The Sony hack has provided plenty of reasons for Sony to fire Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairwoman Amy Pascal. She failed to prevent thieves from stealing billions of dollars worth of company property. She approved a dark/edgy Seth Rogen/James Franco vehicle that — well, you could stop right there and say it’s bad enough that she approved a dark/edgy Rogen/Franco vehicle. But it also happens to be one whose creepy-sounding plot had the capacity to draw on her Japanese employers’ heads the wrath of a crazed Communist regime with an established history of committing both physical terrorism and digital terrorism in Japan. When Sony’s chief executive urged caution, her response seems to have been limited to gnat-straining with auteur Rogen over how many flaming strands of hair should be shown in a closeup of Kim Jong Un’s death — a shot that, much as the murderous maximum leader may deserve it, doesn’t look like it belongs in a comedy.
Exactly none of these reasons are being cited in any of the Pascal death watches now making the rounds. Instead, the problem is “long-simmering questions” raised by her stolen and published emails. Or it’s because the Reverend Al Sharpton says her comments during a confidential communication should “not be tolerated.” Or because the contents of her stolen emails “probably are too much for Sony’s Japanese sensibilities to withstand.” (That last claim, with its nod to the inscrutability of Pascal’s Asian higher-ups, is especially choice: The emails were company property stored on company servers and thus would have been available to her bosses at any time.)
Now one of the great things about not living in North Korea is that employment is at will. Within some (too numerous) regulations, an employer is free to hire or fire anybody at any time, for any reason or for no reason. That is not the case Pascal’s enemies are making. It’s simply considered obvious on its face that when you send a confidential email that contains comments that are not racist or racially disparaging but merely racially “insensitive,” you must lose your job even though your job has nothing to do with the comments. Hollywood liberals, always eager to cozy up to totalitarians, have been duly outraged by the “surprise for Amy’s image,” as one unnamed gossip told the New York Daily News. They’ve been joined by conservatives eager to chew on the hypocrisy of rich liberals. (Major Obama fundraiser Pascal was making fun of our own Dear Leader — and probably worse, making fun of Jeffrey Katzenberg — in an exchange with producer Scott Rudin.)
Rage against the high-ranking crime victim is so intense that it even requires media to concoct evidence against her. Radar reported Monday that Pascal reassured a Sony television executive by telling him he was just “not used to TV being the new black baby,” then wove a chilling tale of the Sony executrix’s clear mockery of white Hollywood big shots who make a show of adopting black children. Aggregating that story, the Daily News wowed readers with background about the trend that has seen Steven Spielberg, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, and others taking custody of African or African-American babies.
If this were some breaking trend, it might be of interest. But Theo Spielberg was adopted in 1988, Mikaela George Spielberg in 1996. Madonna adopted her kids from Malawi eight and five years ago. Is it possible that the trend of trophy babies among narcissistic liberals is so hot, so much at the forefront of a studio executive’s mind, that she coins the phrase “black baby” to mean “vanity project” (which is the best possible meaning that can be assigned, though even then it makes little sense in context)? Did Amy Pascal expect that Sony Television president Steve Mosko would even understand this novel phrase?
No. As both Radar and the Snooze revealed at the very end of their respective stories (after having taken readers on a breathless tour of celebrity black adoptions), the actual story is that there is no story: Pascal, who was encouraging Mosko to take pride in his burgeoning TV business, left a comma out of an email:
“She was making an ‘Orange Is the New Black’ reference and like anybody else could have, left out the comma in the middle of writing a quick email filled with shorthand and abbreviations,” an unnamed “insider” told the tireless newshawks. Pascal was reassuring Mosko about major stars’ interest in high-quality television (“like everyone with half a brain these days television is the thing they want to do”) and positing that Mosko’s discomfort arose from his being “not used to TV being the new black, baby.”
Should Amy Pascal be fired for her overuse of the tired “is the new black” phrase? Maybe. She certainly lacks popular support: The Amy Pascal support page on Facebook only has 33 likes. But amid all the chortling about Hollywood’s sordid underbelly (which, let’s face it, is ultimately just another form of Hollywood tinsel), the narrative has moved on to its true purpose. North Korea the other day threatened “9/11″ physical violence against theaters showing The Interview. The threat makes perfect sense, because the actual purpose of the Sony hack is to subject the United States to North Korean–style censorship. It was just a by-product of the Kim dynasty’s campaign to silence Americans that the theft of 100 terabytes of data briefly amused gawking fans and show business groundlings. (And by the way, in addition to being soporifically banal, the stolen communications so far have contained no serious or incriminating material. Maybe that will change, but data dumps generally don’t get more interesting the longer they go on.)
In this, his main purpose, Kim Jong Un again appears to be winning. The Interview’s New York premiere has been canceled. The five largest exhibitor networks have decided not to show the film. Sony announced Wednesday it won’t be releasing the film in any form — which would even nix the plan by Thor Halvorssen’s human-rights group to balloon DVDs of the movie into the Hermit Kingdom. Some commentators are urging theaters to show the movie in a spirit of defiance, but the debate seems pretty well settled: Americans had one point of view; Kim Jong Un had another; and he used force to shut the Americans up. In much of the world — in most of the world — that means he won the argument.
Tom Carson assesses this most recent turn in Grantland:
The perps had to threaten candid mayhem before many even gave any consideration to them being the bad guys. It doesn’t do the media’s moral compass much credit that vainglory buff Aaron Sorkin could seize the high ground with a New York Times op-ed braying that at least his head was screwed on right, when what it’s screwed to — those tap-tap-tapping fingers — has always been the problem.
Since saying “The terrorists have won” has been a punch line for years now, it’s a bummer that this time that’s literally true. Most obviously, even if the hackers turn out to be Scandinavian cinephiles who just can’t stand James Franco — get real, Sven: The line starts over there — it’ll be one icy day in Malibu before any studio green-lights another movie making fun of Kim Jong-un. Or, most likely, any other real-world foreign regime, no matter how absurd or tyrannical.
It’s cold comfort that this will mark the demise of a double standard, since what has made North Korea a safe butt of screen ridicule for years was that no penalty was involved — it’s a nonexistent movie market and a country we didn’t think anyone would object to spoofing. By contrast, you’d be hard pressed to name a major Hollywood release in recent years that so much as hints at criticizing the Chinese, who account for a whole lot of the industry’s foreign box-office boodle.
A business has to look to its own business, and I am not suggesting anybody has a patriotic duty to risk death over a movie. But it is actual news, not celebrity news, that Pyongyang’s notions of freedom of speech can be so easily exported to the United States. Amy Pascal may not have caused that, but her unfortunate story has helped to make it clear. By the time this is all over, she may be considered a martyr for the cause of free speech. Unfortunately, the cause will already be lost.