deserve it. Who doesn’t deserve it are the many people who worked on THE INTERVIEW or the millions who were going to see it.

The public was understandably furious, as was I. People all the way up to President Obama chastised Sony for caving in. Theater chains and then the studio bowed down to the attackers. After so many embarrassments, this could have been a reversal of fortune for Sony. Once the threats surfaced, the public was ready to rally behind the studio. Independent theaters offered to run the film, but were denied. The Alamo Drafthouse came up with the idea to run the very-anti North Korea film TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (which managed to get released without terrorist threats) in place of THE INTERVIEW, a statement that would have said satire is alive and well in the United States. Paramount refused Drafthouse the opportunity.

A lesser-publicized consequence was that another film, directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Steve Carrell (currently earning raves for the dramatic FOXCATCHER) has been cancelled by New Regency Films. The reason? The plot might upset North Korea and hence, 20th Century Fox said they would not release the film. Even without proof of the hackers’ identity, no one wants to take the chance of upsetting the Supreme Leader.

Fear Wins… for Now

Photo credit: David Goldman, Associated Press
Photo credit: David Goldman, Associated Press

So, the terrorists win. And the terrorists win because fear wins. When we have been attacked in the past, a common saying was often repeated – “These colors don’t run.” For our people on the battlefield, this is undoubtedly true. But when it comes to government policies and the hang-ringing in corporate and financial sectors, it’s a different story. In those seats of power, we don’t just run, we hide. We hide whenever we react out of fear. When we suppress a work of art because of how other, more irrational minds might react, fear wins. When we refrain from saying something that should be said, fear wins. When we get bogged down in conflicts without truly addressing our identified enemy, fear wins. When we commit pre-emptive strikes, resulting in civilian casualties, fear wins. When we torture prisoners for information, whether they turn out to be guilty or not, fear wins. Fear wins every time we sacrifice our ideals as a country and as group of forward-thinking human beings in exchange for what’s safe or expedient.

We can only take comfort in the assurance that if fear wins now, the victory is temporary. Public opinion is overwhelmingly against not just the hackers, but against the people who capitulated to them. Eventually, THE INTERVIEW will get seen. It will either be released in a few months by popular demand, or it will be leaked onto the net, perhaps by the very same hackers who initially condemned the film. Already, the ending scene which would be most embarrassing to Kim Jong-Un has leaked and been seen millions of times. This isn’t the 1970s. It’s harder to keep a film under wraps in the digital age. Whether Sony will see any profits or positive publicity from this release is entirely up to them. Already, their cowardly actions will go down in history, as will those of the theater chains.

In truth, I had no real desire to see THE INTERVIEW. I was not a big fan of the other Franco-Rogen team-ups PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and THIS IS THE END (While we’re on the subject, I’m not crazy about TEAM AMERICA either). Early screenings suggest that the film would have been released to mixed reviews at best. But none of that matters. Both Sony and the hackers have turned THE INTERVIEW into an important cultural achievement. Simply watching the film and telling others to do the same could now be seen as a revolutionary act. Years from now, people will watch THE INTERVIEW and say, “That’s what all the fuss was about?” But they will still be watching it, because now it’s part of our history.

What we need to do is remind ourselves of how self-defeating it is to cringe in terror at the thug tactics of terrorists or hackers or anyone who would try to undermine who we are or who we could be. Dictatorships come and go. Fear subsides. Art is forever.


UPDATE 12/23/2014: In a move that thankfully restores at least some confidence, Sony has agreed to allow a few dozen theaters to screen THE INTERVIEW on Christmas as part of a limited release. “We have never given up on releasing THE INTERVIEW and we’re excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day,” Sony Entertainment chairman Michael Nyman said in a statement. “At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.”

While I personally applaud Sony’s decision to give THE INTERVIEW a limited release, I am troubled by Sony’s attempts to silence accounts that reference emails leaked in the Sony hack. Particularly worrisome is how far-reaching the cease and desist might turn out to be.

Also in the news: Cyber security firm, NORSE Corp has been speaking to news affiliates after conducting their own independent investigation. Their findings suggest that North Korea was not in fact responsible for the cyber attack, in part for some of the same reasons already mentioned in this article. Their investigation instead points to a disgruntled former employee of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

UPDATE 12/24/2014: In addition to running in around 300 theaters (the number kept increasing since the initial announcement), Sony has also made THE INTERVIEW available on a number of streaming services. A rental costs $5.99, or you can own it for $14.99. It looks as though Sony might be profitable on this after all. I have rented the film and a review is forthcoming.

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