Why Are We Kicking Up Such a Fuss About The Interview?

This isn’t the first case of cyberterrorism this year, but it’s by far the most decried.

Sady Doyle

2014 has been a long, strange year. It seemed like every month brought a new cat­a­stro­phe, many of which were sur­re­al: A plane dis­ap­peared in mid-air for rea­sons that were nev­er explained. A bloody epi­dem­ic that was dec­i­mat­ing a con­ti­nent sud­den­ly showed up in ERs in Texas and Ohio. A small Mid­west­ern town pun­ished pro­test­ers with tear gas and tanks, effec­tive­ly declar­ing war on its own peo­ple. I’ve heard peo­ple talk about how they feel they are liv­ing in a movie.” Not the sort of movie you’d want to live in, either — some large-scale Hol­ly­wood vision of the end of the world. To say that you’re liv­ing in a movie is anoth­er way of say­ing that you’re liv­ing in a nightmare.

After spending months or years shouting at the top of your lungs for people to pay attention to what women are going through online, to no avail, you will see people go absolutely livid with outrage when the exact same thing is done to a major corporation and/or Seth Rogen.

But here we are, in the final act. And, sure enough, the final cat­a­stro­phe of 2014 is also its most bizarre: We are now liv­ing through an inter­na­tion­al con­flict trig­gered by a Seth Rogen comedy.

The Inter­view is, by all accounts, a bad and exces­sive­ly poop-joke cen­tric movie, let alone a bad rea­son for an inter­na­tion­al con­flict. Still, it fea­tures its pro­tag­o­nists (played by Rogen and James Fran­co) gori­ly assas­si­nat­ing North Kore­an dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-Un. The real Kim Jong-Un, under­stand­ably enough, was not pleased by this. So, it appears, North Korea retal­i­at­ed — not by declar­ing war, not by launch­ing mis­siles, not with phys­i­cal ter­ror­ist attacks, but by hack­ing into the e‑mail inbox­es of Sony Pic­tures and post­ing death threats to movie­go­ers online. And when the Guardians of the Peace, the cybert­er­ror­ist group that has claimed cred­it for the hack, threat­ened to attack movie the­aters where The Inter­view was play­ing — remem­ber the 11th of Sep­tem­ber 2001,” they warned — the stu­dio can­celled the movie’s release.

That deci­sion has been met with plen­ty of out­rage, espe­cial­ly from the Right. It has been denounced, unam­bigu­ous­ly, as ter­ror­ism. Some have even called it an act of war. Newt Gin­grich and Bill O’Reilly have both bemoaned the death of free speech. Reince Preibus, chair­man of the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee, told major movie the­ater chains: “[If] you agree to show this movie, I will send a note to the Repub­li­can Party’s mil­lions of donors and sup­port­ers urg­ing them to buy a tick­et — not to sup­port one movie or Hol­ly­wood, but to show North Korea we can­not be bul­lied into giv­ing up our free­dom.” The pres­i­dent gave offi­cial com­ment, denounc­ing the deci­sion to pull the movie as a com­pro­mise of Amer­i­can free speech. Buoyed by all this sup­port, Sony announced it would release the film after all, on Christ­mas Day. 

You’d think, giv­en all of the hype, that the Sony hack was one of a kind. Yet that’s not true. Almost every part of this sto­ry — the stolen infor­ma­tion, the inva­sion of pri­va­cy, the death threats, the promis­es to pun­ish and shut down speech that threat­ened a par­tic­u­lar belief sys­tem — mir­rors oth­er high-pro­file events of the year that drew far less con­dem­na­tion and outrage.

Con­sid­er: The Inter­view was can­celled because North Korea promised the­aters anoth­er 911. This fall, dur­ing Gamer­Gate—which, depend­ing on your stance, was either an out­pour­ing of misog­y­ny or a move­ment for ethics in gam­ing jour­nal­ism” — the Utah State Uni­ver­si­ty can­celled an appear­ance by fem­i­nist game crit­ic Ani­ta Sar­keesian, because school admin­is­tra­tors were promised that a mas­sacre” would occur if she were allowed to speak. And Gamer­Gate, itself, began when pri­vate cor­re­spon­dence was post­ed online: Eron Gjoni, the ex of game devel­op­er Zoe Quinn, post­ed chat tran­scripts from their break-up online in an attempt to humil­i­ate Quinn and paint her as a vil­lain. Peo­ple called it bul­ly­ing. They called it harass­ment. But they didn’t call it terrorism.

So what’s the dif­fer­ence? I’d sub­mit that what’s per­ti­nent here is that the vic­tims of Gamer­Gate were all women.

