The U.S. government has reportedly concluded that North Korea is behind the cyberattack on Sony Pictures, and now Sony has canceled the Christmas Day release of The Interview -- which has led to a lot of chest-thumping, quite a bit of it by people I usually agree with. Here's John Cole:
... I find this over-reaction to be completely and totally absurd and yet entirely predictable after the American public has spent the last several decades being trained to be terrified of every damned thing. This is the logical conclusion of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror- a pants wetting population that soils it britches at the slightest hint of danger that even baseless threats will keep us from doing what we do best, which is sit on our fat asses eating candy and popcorn while watching tv. So ingrained is our newly created tradition of cowardice that corporate America, the sociopaths who will rob your pension and ship your jobs oversees while ignoring work safety issues and sell you faulty ignition systems for your car and processed food created in unsanitary conditions, all without so much as batting an eye in the chase of the almighty dollar, is now basically shutting down a sure money winner because they know when the cattle are truly spooked.First of all, we don't really know what the public was thinking. Maybe only a small percentage of moviegoers would have been scared away. I haven't seen any surveys.
Sony has been getting all the blame for the cancellation, but the biggest movie chains were refusing to screen The Interview, so how is it Sony's fault that it's decided not to release a movie when there are no theaters to release it to?
Part of the problem is the nature of the movie itself. Would the reaction have been different if, a couple of years ago, an America-hating terrorist group threatened screenings of Lincoln? Or if, this year, the threats were directed at American Sniper, a movie with a likely audience of conservatives, middle-of-the-road heartlanders, and even some cineasts, many of them liberals, who admire Clint Eastwood's filmmaking? Or what if a racist group threatened screenings of Selma?
With any of those movies, maybe the nation would have decided to close ranks. It would be easier for politicians and other prominent figures to portray moviegoing as an act of patriotic courage and defiance of fear. But a Seth Rogen movie? You want to risk death for that?
And while there's absolutely no evidence that people capable of this hack have any capacity for terrorist violence, much less a second 9/11, we've seen enough smaller attacks (in Sydney and Peshawar just this week) to not be crazy or pathetically weak-willed if we think we'd prefer to make other plans.
And remember, most movie theaters have multiple screens -- if you own a theater and you scare even 5% of your audience away by screening The Interview, you're probably scaring that percentage of your audience away from all your movies.
And, probably, from the mall where your theater is located. How many theaters that were going to screen The Interview are in malls in modest-size suburbs? I see, in the New York Daily News, the argument that law enforcement should just reassure the public that every theater is safe:
North Korea's Kim ... emerges victorious even though there is no evidence that the hackers actually have the capability of wreaking mayhem, as the NYPD intelligence chief John Miller noted on Tuesday when saying that the department was fully prepared to provide whatever security was needed.Yeah -- the NYPD is prepared. The NYPD has been intensely focused on terrorism since 9/11, and regularly dealt with terror threats before that. At most movie theaters, however, you'll literally be dealing with mall cops, alongside suburban law enforcement. Maybe they have a lot of military surplus these days, but do you trust their expertise on terrorism? Or even on garden-variety lone-nut mayhem, a la James Holmes in Aurora?
I want to remind you that I'm no pants-wetting suburban coward. I've lived in Manhattan for more than thirty years. I lived through 9/11. On the morning of 9/12, I got up and went to work as usual.
Not long after 9/11, the building where I worked began to receive bomb threats. They came twice a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon. At first, when the threats were called in, we were evacuated each time, and not allowed to return until building security gave us the all clear. But the threats went on for weeks. After a while we were told, informally, that we weren't required to leave our desks.
I chose to stay, because what was going on seemed didn't seem like the work of someone who actually intended to set off a bomb. Why would you delay the detonation? Every day you put it off increased the risk that you'd get caught before you could blow people up.
But a lot of my co-workers left the building for every bomb scare. Remember, they weren't cowards either -- far from it. They came to work every day despite post-9/11 anxiety; they came to work even as other companies in midtown were hit with anthrax letters; they came to work despite these bomb scares. A number of them would later march against the Iraq War. And most, I'm sure, voted for Kerry in '04 and Obama after that, rejecting the warmongering of the GOP.
But what was the specific risk-reward calculation for each of these bomb scares? Get an extra half-hour or hour of work done, at the risk of possibly dying a horrible death, even though colleagues (like me) were arguing that the threat seemed remote, and that the "terrorist" seemed like just a crazy person with no goal in mind except to call in bomb scares?
That turned out to be the case. Someone was caught, and we were told it was a person who'd worked in the building and lost his mental moorings after 9/11. The bomb threats stopped.
If moviegoers think the reward of seeing The Interview isn't enough to offset the risk of being a victim when there's a specific, if unlikely, threat, I get that. It's not the same as seeing illegal-alien Ebola-infected ISIS knockout gamers funded by ACORN and George Soros under every bed based on vague rumors. So I'm not going to accuse people of cowardice in this case.