- - Sunday, December 14, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Liberal hypocrisy in Hollywood? Malice in Tinseltown? Pettiness among the stars? “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Oscar Levant, the movietown piano player with a sharp mind and a sharper tongue (“I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin”) once offered a hopeful analysis of what’s wrong with the town: “Hollywood is made of tinsel, but if you get beneath the tinsel you’ll find the real tinsel.” The hackers of Sony Pictures took the challenge, and have revealed the details of the malice, pettiness and tinsel in purloined emails, and La-La Land is beside itself with fear, loathing and mortification.

The serious implications of the hacking is a warning to multinational corporations to secure their business secrets and a reminder that enemies in unexpected places will use the Internet maliciously. One suspected mischief-maker is the North Korean government, which is angry about a soon-to-be-released comedy about the purported assassination of the hermit kingdom’s fearless leader, Kim Jong-un. This could be a laff riot, but Mr. Kim, like Queen Victoria, is not amused. Everyone could see trouble coming in November, when an illustrated message appeared on Sony employee computer screens with a warning that bad things might happen, and signed by “the GOP,” as in Guardians of Peace (and not the Grand Old Party). These messages looked similar to a warning last year to several banks in South Korea.

So far, the hacking of Sony boils down to intramural insults and bad jokes. In hacked emails, Amy Pascal, Sony’s co-chairwoman, and the prickly producer Scott Rudin, ruminate over Angelina Jolie (“a spoiled brat with no talent”) and speculate about the movie tastes of President Obama, suggesting that anything beyond a flick about black folks would be beyond his understanding. There followed the usual post-insult grovels: “We’re not racist, really.” This didn’t work for Paula Deen, but liberals are thought by other liberals to be incapable of racist thought, word or deed.

The heart of the problem lies in the woefully vulnerable cyberworld. Most of the Internet content is unedited and unmoored from the safeguards that once made newspapers the kings of the media hill. Now the practice, even in some newspapers, is to slop “content” into the supper dish and see who bites. Nobody is expected to swallow.

What is lost is any thoughtful discussion of the assault on privacy within a corporation, and how to protect disclosures about executive salaries, Social Security numbers, unpublished scripts, home addresses and the aliases celebrities use when meeting to eat and greet. Tom Hanks, for anyone eager to be in the know, is “Johnny Madrid.”

The hacking attacks on Sony, reports The New York Times, “were orchestrated by command and control centers across the world, including computers at a convention center in Singapore and one at Thammasat University in Thailand, as well as others in Cyprus, Poland, Italy, the United States and Bolivia.”

Sony is covered by insurance and the movie studio is not believed to have been damaged in the pocket, the location of the pain that really hurts, and first damage estimates of $100 million were apparently exaggerated. But why not? Exaggeration is what Hollywood does best. The FBI investigation continues, and last week employees of Sony Pictures received an email warning that “your family will be in danger.” This is taken as serious business in Hollywood, where such a threat it not necessarily entertainment tonight. Everyone in the cheap seats — a chair in front of a computer screen — can thank his lucky stars that he’s not a Hollywood star.

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