I watched the hacking of Sony Pictures play out with a mixture of sadness and bewilderment, as studio executives fell victim to a coordinated cyber attack and pulled The Interview from theaters before eventually releasing it days later.
What began with a round of salacious stories from leaked private emails involving celebrity gossip and dirty laundry quickly turned into a story of international cyberterrorism and a fundamental discussion of the First Amendment and American Values in the digital age.
I agree with many, including President Obama, who have pointed out, it was a mistake not to distribute the movie as planned, and was glad to see Sony Pictures finally agree to do the right thing by going ahead and releasing it. It just doesn't feel right to allow a radical group of hackers, allegedly backed by a rogue island nation, to dictate what Americans can and cannot see -- even if it is something as silly as a Seth Rogen movie.
"That's not who we are," the president said. "That's not what America's about."
The efforts from the hackers to influence a major multinational corporation like Sony Pictures raises a host of thorny and troubling issues for all of us trying to find our way in this brave new world. But it also served as a sad reminder of the kinds of pressures some studios and theater owners feel the need to bow to, and what kinds of criticism they feel free to ignore.
As a children and families advocate, I can speak from experience, as I've had many discussions and debates with industry executives about their marketing of violent content to kids. Movie makers and video game companies love to point to the First Amendment as they defend their right to make violent content (something we fully support their right to do) -- and they also use it as a reason why they market those movies towards children.
The entertainment industry constantly leans on the First Amendment to push back against families who don't want their kids exposed to violent media. Yet in the case of Sony, the company initially wilted to hackers allegedly from a foreign country led by a rogue dictator, essentially throwing the First Amendment out the window.
Yes, the film was ultimately released in some theaters. But the entire sordid tale is still a victory for the hackers using cyberterrorism to influence corporate behavior.
Meanwhile, theater owners, who helped force Sony's hand by refusing to show The Interview amid threats of violence, have continuously ignored pleas to ensure that trailers and other content shown before feature films is age appropriate.
For years, concerns raised by child advocates about studios targeting kids in their marketing of violent movies have fallen on deaf ears. Major studios and video game companies continue to target kids with advertising for movies and games that ratings agencies have deemed inappropriate for younger audiences.
The Federal Trade Commission has documented how movie studios have been intentionally marketing PG-13 movies to children under 13. Studios routinely use toys, fast-food restaurants and other marketing tie-ins to attract children under 13 to PG-13 films.
It's a sad commentary that entertainment companies and theater chains find it so easy to ignore the concerns raised by child advocates, and even reports from the United States government. It seems as though Hollywood is compelled by illegal activity and violent threats instead of rational concerns voiced on behalf of American families. It will be interesting to see if the lasting legacy of The Interview may be in how the industry responds to future calls for common sense marketing of violent content to the public.
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