Commentary

Sony's Surrender: The Sound And The Fuhrer

It’s hard to believe that the backstory surrounding “The Interview,” the dimwitted bro-mance road movie that Sony Pictures ended up pulling from theaters Wednesday, could have achieved such levels of worldwide crisis and stupidity. Yet it did.

In the film, Seth Rogen and company apparently offered their usual assortment of poop, stoner and erection jokes, but added some political commentary. And just like the doofuses whom James Franco and Rogen portray in the film, the writers and producers somehow wandered into North Korean territory and got in way over their heads and pay grades. That would begin with their initial pitch involving an “assassination comedy” of a living figure who has nuclear warheads and is a psychopath.

But first, let’s get a word from the grieving Hollywood “community.”

In a statement that he released shortly after Sony pulled the movie, writer/producer Aaron Sorkin said: “Today, the U.S. succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished, bedrock principle of free speech by a group of North Korean terrorists who threatened to kill moviegoers in order to stop the release of a movie. The wishes of the terrorists were fulfilled in part by easily distracted members of the American press, who chose gossip and schadenfreude-fueled reporting over a story with immeasurable consequences for the public… My deepest sympathies go out to Sony Pictures, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and everyone who worked on ‘The Interview.'”

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Wow. It’s like he’s sitting shiva for a war hero, not a craven film company that has compounded its own problems with bad management and fatally dumb decision-making from Day One.

There’s so much sanctimony and solidarity coming from Tinseltown that even Rob Lowe felt compelled to tweet his earnest outrage. Mentioning that he ran into Seth Rogen in the airport, he wrote: “Both of us have never seen or heard of anything like this. Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud today.” He gets the honor of delivering our first “placating Hitler” reference, as opposed to others, who just called the Sony execs “pussies.”

Let’s get our wars, body parts and terrorists straight here.

Sony is a (Japanese) corporation, not a country. This was not an act of war. It started as a hack of a film company’s internal, private information systems that spiraled into insanity because that network was so mismanaged. And even though Sony had to shut down its PlayStation network after an attack in 2011, and suffered another breach to its German Web site in January of 2014, it apparently never upgraded its primitive IT system. From all accounts, Sony’s system was like the Lotus Notes of anti-spyware.

The fact that in 2014, co-chairman Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin could exchange mean girl emails as if they were experimenting with the Telenet added to the drama. Rudin’s words about Angelina Jolie — that she’s a “minimally talented spoiled brat” — would seem to describe Sony management overall and be weirdly prophetic.

And Pascal’s laughable response to the leaks of the “would Obama like 'Django' or 'The Butler'” conversation with Rudin offered a window into her seriously impaired judgment at every turn. To seek absolution, she’s talking to the Rev. Al Sharpton — as if he speaks for all black people.

It’s hard to know where to begin with the levels of hypocrisy involved here, but filmmaker John Singleton has come to Pascal’s aid to defend her and Rudin and say they both have “consistently hired people of color.” (Her “come to Jesus” talk with the all-powerful Sharpton will take place in New York, and not a moment too soon: Sony’s remake of “Annie” starring Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhane Wallis opens shortly after that.)

But back to the beyond-blockbuster-level disaster of “The Interview.” The ridiculously inflammatory warfare language that outraged stars and pundits have adopted to talk about Sony’s capitulation actually mimics the wording that came from Kim Jong Un’s government last summer. That’s when the North Koreans first called “The Interview” "the most blatant act of terrorism and an act of war that we will never tolerate.”

Let’s go back to the initial decision to green-light this nightmare. Rogen and his partner, Evan Goldberg, and Dan Sterling — who is credited with the screenplay, and who worked briefly on “South Park” —  are funny in a base, stoner way. But they don’t have the depth or gravitas to carry off serious political satire.

From the very beginning of the deal, if anyone at Sony management had been a grown-up, the screenplay could easily have been changed to talk about a fictional country and fictional leader.

See, I think the movie is too stupid to even qualify for the protections of the First Amendment, but that’s the law.

