Gordon Campbell on the Sony cyber attack

Given the layers of meta-irony involved, the saga of the Sony cyber attack seemed at the outset more like a snarky European art film than a popcorn entry at the multiplex. Yet now with (a) President Barack Obama weighing in on the side of artistic freedom and calling for the US to make a ‘proportionate response’quickly followed by (b) North Korea’s entire Internet service going down, and with both these events being followed by (c) Sony deciding to backtrack and release The Interview film that had made it a target for the dastardly North Koreans in the first place, then ay caramba…the whole world will now be watching how this affair pans out. Box office prospects and the potential for a full-blown international crisis seem boffo.

It has seemed mighty ironic that the US – better known as the world’s main perpetrator of privacy invasion – should be regarding itself as the victim here. Especially when the plot of The Interview (let’s launch a plan to kill the President) is exactly the sort of statement of intent that would trigger all sorts of highly intrusive eavesdropping measures by the NSA if the supposed target was Barack Obama and not Kim Jong-Un. Ultimately, it is also hard – with a straight face – to elevate this particular film to the level of an international battleground for artistic freedom. Of all the problems facing the world, are we really supposed to treat the imperiled theatrical release of a James Franco/Seth Rogen political spoof as an imperative for global action?

Despite all the huffing and puffing about the cyber attack and the fiendishly clever Asian operatives behind it… you could regard aspects of the Sony hacking as performing a public service. We learned via the hacked Sony Pictures emails that even top female stars such as Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence face a gender pay gap, when compared to the profit points made available to their male co-stars on American Hustle. We also gained an interesting insight into Hollywood’s creative accounting. The email trail showed (with several examples) that a successful film such as the Tom Hanks film Captain Philips allegedly cleared only $39 million in profit, despite the evidence on Box Office Mojo that it had grossed $218 million around the world against production costs of $55 million. Was Sony’s accounting genuine, or was it a fiddling of the books to ensure that the people reliant on profit points receive as little as possible, after the studios have creamed off the maximum? Hollywood agents – and staff in the IRS – will be looking very closely at the earnings/tax/revenue implications of those hacked emails.

What the Sony cyber attack incident should tell us – once again- is that terrorism per se is only a smokescreen when it comes to the laws that allow privacy to be violated. Surveillance is mainly about (a) state against state espionage, and (b) corporate espionage, of the Sony variety. To validate the measures involved, the public is being asked to forego privacy in the name of security, when that is a relatively minor part of the picture. In reality, the surveillance measures being sought have very little to do with public security – they are much more about gaining geo-political advantage and stealing/protecting trade and corporate secrets. We will all need to keep that in kind when the government returns in mid 2015 to seek even more intrusive powers for our security services.

Happy days, everyone
Thanks to everyone who has supported Scoop and the role it plays. I aim to keep on doing this, and look forward to hooking up with you again here in 2015. In the meantime, here’s one of the loveliest songs of 2014 by someone – Matthew Houck, who performs under the name of Phosphorescent – who deserves to be better known. You may have come across “Song For Zula” on the soundtrack for The Spectacular Now, the excellent film that first introduced Miles Teller to the world. It also laid the groundwork for his role in Whiplash, my pick for film of the year.