In the ebullience that surrounded the supposed end of the Cold War, few analysts worried about the nuggets of communist opposition that the tide of freedom had failed to sweep away. Cuba was harmless. China was capitalizing. Those weird little statelets left in the USSR’s wake? Whatever, bro.
Alone among the holdouts, North Korea refused to be so easily trivialized—whipping up a nuclear program, palling around with terrorists. But the rhetoric streaming out of Pyongyang, and the comically grim drama surrounding its succession struggles, gratified America’s longing for a reassuringly inept enemy. Unlike Russia, the “Norks” couldn’t meddle with international markets. Unlike Al Qaeda, they couldn’t unleash terror in our own midst. In Hollywood’s hands, the yuks at the North’s expense ran the gamut from the hysterical (Team America) to the unintentional (Red Dawn). The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was the perfect punching bag for wartime Americans.
Until, that is, now. We love to laugh at Kim and Company because it distracts our souls from the horrific reality of their hermetic regime. But thanks to the hackers who have destroyed The Interview, humiliated Sony, and sent the entertainment industry into a panic spiral, we now have an opportunity to see the same dynamic at work in our creepy relationship with Hollywood. We prefer to wave away the warning signs; like The Interview, Mulholland Drive was comfortably downplayed as over-the-top satire. But David Lynch, like many others, knows the rotten truth. Our mockery of celebworld helps us evade the soul-crushing decadence concealed within. Now, today’s Hollywood-hackers might soon take that luxury away.
From Washington’s standpoint, it matters a great deal who has perpetrated the shocking attacks. If, indeed, North Korea is fully responsible, the Obama administration doesn’t have much of an idea what to do in response. Yet, paradoxically, the United States very nearly has an affirmative interest in laying the blame at Pyongyang’s doorstep, no matter how circumstantial the evidence. If not the DPRK, then who? The mind reels.
From Hollywood’s standpoint, the same wishful thinking applies. From Wired magazine to longtime hacker and security analyst Marc Rogers, skeptics are questioning the quick-and-easy attribution of the hacks to the North. The attackers’ intimate knowledge of Sony’s security architecture, and the comprehensive way in which they breached its systems, points more to a disgruntled insider than to a cadre of Juche nerd-soldiers.
That’s a big problem. Hollywood might possibly fear North Korean sleeper cells capable of blowing up theaters that screen anti-Nork films. But Hollywood most definitely fears rogue personnel capable of tearing the lid off of the entertainment industry’s most lurid and repellent secrets.
In fact, Hollywood has amassed so much undisclosed TMZ fodder that it’s willing to do whatever the North says. There is no margin for error, and no taking of chances. Spend enough time in the right/wrong circles here in L.A., and you’ll pick up a tabloid’s worth of sordid stories. Sometimes they’re open secrets. Sometimes they’re videos sitting on people’s phones. Almost always, they’re about the kind of behavior that ordinary Americans revile (or pretend to), but don’t really want to know about. Massive drugs. Massive prostitutes. Massive expenditures. All somehow sustained in a system that’s run by some of America’s most famous corporations—legitimate, law-abiding businesses, of course.
The Sony hack has revealed, above all, just how easy it is for this information to get out. Not just a drib or a drab, a gay rumor here and an orgy video there. Tons of it. There’s a remarkably delicate balance sustaining Hollywood’s conspiracy of silence around the gory details of its culture of excess. Once a tipping point is reached, a free-for-all will ensue.
It’s all quite a bit like the structural risk of a stock market crash. But Americans are begrudgingly willing to accept the possibility that Wall Street runs on cocaine and lies, because America runs on Wall Street. A preponderance of voters is basically fine with the CIA’s treatment of its detainees, because, in the end, the expected payoff—no more 9/11s—is worth it to them.
Who, however, could tolerate a massive scandal revealing Hollywood’s sins for all to see? What excuse can their execs fall back on? We’re not paying L.A.’s elite to prop up the economy or beat up the bad guys. We’re paying them to make Horrible Bosses 2. If America learned just how rotten Hollywood can be, the outcry would blast the entertainment industry with the force of a thousand Interviews
Hence, I suspect, the panic, the lockdown, the capitulation. Omerta is setting in. Paramount won’t say why Team America can’t be screened in lieu of The Interview. Reached for comment, one high-level industry executive refused to say a word. Even as early as December 4, remarks from inside the bubble were cryptic and frightened. “People are wigged out,” one exec told The Wrap. “It is making people seriously question what they put in email.”
Has so dark an underbelly ever been so thinly concealed? Once at the cutting edge of culture, Hollywood has started to realize that the security of its secrets depends too much on an obsolete latticework of winks, nods, payola, threats, intimidation, gag orders, lawsuits, gentlemen’s agreements, and mutual guilt. That stuff is very durable—when the facts aren’t sitting in phones, clouds, and servers, waiting to be Hoovered up and exposed.
How ironic that the Hermit Kingdom is taking the blame for our first real look inside a clique that not even Vice dares penetrate.