As a child, I spent my weekends marinating in catastrophe. Saturday afternoon meant a trip to the Playhouse Theater for a matinee of mayhem—Planet of the Apes, Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, Soylent Green, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno.
I’ve seen giant spiders climb out of the storm drains of L.A., mutant killer bees sting a creaky Henry Fonda to death, and rubbery atomic dinosaurs flatten Tokyo.
As implausible as those movie plots might have been, the screenwriter hasn’t yet been born ballsy enough to pitch Hollywood’s current epic disaster: a grade B comedy that leads to an international confrontation with North Korea and a cyber-takedown of the studio that made the picture. Pitch that and security will walk you out to your car.
Yet, Sony Pictures finds itself the lead character in exactly that scenario with a massive data breach leaking unreleased films, the Social Security numbers of stars and studio executives, and, most damaging of all, lifting the veil of secrecy on how Hollywood talks about itself to itself.
A previously unheard-of hacker squad, the Guardians of Peace, has claimed responsibility and promises a sequel for Christmas as a reprisal for Sony releasing a film depicting the assassination of North Korea’s pudgy and insane “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Un.
While Hollywood A-listers scramble to change their passwords and cellphone numbers, Sony Co-Chairwoman Amy Pascal continues to work the phones shoring up support from African Americans after the leak of condescending and implicitly racist emails with uber-producer Scott Rudin showed her “guessing” which movies—all black-themed— President Obama might enjoy.
While the mountain of personal data breached represents the growing threat hackers pose to cybersecurity, Pascal’s private emails confirm for many their worst suspicions about how privileged whites talk when they’re behind closed doors.
Al Sharpton is upset.
“Hollywood is like the Rockies,” said the reverend. “The higher up it goes the whiter it looks.”
One can only imagine what Sharpton’s private emails look like.
Still, Pascal is in serious trouble because it’s not just Sharpton.
Selma’s Ava Du Vernay, the first black female director to earn a Golden Globe nomination, called Pascal’s email “sad, limited, crass.”
Of course, Du Vernay would like to direct more pictures so she’s not quite willing to go as far as Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, who called out the media as well as Pascal.
“Calling Sony comments ‘racially insensitive remarks’ instead of ‘racist’?” tweeted Rhimes. “U can put a cherry on a pile of shit but it don’t make it a sundae.” Rhimes has her f-you money.
The fear that Pascal might weather the storm has Du Vernay, Oprah Winfrey, and other Hollywood elites pulling their punches. Lyndon Johnson famously said, “Don’t tell a man to go to hell unless you’re sure you can send him there.” Right now, Amy Pascal is only in purgatory.
Power attorney David Boies has sent out a flurry of threatening letters to The New York Times, The Daily Beast and other media outlets for publishing and broadcasting the content of his client’s private communications. The material is, after all, stolen.
Morally, Boies is right, if one can use the word “morally” in the context of anyone in Hollywood.
Yet Boies’ bluster won’t un-ring the bell.
Neither will Academy Award-winning writer Aaron Sorkin’s defense of his friend Amy Pascal. In a culture that worships celebrities while pretending to disdain them, the Sony emails are catnip for the masses. You’d think the guy who created The Newsroom would recognize a good story when he sees one.
Of course Hollywood had no problem with hackers as long as it was the United States government they were hacking.
2013’s The Fifth Estate starred Benedict Cumberbatch as WikiLeaks founder and perennial house guest of the Ecuadorian embassy in London Julian Assange. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been cast to play NSA hacker and Vladimir Putin bunkmate Edward Snowden, in an as-yet-untitled film to be directed by Oliver Stone.
While Assange and Snowden argue they’re whistleblowers who acted in the people’s interest by exposing the nefarious doings of an out-of-control government, the Sony hackers can make no such claim. No crimes were committed by Sony with the possible exception of all those Adam Sandler movies they insist on making. The only interest served by the Guardians of Peace is our prurient interest.
And this is the Sony Hack iFrame that should be added to any related stories:
Tom Hanks checks into hotels under the name “Johnny Madrid!” How cool is that!
Still, the creative team behind The Interview did commit a Krime against Komedy by making an actual living human being the target of an assassination attempt as the plot of their film.
As hideous as Kim Jong Un might be, The Interview would have worked equally as well if the writers had simply made up a fake country with a fictitious leader. There’s a long tradition for that both before and after Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece, The Great Dictator.
In 1932, W.C. Fields was president of Klopstokia in Million Dollar Legs while the following year Groucho Marx stumbled Freedonia into war in Duck Soup. Peter Sellers played multiple leaders from the Grand Duchy of Fenwick in 1959’s The Mouse That Roared.
But in our age, Hollywood hubris names names.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone took the first shot at North Korea in 2004’s Team America: World Police by killing off a puppet version of Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s daddy. Meanwhile, Sasha Baron-Cohen’s outrageous and hilarious Borat threw Kazakhstan under the bus in 2006.
But the gold standard for crossing the line of taste still goes to 2006’s Death of a President, a film depicting a murder of then-President George W. Bush.
The lights were on late last week at Paramount, Universal, Disney, Fox, and DreamWorks as studio honchos and their assistants burned the midnight oil shredding and deleting.
The most popular gift in Hollywood this Christmas is a typewriter.
In a plot twist no movie audience would believe, a forgettable Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy may very well have triggered the much-feared digital apocalypse, rather than the CIA and Mossad’s Stuxnet attack on the Iranian nuclear centrifuges at Natanz.
It really is a world of make believe.
Doug McIntyre is host of McIntyre in the Morning on KABC radio in Los Angeles. He has written for Married… With Children, WKRP in Cincinnati, and is a columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. He can be reached at: Doug@KABC.com.