On Monday, December 1st, employees at Sony Pictures Entertainment in San Francisco found access to their computers barred by a glowing red skeleton glaring at them from their screens.
The Sony Pictures computer system had been hacked and the hackers appeared to be holding the company hostage, demanding that the company obey them or they would release private data. Accompanying the image was a warning that the system had been “Hacked by #GOP.”
It went on to say:
“we’ve already warned you, and this is just a beginning. We continue till our request be met. We’ve obtained all your internal data including your secrets and top secrets. If you don’t obey us,we’ll release the data shown below to the world.”
The message is followed by five links to zip files.
Some have suggested that the attack is in retaliation for a forthcoming comedy produced by Sony called “The Interview.” It features James Franco and Seth Rogen as tabloid TV journalists who score an interview with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
As they prepare to travel to the secretive nation, they’re recruited by the CIA to assassinate Kim. The Interview has been scheduled for release on December 19.
Spokesmen for the North Korean embassy have declared that the DPKK had nothing to do with the attack although some computer experts have already found Korean language code in the malware that was used to jam the computers. The FBI is continuing its investigation.
It is certainly more than possible that the North Koreans were involved and given the tremendous advance publicity the new Franco/Rogen vehicle has obtained, one could imagine an irate Dear Leader issuing a command to interfere with the release. Certainly the Koreans, who have, after all, built an atomic weapon, are technologically capable of coordinating such a cyber attack.
That The Interview will receive its scheduled public premiere is certain, but this latest incident is undoubtedly sending chills down the spines of entertainment executives who are already beginning to understand that the “no limits” generation of film making is about to come up abruptly against very stringent limits.
Is it not likely that in the future these same executives will be thinking very carefully about satirizing a dictatorship or casting aspersions on oppositional regimes?
Hollywood and the comedy circuit have already learned the dangers of crossing red lines when it comes to certain nationalities and religious groups.
John Cleese made exactly this point in a discussion on HBO with Bill Maher on November 26th when he said that “you can’t make jokes about Muslims – because ‘they’ll kill you’”
“The problem is,” he said, ” if you make jokes about people who are going to kill you, there is a sort of tendency to hold back a little isn’t there?”
How interesting it is that our entertainment industry, so assertive and bold in facing down Wall Street, multinational corporations, Tea Party activists and conservatives, (those it would identify as barbarians) shrinks from any confrontation with the gruesome spread of a real barbarity which now reaches across half the globe. So few in number are the film makers who have the courage to make a film such as The Stoning of Soraya M. (a film revolving around the stoning by a Iranian village community of an innocent woman accused of adultery) that it reduces us to shame. Will there ever be a mainstream Hollywood film about ISIS and its deadly rampage across Syria and Northern Iraq?
Don’t hold your breath.
No, it is much easier to find your enemies among those you know won’t kill you or seek to invade your computer systems or wish to sabotage your film’s release. The Interview may turn out to be a great laugh for all of us who found Saturday Night Live sketches of the North Korean court hilarious or Team America’s 2004 ridicule of Kim Jong-Il appropriate. But from now on, you can bet that the subjects of North Korea, the Mexican Drug Cartels, ISIS, any major or minor terrorist group or even Somali warlords, will be no laughing matter for Hollywood decision makers and that good comedy and satire on matters that cry out for it – will need to give way to the exigencies of pure survival.