The Sony hacking scandal seems to be going from bad to worse. It began with the private emails of several Sony executives being leaked, but before long the whole thing turned geopolitical. Now the consensus seems to be that it’s probable that the cyber attack was orchestrated by the leaders of North Korea. Alternative explanations have been hinted at, such as it all being the work of a disgruntled employee at Sony, but as time goes by more and more major media sources publish material suggesting that the whole thing was ordered from Pyongyang. Check out this article in the New York Times and this clip from TYT.
The whole thing has now gone far beyond Sony receiving a few threats, and is fast approaching the state where I have to ask what the hell is going on. Sony has decided not to show the movie “The Interview” a comedy about a fictional assassination of the leader of North Korea, out of fear of violence. Officially North Korea is denying involvement in the hacking (read about it here), but other movies related to that country are also being pulled from further screening, for example Team America. One is forced to recall certain other similar cases, like when a lunatic threatened to shoot people at Utah State University earlier this year because he didn’t like a feminist activist that would be speaking there, or when the former chief cleric of Iran encouraged the murder of an author in what has since become known as the Rushdie affair. Reprehensible though all cases where free expression is suppressed may be, the severity of the threat needed to censor something seems to have been decreased yet further in this particular case.
The two above mentioned cases were fundamentally no different from what is happening now, except for the fact that the threat was perhaps more real back then. The madman who threatened to attack that school would not have been the first to commit such an atrocity in the United States, considering the memories that names such as Columbine and Sandy Hook bring up one can understand that the organizers were worried. Likewise, the top cleric of Iran is the head of a far richer and more influential country than North Korea. While Iran has connections in various places across the world, the so called “dear leader” of North Korea can be described, like said in Firefly about the character Badger, as a “sad little king of a sad little hill”. But apparently now it seems possible that he to can dictate which movies can and can’t be shown in the world’s only superpower.
Compare all of this to what happened in 1940. Back then Charlie Chaplin made a movie mocking Hitler while the nazi warmachine was steamrolling it’s way across Europe. Keep in mind that in 1940 the German defeat seemed far less certain than it would do only a year or two later, and that one could assume they would have agents working in the United States who knew who the filmmakers were. If something like that was possible back then, then we should be able to make whatever movies we want today without having to answer to Kim Jong Un of all people. Assuming, of course, that the threats really came from that country.
Earlier today I read that the celebrated author George R. R. Martin tried to purchase the rights to show Team America in his own private cinema in New Mexico, but that Paramount had withdrawn the movie from further screening. See what Martin writes about the matter on his blog here. As the author writes on his blog, Paramount wasn’t even hacked like Sony, yet they too feel too threatened to show the movie.
So now a movie not involving the current North Korean leader but his predecessor is being withdrawn even when a cinema owner is prepared to show it. If this happens today, then what will happen tomorrow? Which other movie will be censored to avoid offending some despotic ruler somewhere?
The reader who has stayed with me so far may now begin to wonder what my solution to this would be. After all, it’s easy to sit and run one’s mouth, or keyboard as it were, behind a screen when oneself is not being threatened. In fact I do not have a complete answer to what should be done about this, and I do not know how these risks should be gauged. But I do know one thing. If a cinema or the like in Europe or the US chooses to show any of these movies they should demand, and receive, the full support of their respective governments as well as any security measures needed to perform a screening without anyone getting hurt. That is the kind of things proper governments are for.