Free speech went down under the boot of totalitarianism this week, as Sony Pictures finally caved to the demands of North Korea (or rather, passionate freelance admirers of dictator Kim Jong Un who have absolutely no connection to his regime whatsoever, if you’re in the mood to believe Pyongyang’s statements on the matter) and began shutting down “The Interview.”
The upcoming Seth Rogen – James Franco comedy is a satire in which a couple of bumbling reporters are tasked by the CIA with assassinating Kim Jong Un. The film has already been edited once to make Dear Leader’s death scene a bit less graphic – he apparently went down like the Nazis at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in the original cut – but the regime, and its completely unconnected pack of swooning hacker fanboys, were not mollified. They tore into Sony’s computer systems with a devastating data raid, possibly assisted by disgruntled company insiders, and flooded the Internet with every bit of dirty laundry they could find – from financial statements and the sensitive personal data of Sony employees, to nasty little email exchanges in which executives spoke poorly of their pricey talent.
There was even a racist exchange mocking President Obama between producer Scott Rudin and Sony Pictures Chair Amy Pascal, in which they speculated that the President was only interested in films such as “Django Unchained,” “12 Years a Slave,” and the comedy stylings of Kevin Hart. Fortunately for Pascal and Rudin, rich Hollywood executives are fully vested members of the liberal aristocracy, so top black entertainment figures rushed to declare them utterly free of racist intent, and they’ll probably suffer nothing worse than having to issue public apologies. It’s not like they’re the Koch Brothers or anything.
The damage to Sony was nevertheless enormous, alienating both investors and movie stars – a group not generally known for their humble willingness to forgive insults. Neither is Kim Jong Un, so when Sony insisted that “The Interview” would go forward, the Norks escalated to threats of physical terrorist violence, referencing 9/11 as an example of what theater patrons could expect to encounter when the film premiered on Christmas Day.
“The world will be full of fear,” the terrorists promised on Tuesday, in addition to releasing another batch of pilfered Sony files. “Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.) Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.”
By “the places,” they mean theaters showing “The Interview.” They’re threatening to attack those theaters with such force that people who merely live nearby risk injury and death. The correct term for these people has always been “terrorist” – the basic theory of intimidation through criminal injury holds up even when the injury is delivered through non-violent online espionage, and the victims are wealthy studio executives, along with their decidedly not-wealthy lower-level employees. (Maybe the saga of the Sony hack might teach some liberals a valuable lesson about how retribution directed at the rich hurts a whole lot of hard-working people in their employ.) Now that the North Koreans have escalated to threats of physical violence against American citizens – an act of war, if the North Korean government’s wink-wink denials of involvement don’t hold up – there should be no further doubts that this is a terrorist attack, and has been all along.
It’s not the first time international terrorists have used threats of violence to suppress free speech, of course. After the Obama Administration falsely blamed a YouTube video for the attack on the Benghazi consulate and murder of the U.S. ambassador, the Left marched to Obama’s tune and cranked out a million “thought pieces” about the limits of free speech, and how maybe no one should be able to say things that irritate people inclined to respond to mayhem. Why, that’s almost like shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater, and everybody knows that isn’t protected speech, right?
The Left cloaked this cowardly concession to fascism in a billowing cloud of smoke about “religious tolerance,” which must have sounded absolutely hilarious to the Christians and Jews relentlessly mocked and slandered by liberals over the decades. Of course, church ladies won’t cut your head off if you make a movie that insults Jesus. Now we’ve got a new free-speech assault using the same tactics that have been scribbling informal sharia law exceptions into the margins of the First Amendment, but this time it’s about insulting a communist dictator. One is tempted to say that it’s the non-religious version of the “how much does that First Amendment really mean to you?” gangster threat, but looking at the cult of the State in North Korea, I’m not sure it’s accurate to classify this as a secular matter.
Threatening violence to suppress free speech actually has a pretty good track record of working across the Western world over the last few decades, in part because our ruling elite nurses a bit of animosity toward free expression themselves. They have an impressive list of things they don’t think people should be allowed to say, modes of expression they’d like to crush with regulation. The Democrat Party in the United States made a game attempt to repeal the First Amendment just a few months ago, because they think certain undesirables have too much to say during elections. Groups of citizens have organized into speech-police vigilantes and launched online campaigns – some successful, others not – to crush those who say things that displease them, or even those who wear shirts that allegedly transmit encrypted political messages they don’t like.