You could argue that the Sony hack was a crime — theft of pri­vate infor­ma­tioh — while Gjoni didn’t steal those chat tran­scripts with Quinn. He did own them, and was mere­ly uneth­i­cal in post­ing them. That’s true. But then you could look just a lit­tle fur­ther back, to The Fap­pen­ing,” where the vic­tims most def­i­nite­ly were stolen from, and in one of the more per­son­al­ly hurt­ful ways imag­in­able. The Fap­pen­ing,” in case you were unaware, is the world’s least taste­ful name for what hap­pened when hack­ers stole and post­ed pri­vate nude pho­tos of dozens of female celebri­ties. The theft and trad­ing of sex­u­al pho­tos almost cer­tain­ly com­pris­es a form of sex­u­al assault, moral­ly if not legal­ly; no one has the right to see you naked with­out your per­mis­sion. It may be ille­gal, too; there are state laws against revenge porn,” and some of the images dis­trib­uted in the Fap­pen­ing leak were child pornog­ra­phy. Still, it was called an error of judg­ment on the part of the women who’d tak­en the pho­tos or videos. It was called a scan­dal. In point of fact, the epi­cen­ter of the pho­to dis­tri­b­u­tion, Red­dit, seemed dis­tinct­ly peev­ed about being asked to take down the pho­tos at all: We are unlike­ly to make changes to our exist­ing site con­tent poli­cies,” Red­dit grumped, in an offi­cial mes­sage — and was, for what it’s worth, cheered on by the exact same right-wing sites out­raged by the Sony hack and the sup­pres­sion of The Inter­view.

Because, you see, when that theft of pri­vate infor­ma­tion took place, it was called free speech.” It was not called terrorism.

Very well, then; you could argue that the Sony scan­dal only became ter­ror­ism” when lives were at risk. It wasn’t about embar­rass­ing a bunch of execs with stolen infor­ma­tion; it was about threat­en­ing inno­cent movie­go­ers to keep them in line. If some­one had tak­en it upon him­self to act on the under­pin­nings of the ideas that fueled Gamer­Gate and the pho­to leaks — that women exist pri­mar­i­ly as sex­u­al objects, and that women who don’t obey men’s desires should be pun­ished — and start­ed hurt­ing peo­ple, there would have been an equiv­a­lent out­cry. Sure­ly, that would have been terrorism.

Well: No. Because that also hap­pened this year. This May, Cal­i­for­nia stu­dent Elliott Rodger killed sev­en peo­ple, includ­ing him­self, because he felt women had reject­ed him: I can­not kill every sin­gle female on earth,” Rodger wrote in his man­i­festo, but I can deliv­er a dev­as­tat­ing blow that will shake all of them to the core of their wicked hearts.”

Killing a few peo­ple to scare many peo­ple; there’s hard­ly a more con­cise descrip­tion of what ter­ror­ism is and what it aims to do. But even this was called a tragedy, or a men­tal health issue. As I and many oth­er women can can attest, there was sig­nif­i­cant push­back if you tried to call it terrorism.

Yet here we are, with the new and supreme­ly news­wor­thy face of ter­ror­ism, The Interview’s can­cel­la­tion. And it mir­rors, in exact detail, what women have been going through all year. It’s inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism, where­as oth­er cas­es were domes­tic, but if that makes a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence, no one told Okla­homa City. It’s a case of nations oppos­ing each oth­er, rather than one priv­i­leged group with­in a nation oppos­ing and pun­ish­ing a less priv­i­leged one — but, if any­thing, shouldn’t we be less upset when a bul­ly actu­al­ly picks on some­one his own size? Yet, per­verse­ly, the out­rage appears to get loud­er the more pow­er­ful the tar­get is; an attack on a mul­ti-nation­al cor­po­ra­tion with mil­lions of dol­lars at its dis­pos­al is vast­ly more impor­tant than an attack on a woman with a mod­est salary who hap­pened to speak out, at least inso­far as you judge impor­tance by the vol­ume of the media out­cry. This is the most sur­re­al part of the year’s most sur­re­al scan­dal; after spend­ing months or years shout­ing at the top of your lungs for peo­ple to pay atten­tion to what women are going through online, to no avail, you will see peo­ple go absolute­ly livid with out­rage when the exact same thing is done to a major cor­po­ra­tion and/​or Seth Rogen. To be a woman is to be con­tin­u­al­ly ter­ror­ized — either as the tar­get of some­thing like Gamer­Gate, or as a wit­ness who knows she can be tar­get­ed if she steps out of line — with no out­rage sum­moned on your behalf.

Yes, it’s a shame that The Inter­view was can­celled. Yes, dis­ap­pear­ing a work of art to appease some threat­en­ing enti­ty’s tastes is a bad call. But women’s voic­es are dis­ap­pear­ing, too, all the time, as the result of our dai­ly ter­ror — or they nev­er show up at all, because our silence is all that keeps us safe. It would be nice to see that treat­ed as a free speech” issue — or to have Con­gress­men and polit­i­cal oper­a­tives urg­ing their con­stituen­cy to fund, pub­lish, and back even a few of the women we’ve lost to harass­ment online. But that prob­a­bly won’t hap­pen. Those women are just try­ing to change the world, after all; they don’t do any­thing real­ly impor­tant. Like, say, writ­ing poop jokes for Sony Film.

Sady Doyle is an In These Times con­tribut­ing writer. She is the author of Train­wreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… and Why (Melville House, 2016) and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beat­down. You can fol­low her on Twit­ter at @sadydoyle.
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