Sony Corp.’s decision not to distribute the Seth Rogan bro-comedy The Interview because of North Korea’s cyber-hack threat-down has been called a “mistake” by our president. The company’s action has been denounced as wrong-headed and cowardly by many defenders of free speech. And our government has promised to deliver an “appropriate response” to North Korea’s bluster, insisting that the country must suffer “consequences” for its actions.
Unfortunately, the “response” so far to North Korea’s cyber-hack and subsequent threats has been pathetic and misguided. Almost everyone involved in the discussion and decision-making around this issue is talking nonsense, and no one seems to know quite what to do in this unprecedented situation.
I have a few suggestions.
First, let’s be clear: This whole charade has nothing to do with limiting “free speech.” Sony could still release the movie, theaters could show it, people could see it, and the only thing preventing that from happening is fear; not fear that people might actually get hurt or die if they see The Interview, mind you, but fear that some companies might lose a lot of money. Sony didn’t act on its own; it was pressured to pull the release of The Interview by other studios and various large movie theater chains (the biggies being Regal and AMC Entertainment), all of whom were afraid that the hubbub around the movie might prevent Americans from going to see any movies at all during the lucrative holiday season. Can’t have that, of course. So, once again, profit trumped principle in the U.S. of A., and the whole table folded in the face of North Korea’s bluff.
How do I know that North Korea’s cyber taunts are a big, fat bluff? Because that’s what North Korea does. It makes a big show of standing up to the “great Satan,” and composes all sorts of rhetorical poetry about how they are going to destroy us with the fiery breath of a thousand dragons and drown us in a sea of boiling blood. But when push comes to shove, North Korea knows that if it actually did kill someone on U.S. soil, the consequences for them would be too devastating to contemplate. So, why risk it? It’s so much safer to make the threat, then deny involvement and confuse your opponent by offering to help them find the “true” culprit.
Well-played, North Korea: You have fooled the world into thinking that your threats should be taken seriously.
There was another way. It’s not too late, and it will never happen, but we can still imagine what the response to North Korea’s bluster might be in an ideal world.
North Korea is a bully, after all, and the only way to deal with bullies is to hit them back when they hit you, or publicly shame and humiliate them. I am a non-violent person, so I prefer the latter approach.
In my perfect world, the response to Kim Jong Un’s little game of chicken looks something like this: Sony Corp. releases The Interview immediately, everywhere, and invites everyone to watch it for free. On Christmas Day, every multiplex in the country shows The Interview on every screen. Every media outlet in the world participates in “Make Fun of North Korea Day,” enlisting cartoonists, comedians, satirists, Twitter snarks, and anyone else schooled in the art of ridicule to sharpen their wit and let Kim Jong Un know precisely how little the world thinks of him.
Sony Corp. announces that, because The Interview has gotten so much attention, it has decided to fund an entire cable channel dedicated to satirizing and belittling Our Dear Leader. That way, every conceivable aspect of North Korean life and culture can be ridiculed with the derision it deserves. Other studios announce that they, too, are developing comedies set in North Korea. Wolf Blitzer, when he reports on the story, cannot contain his laughter. President Obama, when asked about the matter, snorts and does five minutes of Kim Jong Un “short” jokes. He then announces that Congress and the House have passed a rare bi-partisan resolution to immediately send a Kim Jong Un fart cushion to every citizen in America, even the illegal ones. At midnight on Christmas Eve, all Americans are encouraged to sit on their cushions and share a collective guffaw at North Korea’s expense. Soon, the mere mention of Kim Jong Un’s name makes people laugh. Restaurant floors all over the country are wet from people snorting milk through their nose and spit-taking their soda. And Kim Jong Un himself, when he surfs the Internet in his little bully palace, sees with every mouse click that the entire world is laughing at him.
None of this will happen, of course, because everyone is too busy taking North Korea’s threat seriously. That’s what we do now—we take these things very seriously, even when we shouldn’t. And by acting as if North Korea could somehow make good on its threat to hurt movie-goers, the world has given this little bully nation far more power and credit than it deserves. Besides, who is really being threatened here? It’s not as if Americans don’t already know that any idiot with a mind to can walk into a movie theater and start spraying bullets—so there is, in effect, no threat at all. Or at least not one that didn’t already exist.
I do not say any of this to be flippant. I say it because certain fundamental American principles are at stake, the most important of which is the right to make fun of people in power—even in tasteless, puerile ways that aren’t all that funny. What much of the rest of the world does not understand about American-style democracy is that it depends upon this right, because without it, politics is unbearable, and people in power get way too full of themselves.
But as I said before, no one involved in this debacle is trying to defend any lofty principles or ideals—they are trying to avoid losing money. Giving in to the demands of cyber terrorists is an idiotic economic strategy, though. After all, does anyone really think that giving cyber hackers what they want will persuade them to stop?
In my perfect world, then, Americans would protest the collective cowardice of Sony, Regal, and AMC by refusing to see any movie in a theater from Christmas Day to New Year’s. Every theater, everywhere, would be completely empty. Cable channels such as Netflix and Amazon that have refused to show The Interview would have no viewers during that period as well. None. Instead, everyone in America would pick up that book they’ve been meaning to read, sending an unequivocal message to all that multi-national corporations and the U.S. government may be willing to capitulate to the demands of a bully, but the American people will not.
Because the truth of the matter is, the only way Sony and its affiliated theaters will do the right thing is if they lose money doing the wrong thing.