Recently, I sat down with some friends to watch The Interview, now that it’s made its debut on Netflix. It was surprisingly funny and much better than I had expected, and a great time was had by all, but I’m actually not writing this to review the film. The next day, reflecting on the experience, I realized that, if it hadn’t been for the cyberattack on Sony Pictures and the threats and controversy surrounding the film’s release, there’s an excellent chance I never would have heard of The Interview, much less watched it.
The Interview had virtually no buzz or advertising that I was aware of leading up to its release. If it hadn’t been for the controversy and outrage surrounding the suppression of the film, I almost certainly would have remained blissfully unaware, and I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of people who have now seen the film are in the same boat.
The film’s meteoric rise into public awareness was so impressive, I’d almost be tempted to accuse Sony of faking the hack to generate publicity, if the leaked documents didn’t serve to make Sony look so terrible.
The attack, allegedly perpetrated by North Korean agents (“allegedly” only because there isn’t ironclad proof that they did it, but really, who do they think they’re kidding?) was purportedly done to prevent The Interview’s release, and initially it looked like they had been successful in that goal. Sony caved and cancelled the film’s theatrical release, to the disbelief of just about everyone. For lack of a better expression, it looked like the terrorists had won.
But they didn’t. The outrage to Sony’s surrender was so palpable that on December 23rd, Sony caved again and released The Interview digitally. And the film went on to become Sony’s most successful digital release to date.
Ultimately, more people have seen The Interview than likely would have if these hackers did nothing at all, and North Korea, far from being seen as a world power to be feared, is being ridiculed for its Supreme Leader’s inability to take a damn joke. If the hackers’ goal was to prevent people from seeing Seth Rogen and James Franco besmirch the glorious name of Kim Jong Un, it’s hard to see how they could have failed much harder than they have.
Less than a month later, terrorists attacked the offices of satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, wounding 11 and killing 11 more, in retaliation for its irreverent depictions of the Prophet Mohammad.
While I’m not about to compare Sony having embarrassing e-mails and early script drafts leaked to the deaths of 11 innocent civilians, again we have a group using brute force to silence comedians whose message they don’t like. And in the Charlie Hebdo case, the outcome is nearly identical.
Far from being cowed, the staff of Charlie Hebdo defiantly, triumphantly, returned to work, and their next issue sold seven million copies in six languages. People who had never even heard of Charlie Hebdo before (which I’m guessing is the majority of the non-French-speaking world) were buying copies.
The newspaper had become a household name world-wide. And far from being praised by fundamentalist Muslims for their actions, the attackers were condemned by the Ayatollah Khatami himself. Again, I’m pretty sure that’s about as far from success as these terrorists could get.
Time and again throughout human history, thugs who lack the wit or intelligence to retort when they’ve been mocked try to crush their detractors through force. And time and again, they have failed. Because their methods not only failed to refute what their detractors were saying, they became proof positive that everything that had been said about them was true.
It’s a lesson these particular thugs might have learned, if they had watched The Interview.