“The Interview” and capitulating to bullies

the interview movie bannerI had lots of problems with a bully when I was in middle school, and each of my children at various times have had issues with bullying behavior, and not always on the receiving side of the equation, unfortunately. Still, there’s a certain power dynamic between big people and everyone else. But it doesn’t take physical size to make a bully: there are plenty of people who bully and are of smaller stature, they just know how to be intimidating.

Apparently North Korea is the latest to enter the world of bullies, with Sony Pictures Corporation on the receiving end of the bullying and aggression. If media stories are to be believed, it all revolves around a daft comedy called The Interview, which features Seth Rogen and James Franco as two typical American bumbling idiots trying to do something on the world political stage. Something that turns out to greatly offend the North Koreans.

IMDb describes the plot thusly: “Dave Skylark and producer Aaron Rapoport run the celebrity tabloid show “Skylark Tonight.” When they land an interview with a surprise fan, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, they are recruited by the CIA to turn their trip to Pyongyang into an assassination mission.”

Sounds stupid, actually. In fact, I know of a few people who have seen it and they say it’s pretty dumb and gets worse as the film proceeds. The trailers certainly seem to suggest that it’s more about the extraordinary incompetence of the film’s lead characters (Skylark and Rapoport) far more than anything else, and that’s well trod comedic territory, including the hilarious Team America: World Police, which also portrays a North Korean leader in an unflattering light (along with dozens of other celebrities and high-profile individuals in contemporary culture).

But so what? We have films that portray the current President of the United States as an idiot — heck, our media does that every day, and will happily switch their attention to the new POTUS when he or she is elected, regardless of political party — along with the heads of many other nations.

What’s more concerning isn’t that North Korea retaliated by having the military hack into the Sony Pictures computer network and steal vast amounts of private data that they then posted to the Internet for everyone’s salacious reading pleasure, but that Sony’s knuckled under to the bullying. After the great hack that compromised Sony’s network, the same hacker group then warned that anyone attending a showing of The Interview risked death on the scale of 9/11.

Without any credible backing to their threat, some movie theaters immediately announced that they wouldn’t show the film when it opens and after Sony said additional theater owners could opt out of this particular film without adversely impacting their contractual relationship with the media giant, many others piled on the bandwagon and Sony’s finally just pulled the movie entirely. No release to pay channels, no on-demand, no DVD or Blu-Ray down the road. Just into the shredder.

Now The Interview might well be a bad enough movie that it would have bombed anyway, but apparently no-one at Sony has learned the lesson that the best way to deal with a bully is to stand up to them. Individual moviegoers could certainly decide to skip the film, but for the theater owners, and most importantly, for Sony itself to just knuckle under to the unsubstantiated threats from an anonymous group of hackers that might not even be related to the data break-in at all.

I suggest North Korea might need to get a sense of humor: laughter is an essential part of being human. But more than that, I suggest the Sony executive team might need to get some balls. Yeah, a hacker group is threatening harm to viewers and that’s alarming, but a future that has every crackpot able to change the path of a multi-million-dollar project on a whim is a pretty grim place, where everything’s boiled down to its most PC, least offensive, most boring essence.

If I could, I’d go see The Interview, if just to show that I appreciate living in a country where I can make my own decision about what to see and how to spend my time and money, without some foreign-government-funded terrorists changing the landscape as if we were all puppets on strings.

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