Global-warming fanatic Michael Mann is currently suing columnist Mark Steyn for calling his famed (and famously manipulated) “hockey stick” graph a fraud; if the case ever drags itself from the sewers of the D.C. courts and produces a verdict favorable to Mann, it would set free speech in the United States back by a century, an outcome that might turn Kim Jong Un’s frown upside down. The North Korean model of the citizen-State relationship is very big on punishing peons who dare to insult credentialed members of the elite. The Church of Global Warming wholeheartedly agrees.
College campuses have turned into little Pyongyangs, where gangs of student activists boycott speakers, shout down dissent, declare themselves the victims of psychic assault when exposed to ideas they disagree with, and even use vandalism to retaliate against provocative speech. That’s what befell puckish University of Michigan student Omar Mahmood, who dared to write a satire of neurotic “trigger warning” political correctness, was forced by his editors to apologize to a staffer who claimed to feel “threatened” by his exercise of free speech, and came home to find his apartment vandalized with eggs and graffiti such as “shut the f**k up” and “everyone hates you you violent prick.” They threw in a picture of Satan for good measure. It’s a sad comment on the educational standards of Campus Left fascists when they’re throwing around pictures of Satan as an insult. Don’t they know Saul Alinsky dedicated “Rules for Radicals” to him?
People are getting very comfortable with the notion of using various degrees of force to punish those who speak out of line. Government power inevitably flows in to fill chasms cracked open in liberty by public refusal to honor principles that should be zealously protected, even when they prove politically inconvenient. Impositions we are willing to tolerate today will become mandatory tomorrow. In this case, the power flowing into the chasms of liberty is pouring from a foreign government. Can you really blame North Korea for getting in on the action? Why should Mohammed be the only sacred figure raised above the sarcastic scrum of free speech? Unlike Kim Jong Un, Mohammed doesn’t even have any nuclear weapons. Yet.
It looks like totalitarian evil can chalk up another win against free speech. In the wake of the terror threat against movie patrons, the Carmike Cinemas chain has canceled its release of “The Interview.” You won’t be seeing anything at their 276 theaters that doesn’t have the North Korean government’s seal of approval! According to a report at the Hollywood Reporter, Carmike executives think Sony is beginning the process of spiking the film completely, although as of this morning the studio said it was merely giving theater chains the option of refusing to show it. It looks like other studios are getting the message, too:
The situation is also raising concerns among the studios that the threat of violence could keep some moviegoers away from the multiplex over the lucrative holiday moviegoing period. Los Angeles Police Department chief Charlie Beck said, “We take those threats very seriously, and we will take extra precautions during the holidays and at theaters.”
“This is bad for everyone. This will stop people from going to theaters, and that affects all of us,” said one source at a rival studio. Another producer suggested that, given the latest developments, Sony should pull The Interview, saying, “If somebody called a bomb threat for a concert, and it was credible, you’d have to cancel or postpone the concert.”
Sony is also looking at a couple of class-action lawsuits from employees and business partners who say they were harmed by the North Korean hacker attack, charging the company with taking insufficient precautions to safeguard its valuable data and contain damage from the theft. That ought to make them, and everybody else, think twice about making any movies the North Korean dictatorship sternly disapproves of. (There’s even an Obama-fail angle to this story, as the Daily Beast reports Obama’s perpetually-blindsided State Department approved the assassination scene in “The Interview” and failed to anticipate the intensity of Kim Jong Un’s reaction.)
A band of plucky activists called Fighter for a Free North Korea is planning to balloon-drop a bunch of “The Interview” DVDs into Kim Jong Un’s dungeon state, which is a nice gesture of defiance, but unfortunately does wipe out the stink of submission hanging over this debacle. The communist psycho state is pretty good at terrorizing its captive population into handing over contraband material; maybe they’ll end up having big “Interview”-smashing mandatory parties in rural villages, where slave-citizens toss those DVDs into the air as skeet-shooting targets for the North Korean military.
