No one knows who hacked Sony’s computers. Maybe it was the North Korean government, as some in the media and apparently some government sources have suggested. Maybe it was hackers working on behalf of North Korea. Maybe it was someone else. Regardless of who the hackers were, they did something wrong. They illegally broke into a data base just as “the plumbers” of the Nixon Administration broke into the offices of a psychiatrist and into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee a generation ago.
People have long understood that no property is safe from someone who is determined to take it. If one is to believe some news reports, our own government illegally breaks into data bases every second of every day.
The media chatter machine was alive this week with opinions of whether Sony should or should not have pulled the new Seth Rogen movie. President Obama and Aaron Sorkin, among others, say Sony should have released the movie so as not to give in to intimidation. Theater owners and many in the public were worried about having an American multiplex turn into a scene of carnage on Christmas. Let’s put aside the terrible truth that a multiplex can become a scene of carnage any day of the year and already has, and that Congress works overtime to make sure that a multiplex can turn into a scene of carnage every day. We’re concerned about some forms of public safety and utterly unconcerned about others.
Big corporations make bad decisions every day. The decision to not release this movie will cost Sony around $70 million. I’m sure we all feel very sorry for Sony.
What may be included in all of the e-mails from Sony that were hacked, or may not be, is the discussion that was held inside the company over whether or not it was a good idea to make a satirical movie about the assassination of a living world leader who is still in office. Would it have been a good idea to make a satire about assassinating the leader of China, or the leader of Iran, or Vladimir Putin? I mean, unless you’re a Republican you probably don’t like Putin, and right now he is a much bigger threat to our security that the guy in North Korea. So should a Hollywood studio make a satirical movie about the CIA using two bumbling reporters to try to kill Putin? Oh, and succeeding?
How happy would we self-congratulatory Americans be if a foreign country made a satirical movie about assassinating President Obama? And to Republicans, who would no doubt cheer a movie like that, I ask, okay, once you get one of your guys back in The White House, would you welcome a movie from Iran about assassinating Jeb Bush or Rand Paul or Ted Cruz?
I’m just curious to know what the conversation was inside Sony between their executives and the artists who wanted to make a satire about assassinating a sitting world leader. Was there a single person present who suggested that maybe that wasn’t a great premise for a movie?
I wonder if there was a single person present in any of those discussions who might have suggested that this story idea was in bad taste. Not because it might upset terrorists or the North Koreans, and not because it wasn’t going to make enough money to justify the budget, but simply because the entire notion was a crude, punkish, immature idea?
And yes, bad taste is subjective. Little in life is more subjective that taste. Hollywood has made millions of dollars off of gross-out comedies. The R-rated comedy that is almost exclusively about how far can one go within the widest bounds of taste has become a staple, and Mr. Rogen has appeared in several such comedies.
Your idea of bad taste may be completely different from mine. That’s okay. There’s room for disagreement. But when you have to keep pushing and pushing the boundaries of whatever taste is in order to get young males to step away from their X-boxes long enough to pay for a movie ticket, then eventually all of that boundary pushing is going to make you lose your way, and it’s going to bite you in the ass.
Sony could have saved themselves $70 million dollars by simply saying to Seth Rogen, “You know, dude, I’m sure you’ll write a really funny script based on this premise, but this just isn’t the kind of movie that we at Sony want to put our name on.” And then Seth might have taken his idea to another studio. And probably someone else would have made some version of it. But the executives at Sony could have gone home that weekend saying to themselves, “There is a line we won’t cross.” And maybe Seth Rogen might have thought to himself, “Do I really want to base my entire career on being a jackass?”
Maybe we can’t always agree on what taste is. But when you abandon even the consideration of taste, then it may end up costing you your career, your dignity, an election, or, worst case scenario, a lot of money.