Oscar Wilde once said that “you can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies.”
What holds true for men holds true for nations and cultures as well.
An America confident in its values and place in the world watched the villainy of Nazis and Soviets on the big screen and later television. After cultural revolution wracked America in the ’60s and ’70s, the new bad guys were Big Business and old white men in the alphabet soup of intelligence agencies.
By seeing how Hollywood wanted to wear (hey, trigger warning) a black hat, America, and the world, saw what the cultural revolutionaries wanted them to see. Since their enemy was traditional America, we knew the quality of the progressives to be low.
But Wilde only got it half right. It’s not just who you stand against. How you make that decision gives insight into quality. Sony’s decision to pull The Interview in light of cyber-warfare and terror threats highlights this truth.
The Wall Street Journal explains how in future films North Korea is going to get the kid-glove treatment in terms of being a big screen bad guy:
[t]he calculus involving North Korea appeared to be changing quickly following the Sony hack and its aftermath, and many studios were reconsidering even minor references to the Communist nation.
However, the reason for putting the Hermit State off limits has nothing to do with political correctness. It’s not sympathy for the regime’s Juche political philosophy, the way Sean Penn pals around with Latin American Marxists. In its own way, one might admire, or at least comprehend, political solidarity.
Nope. We’re witnessing abject fear.
North Korea released sensitive information and threatened attacks. Ever ones to speak truth to power, Hollywood knuckled under.
Theater chains refused to show The Interview. In response, Sony doubled down on surrender by saying not only would the film never see the big screen but it would not be released on DVD or streaming formats. New Regency cancelled Steve Carrell’s Pyongyang. Not to be outdone, Paramount refused to allow the puppet show Team America: World Police to take The Interview’s place in theaters.
Hollywood caved hard and fast. The terrorists won.
Compare this to the publication of The Satanic Verses and the death threats leveled against Salman Rushdie. There, in the face of actual violence, from the assassination of translators to the bombing of bookstores, the book remained on the shelves.
Is 1989 so long ago that we were made of sterner stuff?
Now there’s blood in the water.
It’s not that this surrender is something new. Islam’s already been a subject of fear, given the propensity of some members of the religion of peace to riot or slaughter filmmakers in response to “insults.”
However, these lightly reported events are small potatoes. The Sony fiasco has spawned worldwide news and a presidential response – albeit a little late, after Sony pulled the film. Even terrorists living in a cave with their heads under rocks have heard of this.
Radio host Hugh Hewitt says that which is rewarded is repeated. That’s the basis of economic subsidies and tax credits, incentivizing the behavior government wants.
Sony just gave a huge psychic subsidy to the world’s thugs.
Now, what will happen when militant Muslims feel slighted by their portrayal on Homeland? Imagine the reaction of a film, documentary or drama, covering Tiananmen Square, Tibet or this year’s pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Are movies set in Afghanistan or Iraq going to be targeted for portraying the Taliban or ISIL as the savages that they are?
These are the questions being asked not only in deserts and Politburos but Hollywood offices.
One solution may be a turn to dystopian thrillers in which no real world nations or movements are mentioned. Names are changed to protect the oh-so-very guilty. We saw this in the FX series Tyrant, detailing revolution in a fictitious nation which was Syria in all but name. Tom Clancy, and his successor Mark Greaney, do this in literary form by illustrating but pointedly changing the despots’ names in what may have been self-censorship to avoid potential retaliation.
The more likely reaction is as predictable as it is pernicious: Hollywood will fall back to the comfort zone of America and its institutions as the bad guy. Our media becomes propaganda mills for our enemies. Homeland will copy the last few seasons of 24, where Islamic terrorists served as catspaws for Texas oilmen. Religious zealots will come from the Midwest, not the Mideast. Dr. No will come from a nice Jewish home in Tel Aviv.
After all, those who stand for the civilized world are easier meat than the barbarians at the gates. Christians don’t blow up movie theaters. Texas oilmen won’t slaughter filmmakers in the street. Israel doesn’t launch terror attacks against those who malign her prime minister.
Hollywood’s fear means a self-fueling cycle of self-hate for western civilization.
When Sony CEO Michael Lynton says “We have not caved,” he probably wants to believe it. No one wants to be a coward.