Two months ago, I defended Walmart. Well, the end may be nigh because I’m about to agree with Newt Gingrich. Get the smelling salts for me, please.
Gingrich said that the decision of Sony Pictures to completely pull the release of the bro-com The Interview means that we have lost the cyber-war. I agree.
Now, it’s easy for me to sit in my cluttered, comfortable office and pontificate on what a global multimedia corporation should do after being blindsided, cyber-stripped, and violated by some hooded evil force — or mutant teenage wonder geeks, themselves possibly hired by some hooded evil force. But if the answer is “surrender,” then there is no doubt that more attacks will follow.
Sony is pulling the picture in response to the decision by theater chains not to play the film. Whether they were worried about some sort of assaults in Peoria, Columbus, or Center Valley may have been secondary to the fear that having the film in the cineplex would surely keep audiences away from all moviegoing on the holiest of movie days, Christmas. Either reason is valid: Movie houses are communal spaces that strive for comfort and safety, and, as the saying goes, it is called show “business,” not show “free.”
As the facts of the cyber exposure unfolded, it was quickly clear that there was no favorable fix for the financial distribution of the film. But what if Sony didn’t dump the movie in a locked vault and instead dumped it onto every streamable Internet outlet available? The bad guys’ or gals’ goal might be to squash the theatergoing experience, so Sony could counter by showing what free expression actually means.
Hollywood is not the rebellious, outlaw glamour business its publicity machines have crafted. Before its present state, in which studios are owned by humongous corporations, it had a long history of go-along-to-get-along and bowing to outside forces of censorship. Short list: the Hays Office and Joseph Breen; the pulling of films that might offend the new administration in Germany in the 1930s; the partnership with the House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC, during the not-so-great McCarthy era in the 1950s. Ending the production code did not end the tug-of-war between vertically integrated media companies and outside interest groups.
And long recognizing media power, government representatives have also met with studio heads and filmmakers over the decades to suggest crafting messages that forward what they believe are in the nation’s best interests and boost national morale. Shorter list: During the heart of the Depression, after Pearl Harbor, and most recently after 9/11.
Whether it be fashion or social change, rightly or wrongly, movies have directed the American psyche since people ran screaming from the theater at the first showing of Edwin S. Porter’s Great Train Robbery.
An unexpected plot twist
In fact, this whole nightmare could be a movie, a story we’ve seen many times told with a new twist. In the original telling, the big corporation is run by fat cats who are insensitive at best or maniacal brutes at worst, but through grit and risk the little guy somehow triumphs and wins the hearts and minds of all.
In our story, the big corporation does not fold from the slingshot blasts of the bully. The big company — which employs thousands of people in well-paid jobs and comfortable working environments, which champions free expression, and which produces something that entertains billions of people — stands up to tyranny of these few and is not cowed by an oppressive, self-aggrandizing megalomaniac.
Free the film! Free the film!
Screens of all sizes and shapes — from across a wrist to across the free or want-to-be free world — can light up and say fuck you.
For Armen Pandola's take on the controversy, click here.