I was asked a couple of questions regarding the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment allegedly by North Korea. First, why was so little attention being paid to the incident? Second, what did I make of President Obama’s criticism of Sony? Mr. Obama had said that Sony had “made a mistake” and “I wish [the Sony Pictures executives] had spoken to me first. ... We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship.” The press conference itself was entertainingly reported here. The following are my answers, edited to fit the blog format.
1. I suspect that the hacking and the repercussions are being given minimal attention in Japan because it is being seen as a US incident affecting Sony's US business (Sony Pictures Entertainment) and specifically its management and employees there, not much different from, say, Warner Bros. getting hacked. The response would have been greater if this had been a case of a major Japanese filmmaker being hacked. The fact that it's a mix of crime (national news), business and cybersecurity issues paying out overseas (albeit in the well-covered USA) likely makes it that much more difficult to cover unless it's a big enough story to warrant multiple-department cooperation.
2. I am somewhat hesitant to comment on President Obama’s crfiticism because this is not much of a Japan story in the way that a Toyota Motor North America story would be. (To reinforce the point that I made before, Sony Pictures is an American company in an iconic American industry that just happens to be owned by a well-known Japanese company, while Toyota is a global brand that draws a significant portion of its cachet from its Japanese roots.) President Obama’s reaction has even less to do with Japan, if such a thing is possible, since it occurs within the context of a still largely US initiative on cybersecurity. That said…
Blaming the theaters is a lame excuse that will only be believed if Sony Pictures releases the movie online, as well as to theaters that are willing to show it. But I get it. There’s a huge trove of proprietary data that could be released, causing far greater damage to Sony Pictures than the financial loss that it is eating, and Sony Pictures is a private-sector, for-profit undertaking. And what could Obama have offered that would have made the Sony Pictures executives change their minds? I wonder if he isn’t secretly relieved that they didn’t talk to him.
This obviously compromises the entertainment industry. Filmmakers will think twice before maltreating North Korean, Chinese and Russian leaders and their ilk, touchy leaders of authoritarian/totalitarian countries endowed with significant cyberwar capacities. But of course self-censorship has always been a staple of the entertainment industry. It will become even more obvious as businesses look increasingly to the global market. Compared to the way the movie industry is beginning to accommodate Chinese sensibilities for example, deep-sixing a film about which it has become fashionable to make jokes regarding its supposed mediocrity is trivial. After all, we will surely still have the Comedy Central channel and Saturday Night Live making fun of the fleshy leader of the hermit kingdom.
As a more general matter, as more and more terabytes leak out to cyberspace to remain there forever and a day, I predict that we will become desensitized, coarser, more shameless. Eventually, we will all be Paris Hiltons, shrugging off indiscretions and embarrassments—indeed, that word will become obsolete—as mere trifles, as conversations such as, “Did you see the picture of the President’s dick,” “The ‘ladyfinger,’ you mean? Meh” will become routine.