I know that Pascal didn’t want to lose Rogen because his movies make money. But from last summer on, when the threats from North Korea first started coming in, the studio began to wrangle with Rogen over the death of KJU scene, which involved his head getting hit by a missile and exploding into a fiery mess.

Rogen gave in to the notes from the Sony overlords and “removed the secondary chunks.” Again, the film is too flimsy to justify such a violent act, whether you see it graphically spelled out or not.

And it’s not even original: the execution of a North Korean head of state has been done, and even better, by Matt Stone and Trey Parker for "Team America, World Police." Sure, the depiction was ugly and offensive, but still offset by having the character be a marionette. And Dear Leader did get to say the wonderful line: “When you see Arec Barrwin, you will see the true ugriness of human nature.”

Also, it’s really stupid to suggest that the CIA regularly recruits journalists to kill foreign leaders that they are interviewing. Our war correspondents are already having an impossibly tough time.

Sources have said that Sony almost pleaded with the theater owners to pull the movie, worried that it would jeopardize the overall holiday traffic to malls and theaters. Releasing the film on VOD would seem to be a great answer, but apparently, Sony would prefer to get insurance payback and not release it at all.

And there you have it: “The Interview” was no cutting-edge, rule-breaking, revolutionary act. It was the slow accumulation of salami-in-the-anus jokes that, in the end, signify nothing.

It's more like The Banality of Evil, dumbed-down, Sony style.

28 comments about "Sony's Surrender: The Sound And The Fuhrer".
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  1. chuck phillips from chuck inc., December 18, 2014 at 6:49 p.m.

    Once again Barbara says it like it is...brilliantly.

    Bravo!

  2. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, December 18, 2014 at 6:49 p.m.

    Thank you, Barbara. Once again, you have delivered some level-headed, perfectly targeted criticism. So much hypocrisy, so little common sense. The lasting damage isn't the $100 million that Sony will deservedly lose for producing this crap, it's the craven actions of a self-righteous media that never seemed to grasp how they were helping the hackers to achieve their objectives.

  3. Rick Monihan from None, December 18, 2014 at 6:55 p.m.

    I agree, minimally. There was plenty of stupidity from top to bottom in the green lighting of this movie. I am no fan of much Hollywood does, statement-wise. Almost all of it lacks depth, logic or rationality (if not all 3).
    That said caving to threats of terror, whether by a country or corporation, is cowardly and only emboldens the terrorists.
    The hyperbole of tweets and statements aside, what ended up happening was no win for American values(such as they are today). Free speech is free speech even if it is offensive, stupid, or you and I disagree with it.
    It is Sony's right to distribute or pull a movie at any time. But the timing here shows blatant cowardice.
    Not that it matters. I'm sure most hackers have pirated versions already...but the significance of Sony's bad management (from emails to distribution issues) is front and center.

  4. Nancy Vonk from Swim, December 18, 2014 at 6:55 p.m.

    What could phaaaaasibly go wrong? As per usual, Barbara sees a tangled mess with clear eyes. Great piece.

  5. David Kleeman from Dubit, December 18, 2014 at 7:47 p.m.

    I think the error we're all making is to think that Sony is in the business of art and creative expression; as a public company, it is in the business of shareholder value, and it foresaw a bigger loss by releasing the film now (especially as theater chains jumped ship, visions of another Colorado-style massacre in their heads...even if far-fetched) than by pulling it. Don't be surprised to see it come back later in the winter, once the noise dies does...or to become the highest-grossing digital download ever.

  6. Melanie Howard from self employed, December 18, 2014 at 7:59 p.m.

    Barbara Lippert perfectly captures my thoughts on this issue. This is not Charlie Chaplin and "The Little Tramp" - it's a couple of frat boys ignoring an inflammatory world situation and the personal safety of movie goers to make a quick buck, then hollering "first amendment" when things go wrong.

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 18, 2014 at 10:35 p.m.

