Thursday, December 18, 2014

WHERE IS ROD SERLING WHEN WE NEED HIM?

The story about the Sony hacking scandal isn’t fully known yet. It started out as an embarrassing exposure of Sony executive snarkiness by cyberhackers who seemed delighted to shame them with the release to the public of their bitchy emails about pampered movie stars and President Obama’s taste in movies. Then the scandal became something far worse, a turn towards terrorism. Whoever these cyberhackers were, they didn’t want Sony to release their movie THE INTERVIEW, a controversial comedy skewering North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Was North Korea behind it? Was it a real threat or just more saber rattling?


Whoever they were, apparently they were truly put off by the trailers for the Seth Rogan/James Franco political farce about two fools sent to North Korea to ‘take out’ the dictator. They didn’t want the movie to open Christmas Day or ever, for that matter, and the threats promised bombs at theater chains that would deign to show it. They dropped the term “9-11” and suddenly everything got very heavy.

And within hours of the released threat to the Web, five of the major theater chains agreed to the terrorist demands and chose not to open the film. Soon after, Sony announced that they too would capitulate, and they decided to not release the film at all. Ever. Not in theaters. Not on VOD. Not on DVD. No Netflix, no Amazon, nada. The film would be metaphorically buried.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, eh?

Perhaps those theater chains (Carmike, AMC, Regal, Cineplex and Cinemark) have good reason to exhibit caution rather than the controversial film, but they sure acquiesced promptly. They didn’t even take 24 hours to think about it, mull it over, or organize a committee to discuss all the options. And Sony made a grand stand for their product, didn’t they? Why were they all so rash? Sure, they might have reached the same conclusions a few days later, but at least it would have been a few more days of serious examination. Is there more here than the public knows? Is that why such quick caving?


It would seem that the public doesn’t really know. There’s got be more to the story, especially when the US government publicly states that they think the North Korean government is behind it. Looks like there might be more than just saber rattling here this time as the movie executives were truly rattled by the threats.

But no matter the uncertainties of exactly what is going on here, there is one thing certain. Our nation is afraid. Very, very afraid.

It took less than 48 hours for all parties to get in line with the threats and that should be more frightening to this nation than anything. Does this mean that now entertainment will continue to withhold their product if it is offensive to the powerful? I hope not, but the swift actions by Sony and the theater chains are not encouraging for any artist or proponent of free speech.

One can’t help but think that since 9-11 we have become a nation of overreaction. The rashness and quick escalation of the theaters and Sony’s response to the threat reminds me of that famous episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE where “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street”. In it, a peaceful suburban street experiences a few strange occurrences and questions regarding certain neighbors. That stokes their paranoia so deeply that this sleepy little burg devolves into chaos, violence and destruction as they think an alien is in disguise and trying to take over the planet.

The paranoid citizens of "The Monsters Are Do On Maple Street" episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959).
The kicker, of course, is that all of this was indeed caused by little green men bent on colonizing Earth, but their shrewd plan was to merely plant the seed of distrust. The natural failures of man would supply the rest and do all their dirty work for them. Writer Rod Serling was making a comment on the Cold War and the fear of Communism that was rampant in 1959, but that story seems more than a little prescient about today. All it took was conjuring up the ghosts of 9-11 and fear of terrorism, and our nation jerks its knee rather than stiffen its backbone.

Discretion and caution can be the right move, but anytime art caves to protest, it sure feels wrong.  Maybe the movie is just a silly trifle,  and it doesn’t matter that much to most in the big scheme of things when death and destruction are possibly at stake, but the principle of it getting released sure should. And too many seemed ready to appease all too quickly and bury it.

The sad truth is that the Internet has been the Wild West for some time now. It's unchecked, often unlawful, and capable of raising a ruckus faster than any medium the world has ever known. This latest fiasco shows how rumor, fear and panic can spread like wildfire. So we as a nation, heck, as a world, need to start getting a lot smarter about participating in it, judging it, monitoring it, and assessing threats that come from it. And how about better enforcement of the many crimes being committed there these days?  If ISIS is on Twitter, why can’t we find them? Why can’t we catch that cretin who leaked all those private celebrity iCloud photos? Where is Interpol? Where are the international laws for the web? And can't we find all these awful hackers and terrorists quicker? As quick as we squelch the release of a movie?

Rod Serling, creator of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and writer of "The Monsters Are Do On Maple Street" episode.
I wish Rod Serling were around these days. At the height of the Cold War, he dared to criticize our paranoid nation for squelching rights and humanity that were all too easily shelved by our need to beat back the 'Red Devil'. And he did it in entertaining ways that were a hit with audiences, and have stood the test of time. Surely, his fight is still one we need to be as passionate about today.

Yes, we should fight terror, but that shouldn’t mean that in order to do so, we suppress speech, put the kibosh on rights, and live in fear of our own shadows. The monsters aren’t due on Maple Street. Damn, they’re still here.

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