When I wrote about self-censorship rolling forward from the example set by North Korean hackers’ suppression of the new comedy “The Interview,” I didn’t quite expect it to happen in real-time, in a matter of hours. First we had news of other developing films that might offend North Korea being quietly scuttled, and now Paramount Pictures has nixed the plans of movie theaters to screen the 2004 film “Team America: World Police” in place of “The Interview” as a gesture of defiance. Evidently gestures of defiance against the big, scary dictators and their cyber ninja squads will not be permitted.
As reported by ABC News:
On the Facebook page for the Alamo Drafthouse theater in Dallas-Fort Worth, the message reads, “For the record, our plan was to still show ‘The Interview ‘… unfortunately these decisions aren’t always ours to make. But in light of these recent events, we only have one thing to say: ‘AMERICA F*** YEAH!'”
The “America … Yeah!” statement refers to the theme song of the old film.
It continues, “Join us for a special showing of the TEAM AMERICA QUOTE-ALONG” with subtitles for the film’s songs on Dec. 27 at 7 p.m. and that “This show is FREE, because you can’t spell ‘FREEDOM’ without ‘FREE.’
In case you missed it the first time around, “Team America” is a puppet movie from “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, satirizing action-movie cliches and global politics. It’s one of those movies where every fan has their personal favorite bit; mine was the sendup of action-movie training montages, followed closely by a discussion of how geopolitical forces can be divided into three categories whose names I cannot repeat in a family-friendly website such as HUMAN EVENTS.
The film also happens to include a scorching satire of an arrogant, hypocritical dictator. But enough about Matt Damon… what made “Team America” appeal to the Alamo Drafthouse as a stand-in for “The Interview” is the appearance of a puppet version of North Korea’s previous dictator, Kim Jong Il, as the villain. He doesn’t end well.
Neither did the defiant celebration of freedom by the Alamo Drafthouse:
Please note: Our Late Shift screening of Team America: World Police has been canceled by Paramount Pictures. pic.twitter.com/TlPVzIeICW
??? Capitol Theatre (@CapitolW65th) December 18, 2014
That’s Paramount Pictures pulling the plug on “Team America,” not Sony. I guess they didn’t want a taste of what the Norks gave Sony. According to a post at Gizmodo, Paramount pulled “Team America” from all theaters attempting to screen the decade-old film.
Some have questioned the imminence of the terrorist threat to physically attack theaters showing “The Interview,” noting that the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t seem to view the threat as valid. It’s been cited by theater chains, and Sony, as the reason for scuttling the Christmas Day release of “The Interview,” but skeptics suspect that’s just a convenient excuse to forestall any more cyber-terrorism against the studio and its executives. Cyber-terrorism is still terrorism, and should have been treated as such since Day One. Absolutely nothing about the wealth, artistic sensibilities, or political inclinations of Sony or its talent mitigates the terrorist nature of what was done to them; Americans should be united in refusing to accept this outrage. Also, since it worked this time, it’s going to happen again, and there’s no telling who the next target will be.
There are also questions about the connections between the North Korean government and the hackers responsible. Investigators sound increasingly confident that the North Korean regime is behind the attack, using a paramilitary hacker unit it poured a great deal of money into training and rewarding (while much of the North Korean populace wrestles with the temptation to consume each other just to stay alive.) Until their evidence is made available for public review, it remains possible that the hackers are freelance operatives only tenuously connected to the regime, or even false-flag hackers dropping evidence to cover their tracks by implicating the Norks. It’s been theorized that Sony insiders assisted in the attack; maybe this is all an elaborate scheme by disgruntled employees to use cyber-terrorism to settle the score.
Fair enough to give those doubts a fair hearing – this is a serious business, so no conclusions should be reached lightly. However, the North Korean regime has been applauding the attacks, even as it officially denies responsibility. They could have denounced these acts of terrorism, or even asked the “Guardians of Peace” hackers – who profess to be great admirers of Kim Jong Un and his regime – to stop. The fact that they did nothing of the sort is not absolute evidence of guilt, but it’s certainly reason for suspicion, and it falls far below the standards that should be set for international conduct.
Rest assured that other state actors with plausibly-deniable hacker squads are watching the results of the “Interview” saga and taking notes. The media is growing more comfortable with describing the attack on Sony as terrorism. It shouldn’t have taken them so long. Also, Sony, Paramount, the rest of Hollywood, and everyone else in America has a right to expect protection from the government we fund so lavishly.
None of us should be willing to give an inch on the principle of free expression, but unfortunately we gave away several yards of it, long before “The Interview” came along. Capitulation is contagious. Having long since established that free speech is negotiable, all that remains is to haggle over the price. The hackers who attacked Sony Pictures drive a hard bargain.