    1. It is all so ridiculous that you would think Sony did it to itself to offset losses and drive PR and it all backfired. They were that incompetent. 2. It all sounds like a money to be made staring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. 3. Mass hysteria through anti-social media. Like someone said, you think North Korea has invaded with their army of terrorists to blow up local movie theaters ? Proves how many Americans are that stupid, just stupid. 4. This movie was made to take advantage of idiot teenagers and college kids, mostly male. 5. Personally, I find James Franco a bore as an actor and not a box office pull. Sony knew they made a big mistake. and 6. Most importantly, no one gets it and can express it all together like you, Barbara.

  8. Robert Akers from Akers Industries, Inc., December 19, 2014 at 12:22 a.m.

    Somewhere in Pyongyang, you know damn well Kim Jong-un is laughing his ass off. Not for what he did to Sony, but from watching a pirated copy of "The Interview."

  9. Eva Dillon from Self, December 19, 2014 at 6:05 a.m.

    This is why I love Barbara Lippert: "Wow. It’s like he’s sitting shiva for a war hero, not a craven film company that has compounded its own problems with bad management and fatally dumb decision-making from Day One."

  10. Steven Shore from Public Domain, December 19, 2014 at 9:01 a.m.

    Good one Barbara!

  11. Len Stein from Visibility Public Relations, December 19, 2014 at 9:49 a.m.

    Go Barbara..who has the guts to lay it out as it is! One stupid-assed, teen comedy targeted at those who don't even know where NK is on the map!

  12. Darcy Grabenstein from The Hired Hand, December 19, 2014 at 10:04 a.m.

    I was thinking of blogging about this myself. No need to now. Barbara said it all. Well done!

  13. Portia Badham from BadWyn Communications, December 19, 2014 at 10:10 a.m.

    Barbara....one word to sum up your comments. "Amen!"

  14. Rich Badami from Badami Consulting, December 19, 2014 at 11:24 a.m.

    Well, there was a time when Hollywood wasn't afraid to take on the world's despots:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=522qtqjSagM

  15. Jude Hammerle from The Next Level, December 19, 2014 at 12:17 p.m.

    Change it to Putin and be done with it. He's the only one left on the planet more impotent than we are.

  16. Ruth Ayres from Harte-Hanks, December 19, 2014 at 1:02 p.m.

    1. Peter Sellers did this stuff right. And Seth Rogen is no Peter Sellers.
    2. Al Sharpton says he is "considering" whether to demand Pascal's resignation. What a joke. He'll decide, I'm sure, after he assesses how many Benjamins this heavy-giver-to-dems is willing to part with for his public forgiveness.
    3. Kim Jong Un is not the only psychopath in this picture.

  17. Ruth Ayres from Harte-Hanks, December 19, 2014 at 1:34 p.m.

    And this just in about Pascal's meeting with Al Sharpton:

    “We have agreed to having a working group deal with the racial bias and lack of diversity in Hollywood,” said Sharpton.
    He said Sony would work closely with his National Action Network, ​the ​National Urban League, ​the ​NAACP and the Black Women’s Round Table to “see if we can come up with an immediate plan to deal with it.”
    Guess a generous check to the National Action Network played no part in this.

  18. Paul Van winkle from FUNCTION, December 19, 2014 at 2:47 p.m.

    Barbara, you did this whole complex ball of stupid solid. We face a dark, new, complex level of idiocy, stretching across continents, con-men, counterfeiters, confederacies (of dunces), and the mentally constipated. We are very glad you're on our side.

  19. Tim Brooks from consultant, December 19, 2014 at 4:35 p.m.

    Free speech and artistic expression should not be defended only when you agree with it, or when you feel it's artistically "worthy." I am surprised that Barbara and many of her fans on this list don't seem to understand that. From descriptions this sounds like a pretty dumb movie, but if it's not safe, then none of us is. Apparently the President feels that way as well--did you see his press conference this afternoon?

