The big pre-Christmas story is of course the distinct lack of Christmas cheer coming out of North Korea. The hermit state is accused by the US FBI of instigating a politically motivated hack attack against the Japanese company Sony, in order to pressure Sony into halting the realise of the satirical film the interview.
The situation has now brewed into a full blown political crisis, with insults being traded by both sides and North Korea making its trademark threats of terrible consequences if the crazy little cheese munching dwarf in Pyongyang doesn’t get his bottle. Unfortunately, while Pyongyang denies it, the facts do tend to stack against them, notably given that the language used by the hackers, sounded suspiciously like the stuff we’re used to hearing out of the NK propaganda ministry.
Of course Sony, a company not exactly famous for brilliance in cyber-security, has hardly escaped criticism. The information leaked by hackers included e-mails which revealed Sony’s policy of unequal pay, less than gratifying comments about leading celebrities and mismanagement of employee’s personal details, something that’s likely to lead to class action lawsuits.
Sony claims that they cancelled the film due to fears over safety and that theatres were refusing to show it. But this is contradicted by a number of independent cinemas. Not only were they prepared to show the movie, but when Sony showed reluctance, they proposed showing instead Team America World Police“, in order to give the two fingered salute to the young general and his cronies…only for Paramount (owner of the copyright) to close ranks with Sony and effectively censor a film that’s been on general release for nearly a decade.
In short, its very probable that, Sony’s real motivation for cancelling the release of the interview was simply a way of making all these negative stories just go away. As the vulture put it The Interview was no longer the hill that Sony wanted to die on.
Indeed, some of the leaks revealed Sony were nervous about the film, even before the hacking started. Leaked e-mails show back and forth exchanges between Seth Rogen and Sony management, regarding the final death scene of Kim Jung-un, something Seth has himself commented on prior to the hack. It seems that Sony wanted him to tone it down a tad.
Unfortunately, Sony didn’t count on this act of intellectual cowardice provoking an even bigger backlash. Making fun of vane dictators is a tradition that goes all the way back to the day of Charlie Chaplin’s the Great Dictator. Kim-Jung-il was himself mercilessly satired as a platform shoe wearing, ronery, alien coachroach in disguise. Saddam was the main object of ridicule in the Hot Shots films, Frank Drebin took down the Ayatollah and Gorbachev in Police Squad: the Naked Gun. And the satirical puppet show Spitting Image was well known for mocking many dictators (notably Gaddafi) as well as western politicians (notably Gaddafi’s nemesis, Ronald Reagan).
Sony’s climb down, along with prior backtracking and self-censorship by newspapers over the whole cartoons of Mohammed fiasco, means that now all any totalitarian dictator needs to do is issue some random threats via some anonymous e-mail account and criticism of his regime will be swiftly silenced. In effect the reach of police states such as NK and Saudi Arabia now extends right up the White house lawn and across the grass of parliament square.
Indeed another film about North Korea has also been cancelled by another Hollywood studio as a consequence. It is thus for good reasons that this incident has to be seen in serious light, as it represents a roll back of artistic freedom to a pre-1930’s level.
Fortunately Sony, realising they’ve vastly worsen their position by acting so cowardly, are talking about releasing the film on other platforms. As a consequence Kim Jung-un might be on course to learn a lesson in the so-called Streisand effect, whereby a film that would have probably been overlooked by many, will now gain a wider audience.
And that’s bad news for him, as there were many reasons for North Korea to want to suppress this film, not least of those being that Kim Jung-un is not in as a secure position as his predecessors. There would be a certain irony of course if the Kim regime were brought down by a mere movie, given how enthusiastic his predecessor was in his support for NK’s film industry.
That said, NK has long engaged in a policy that the CIA insiders often refer to via the acronym CFC Crippled, Fearsome, Crazy. Knowing they could never win a conventional shooting war with South Korea, let alone the US and its allies, the Pyongyang crazy gang have long embarked on a strategy for survival which involves appearing to be dangerously unhinged, thus convincing the west to leave them putter in their poverty stricken sand box.
So while its possible, they tipped their poker hand bluff a little too heavily this time, it might be worthwhile considering this incident along those lines.