Everyone's talking about how Sony backed down after the recent, and very publicly humiliating, hacker attack allegedly in response to the studio's now-canceled "the Dictator." The merits of the film aside (for a guy who writes a lot of comedy, I don't watch much comedy myself... it's a matter of taste, not a knock on those who do enjoy this type of film) it's sad to see any creative outlet, whether it's your corner artist or a major movie studio, forced into silence through the bullying tactics of an outside force.
But I've seen a lot of comments about Sony being cowardly or un-American for backing down. Yes, it's easy to make light of it (even I'll admit my first comment was to joke: "I wonder if this financial loss will make them more likely to sell the rights to Spider-Man back to Marvel?"). It's particularly easy to pick on Sony because the hacked emails show a ruthless and vicious underside to the film industry many people were unaware of and those who were aware of preferred to pretend doesn't exist. The entire situation made the studio look bad, and for them to cut their losses on the film and run certainly drew the ire of a lot of people, if not because they wanted to see the film, on the principle of turning tail in the face of a fight.
Actor Stephen Amell made a set of extremely rational comments on Twitter last night saying it better than I did (to paraphrase, it's not cowardly to take cautious actions in the face of a situation you aren't in control of, and that it's unfair to ask a third party--the theaters refusing to show the film--to trust your product when you don't have your own security in order.
Amell's comments were extremely on point and possibly the most rational response I'd seen to the cancellation of "the Dictator," but it's funny to note the show he stars in, the CW's Arrow, not long ago showed exactly how scary cyber-crime actually is. A villain is held hostage by the Arrow's bodyguard and technical wizard. When the villain asks if they're going to torture him, instead they make him watch as they hack into his accounts and start giving his retirement money away. He caves, because he's powerless, and because the ability to destroy someone's life online is incredibly terrifying.
Oddly, I woke up this morning remembering an event in my own life that I'd all but forgotten about. I'm fairly certain maybe two or three people at most know this happened to me, but I want to share it now because all the issues have since been resolved and enough time has passed. I'm going to keep things vague to protect those who were involved, but I think this is important.
Once upon a time, I did something harmless and benign. If I did something terrible or shameful, I'd admit it, but in this case, I did something harmless that we all do. I made a friend. This friend lived not hundreds of miles away but thousands. I'm going to be vague with the details because it's not entirely my story to tell, but simply put, someone did not approve of that friendship, and to make his disapproval known, he worked his way into my email and social networking accounts. To prove he'd done so, he, with insidious glee, began forwarding to me private messages between myself an other people, not the friend in question, just to show me he had access to all my private messages.
I'm a grumpy guy who grew up Irish Catholic. My first instinct is to fight. Sometimes, with my firsts, because I'm stupid. But in this situation, I watched my private life being exposed right in front of me by someone I'd never met who was thousands of miles away. I could do nothing but watch. I'm a writer--I live my life in the written words. For someone to gain access to my personal messages was for them to gain access to almost everything. I never called Angelina Jolie a spoiled, talentless brat, but there was enough in there for me to face a level of repercussions I was not prepared to deal with.
It's hard to realize just how much we value privacy until we've had it stolen from us.
Not knowing how to protect myself from his attacks and not having any way to find him and break his fingers (which, in my mid-20's, was a perfectly reasonable option)... I gave in. I sent a note to my friend and told her exactly what happened and that I was sorry I couldn't figure out a better way to defend myself and still remain her friend.
Things happened that are none of my business to share, but in the end, years later, we reconnected. That's important to note. The friendship was saved. But the damage was done, and I have not felt so personally helpless and powerless as I did at that moment.
Sony's not a person. It's a big powerful corporation with a lot of money and plenty of hubris to throw around. But they're also in a position of powerlessness--one which will not only cost the executives who authored the snarky leaked emails money, but could potentially cost the ground-level film industry workers work on future projects as Sony scrambles to regain its footing.
Cyber-crime is an incredibly insidious thing. There's no clear way to fight back against it. And sometimes, all you can do is look at your hands and go, I don't know how to fix this.
I'll probably never see "the Dictator" regardless of how it becomes available. I'm sure if it ever becomes available, it'll make even more money than it would have because of the morbid curiosity factor. But for the sake of creative expression, I hope the studio's able to bounce back and figure things out. Because running scared, whether you're just a kid at a computer or you're a major movie studio, is a terrible, terrifying, and humiliating position to be in.
Matthew Phillion is the writer of "The Indestructibles," part-time actor, occasional filmmaker. Currently on the lam in Salem with his trusty dog, Watson.