It all boils down to that simple gangster proposition: How much does your freedom of speech really mean to you? What are you going to do about all this – go to war with North Korea over a movie? It’s probably not even a good movie. It’s just Seth Rogen and James Franco clowning around. You’re not going to risk your life, or the lives of your family members, going to see that on Christmas Day, are you? You’re not going to poke a terrorist beehive just to buy some overpriced tickets to a lousy movie and pour a few million more into the pockets of high-rolling Hollywood moguls, right? Better to just let Kim Jong Un have this one, because shutting this dopey movie down is a lot more important to him than going to see it would be for anyone else.
Of course, Lil’ Kim will have more censorship demands in the future, and he’ll expect them to be obeyed without resistance. So will other dictators and cult fascists. Western citizens are learning to live with lists of ideas we’re not allowed to express. Let’s not be so… provincial as to insist that all such lists of First Amendment exceptions should originate within our borders. After all, ideas and entertainment are among America’s biggest exports. Customers with weak sense of humor will naturally expect us to import some restrictions in return.
Update: The list of theater chains that won’t run “The Interview” has grown to include the Top Five: Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, and Cineplex, in addition to Carmike. Smaller regional chains such as Bow Tie Cinemas of Connecticut and Classic Cinemas of Illinois have also taken the knee to America’s new chief censor, Kim Jong Un. I assume this year’s typically pompous, overblown Academy Awards ceremony will include some sort of respectful tribute to Hollywood’s new North Korean power player.
Update: It’s looking more and more like this is an act of war from North Korea, as ABC News reports federal investigators claim to have evidence that implicates the elite Nork cyber-security squad “Bureau 121.” Reuters profiled them earlier this month:
Defectors from the North have said Bureau 121, staffed by some of the most talented computer experts in the insular state, is part of the General Bureau of Reconnaissance, an elite spy agency run by the military. They have said it is involved in state-sponsored hacking, used by the Pyongyang government to spy on or sabotage its enemies.
Pyongyang has active cyber-warfare capabilities, military and software security experts have said. Much of it is targeted at the South, technically still in a state of war with North Korea. But Pyongyang has made no secret of its hatred of the United States, which was on the South’s side in the 1950-53 Korean War.
Military hackers are among the most talented, and rewarded, people in North Korea, handpicked and trained from as young as 17, said Jang Se-yul, who studied with them at North Korea’s military college for computer science, or the University of Automation, before defecting to the South six years ago.
Speaking to Reuters in Seoul, he said the Bureau 121 unit comprises about 1,800 cyber-warriors, and is considered the elite of the military.
“For them, the strongest weapon is cyber. In North Korea, it???s called the Secret War,” Jang said.
One of his friends works in an overseas team of the unit, and is ostensibly an employee of a North Korean trading firm, Jang said. Back home, the friend and his family have been given a large state-allocated apartment in an upscale part of Pyongyang, Jang said.
“No one knows … his company runs business as usual. That???s why what he does is scarier,” Jang said. “My friend, who belongs to a rural area, could bring all of his family to Pyongyang. Incentives for North Korea???s cyber experts are very strong … they are rich people in Pyongyang.”
He said the hackers in Bureau 121 were among the 100 students who graduate from the University of Automation each year after five years of study. Over 2,500 apply for places at the university, which has a campus in Pyongyang, behind barbed wire.
“They are handpicked,” said Kim Heung-kwang, a former computer science professor in North Korea who defected to the South in 2004, referring to the state hackers. “It is a great honor for them. It is a white-collar job there and people have fantasies about it.”
Something tells me recruiting is about to pick up, along with the tempo of operations, following the first big North Korean victory in the Secret War.
Update: Now there’s word another film potentially displeasing to Hollywood’s new master has been canceled, a thriller directed by Gore Verbinski of “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame starring Steve Carell and set in North Korea.
Update: Sony Pictures formally scrapped the release of “The Interview” on Wednesday night, citing the decisions of theater chains to pull the film. “We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.” The studio announced no further plans for the release of the film, making the victory of totalitarianism over free speech complete.
Update: Steve Carell isn’t happy about the quashing of his North Korea movie, calling today “a sad day for free expression” and commemorating a time when Hollywood had no fear of mocking the world’s worst dictator:
??? Steve Carell (@SteveCarell) December 18, 2014