History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

22 December 2014

At the Nexus of Art and Terror

I've been giving a good deal of thought this week to the hacking attack on Sony, which has now been confirmed as a historical first in America: a real wake up call to the threat of state-sponsored cyberterrorism. The North Korean dictator was angry at a cinematic depiction of himself in a Hollywood satire -- and wreaked revenge.

The effect is chilling. I believe the media did us a disservice by reporting the salacious aspect of the hacking, the snarky comments made by studio brass about starlets with whom they happened to have business deals and off-color jokes about the President of the United States. Some people laughed. Those of us in the entertainment industry should not have been remotely surprised that Tinseltown honchos could air kiss on a red carpet the same folks they disparaged behind their backs in an email. Hollywood insincere?? Yawn.

What the media failed to report was the real news. That the people at Sony were unprecedented victims of a new form of terrorism. At first it was cyberterrorism. Then it threatened to become literal, so the studio canceled the premiere of "The Interview," the movie that started it all.

Whatever one thinks of this film -- which may now be destined to remain in a vault -- North Korea's threats had the effect of dousing a fire with a wet blanket and smothering a work of creativity. Whether the movie is "art" is subjective. But when someone --or some country -- or some dictator --who doesn't like the way he, she, or it is portrayed, can effectively shut it down, potentially rendering any future depictions or similar artistic risks unproduceable or unpublishable -- everyone suffers.

Perhaps it was ill advised in the first place to "pard the lion" as Shakespeare put it. After all, Sony is a Japanese company and North Korean nuclear weapons can reach Japanese soil. But someone (and if I know Hollywood, it was lots of someones, with deep pockets and a cadre of lawyers on speed dial) green-lighted the decision to make "The Interview," they should have been savvy enough to anticipate the possibility of repercussions and be prepared to deal with them.

As we now know, Sony ultimately made the decision to cancel the film's premiere because no one would distribute it. Movie theatres were, understandably, terrified that North Korea actually would and could bomb them if they screened the picture, even though US Intelligence, as far as we know, revealed no credible capability. It was sabre rattling, but no one wanted to take the chance that maybe, just maybe, it wasn't.

However, rather than killing their investment entirely, Sony had other options. They own Playstation and could have made the movie available to individuals. It could have gone straight to video. Or Amazon or Netflix streaming on demand, They didn't necessarily have to cave in to the demands of terrorists.

Salman Rushdie.  Theo Van Gogh . One had to flee from a fatwah against his expression of creativity and live in hiding for years. The other was murdered on the streets of Amsterdam because he dared in his documentary filmmaking to criticize radical Islam.

Seth Rogen is hardly Salman Rushdie or Theo Van Gogh, yet his satiric comedy, which for all we know pales in comparison to Charlie Chaplin's masterwork, "The Great Dictator," may have changed the course of history in Hollywood. Studios which too often play it too safe, may now blanch at any political content, any screenplay that isn't as bland and colorless as Cream of Wheat.

As artists and as consumers of art -- both film and literature -- what should we make of this?

How might you have handled the Sony situation? Do you fear that the decision to capitulate to terrorist threats will hamstring artists in certain ways from now on?

I wonder how Napoleon would have reacted if an author had penned a novel condemning him during his lifetime.


Blogger Lauriana said...

Something to consider indeed...
The whole affair made me think of the controversy last year about a Danish newspaper which published a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed. A lot of protest and threats from various more radical muslim groups followed, especially after other news media picked the story up and re-published the cartoon. I hadn't thought about the two issues you just mentioned but added up they form an odd trend: Media in general don't seem to be willing to bow to muslim extremism but they did just that when the threats were coming from an isolated atheist nation (which happens to have nuclear weapons). Even though the theoretical possibility of terrorist attacks from religiously motivated extremists is much greater than that of North Korean attach in most western countries.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I wouldn't be surprised if Napoleon had the author thrown into jail or even executed for daring to write even a novel criticizing his glorious regime.

7:16 AM  

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