In a week that Islamic extremists have - yet again - ensured was very short on mirth, we have the black farce of ‘The Interview’ and the North Koreans to give us a dark smirk. The fact that a third-rate Christmas season US date movie has somehow led to an earnest discussion about not only free speech but also national security is a new departure for most of us.
It’s a whole new debate about censorship when people are lauding the Twitter pronouncements of Rob Lowe who declared, ‘Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud today.’ I wonder - in the days when Talent employs those who have actually heard of Neville Chamberlain to tweet on their behalf - which otherwise out-of-work history graduate wrote that for him. When you ghost tweet do you get paid by the letter rather than the word?
The last place you would go to for a principled stand about anything would be a Hollywood Studio or a Japanese corporation. And in Sony Pictures you have a delicious combination of both. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more poisonous nest of vipers than the movie industry in Los Angeles. (It was an age ago that Groucho Marx said, ‘Those are my principles and if you don’t like them...I have others.’ These days principles are for the weakly feckless.)
Even its own guy Jack Valenti, who led the Motion Picture Association of America for four decades, noted yesterday, ‘They kill each other every day in the marketplace. It’s the most virulently competitive group of companies I have ever seen in my life.’ The likes of Amy Pascal at Sony - she was the pussycat who called Angelina Jolie ‘a spoiled brat’ - make Goldmans and Morgan Stanley look like Oxfam and Save the Children.
The withdrawal of The Interview is about money and the terror of losing it. Why put it out if some geek from Pyongyang can plaster all your most embarrassing bits of email across the globe? We all know the North Koreans are a deeply odd, fanatical and paranoid lot for whose leader every day is a bad hair day. But they also starve their own people to death in the tens of thousands and have The Bomb. Ours is laughter in the dark.
Step in all-round good chap George Clooney who chipped in with the sensible, ‘We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un.’ (That is certainly true despite the fact that the Dear Leader’s very tricky father - the one in Team America: World Police - loved watching everything from Rambo to Daffy Duck.)
Such a capitulation is a worrying sign. Western liberal democracy probably isn’t directly threatened by our not being allowed to watch ‘The Interview.’ However, the surrender to Islamism as we saw with the pulping of copies of Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’ was a bad thing when a principled stand was required. It gave the bad guys courage to go on to threaten death to Danish cartoonists whose scribblings troubled them.
Next year is shaping up to be an annus horribilis of cyber paranoia. As the FT reports this morning, Hollywood is now rushing to shore up its digital defence systems and being very careful which saucy opinions it commits to email. The paper quotes Stuart McClure a security specialist who says that Sony was ‘horribly, horrifically unprepared - we’re definitely getting inbound calls right now from anybody who knows us or knows of us, freaked out that any movie that could be even remotely controversial right now will be targeted. We’re getting panic calls from the production companies not just the studios.’
In the new Cold War careless emails still costs lives.