  20. George Parker from Parker Consultants, December 19, 2014 at 5:10 p.m.

    Sony's mealy mouthed catering to the "unwashed masses" can only be matched by Netflix's signing of Adam Sandler to write, produce and direct five films.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  21. larry towers from nyu, December 19, 2014 at 7:41 p.m.

    Sorry you are just wrong here. It doesn't matter a whit how dumb the premise of this film was. It doesn't matter how stupid Sony the corporation is. What does matter is that hackers have shut down free expression. PERIOD It doesn't matter how awful the expression in tone or execution. It is only a matter of time before something you care about will be silenced. Your cynicism, and the cynicism of many of the other posters frankly surprises me. You are in the content creation business after all.

  22. David Kleeman from Dubit, December 20, 2014 at 5:46 p.m.

    Larry Towers, the hackers didn't shut down free expression. Business shut down free expression. The theaters considered their liability if someone did follow through on a threat, and dropped the film. Sony - which made the film because of its prospect to make money, not because of artistic value - then realized it faced the prospect of greater loss from trying to distribute it through small chains or independent theaters, than it would from pulling it until things calm down and then holding the most massive pay-to-download launch ever. The movie will be there - with an audience far larger than it would have gotten - as soon as Sony sees a strategy.

    It's very true, however, that we need to forge a strategy to keep this from happening over and over, whenever someone finds something offensive. But free expression is not dead - as evidenced by this open and ongoing discussion.

  23. David Kleeman from Dubit, December 20, 2014 at 5:47 p.m.

    Oh, and could we please get journalists and such to stop talking about the threat of a "9/11 style attack" on theaters. I truly doubt anyone was preparing to coordinate the crashing of airplanes into theaters, or coordinated terror to kill thousands of people. 9/11 was a singular event, and to talk of every threat as "9/11 style" diminishes its horror.

  24. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, December 21, 2014 at 6:40 p.m.

    Apparently, when Mel Brooks was asked about the Sony mess, he said "At least I waited for Hitler to die."
    Now, a new announcement from Sony's lawyer, David Boies, suggests that the film will be released.
    How insane that we're having an international incident over a Seth Rogen movie.

  25. David Kleeman from Dubit, December 21, 2014 at 7:54 p.m.

    Snap! Crakle!

    Plop.

  26. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, December 22, 2014 at 11:45 a.m.

    At this point, it's become about cybervandelism and North Korea. But what a compound error that Amy Pascal has set up a meeting with Sharpton. We need an important debate about race to happen, yes, but many members of the Black community and especially the #blacklivesmatter movement cannot stand him and see him as a fund raiser for himself.

  27. Jerry Doby from The Hype Magazine, December 23, 2014 at 10:05 a.m.

    I'm a magazine editor AND a retired military vet with multiple combat deployments as a front line Soldier. I have been to North Korea. This type of subject matter simply is not one to joke about. This is a living head of state, no matter what we might wish on him personally, it is totally disrespectful to put together a film which depicts the assassination of a living being.

    One of the things, aside from freedom of speech, people seem to be forgetting is, when people such as myself, or others in an official capacity move about the globe, situations such as this movie, or the attitude that our life philosophy is the ONLY right one, create very dangerous situations for our citizens abroad.

    Has Hollywood learned absolutely nothing?! Westerners RUDELY and to the detriment of the safety and security of our traveling citizens, service men and women, feel we have the absolute right to do or say whatever we want. Results: Embassy bombings, suicide bombers, cyber attacks, etc. These are REAL results of the the western mindset, things I have experienced and lived through (thankfully).

    Lastly and I don't even need to go into a long drawn out, blah blah blah about Alvin...he holds NO WEIGHT within the Black community except with those out to make money...IJS

  28. Jerry Doby from The Hype Magazine, December 23, 2014 at 10:10 a.m.

    Lastly...please lets remember that historically, Japan and Korea have been at odds even BEFORE the country was split via war... so a Japanese owned corporation pushing a film that leads to the assassination of their leader is totally unacceptable in that realm.

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