The Interview (2014); directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

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Before we begin, let’s get all this out of the way:

Whether or not the hackers were from North Korea, or were a disgruntled Sony employee, or some shadowy terrorist group, is irrelevant. Sony’s decision to pull the movie was disgusting, and now the whole thing feels like a publicity stunt, which very well may be the case. Either way, whatever way: irrelevant. Nobody should be able to threaten/blackmail a company out of showing a specific movie and get away with it. The arguments about the hacking and The Interview were really disheartening to witness and for the most part I stayed out of it for my own sanity. In my mind, the issue is clear, and the issue remains clear. Sometimes something happens and honestly my feeling about it is: “There actually AREN’T two valid sides to this issue.” It’s unpopular to say such things, but that’s even more of a reason to say them.

I don’t care if it’s a Pauly Shore movie or a Martin Scorsese movie: a group who doesn’t like the message of a movie (without ever having seen it, mind you) does not get to bully the rest of us into not seeing it. People were talking about how the movie was obviously racist and offensive (again: without having seen it), and we should probably not “encourage” that kind of story being told. One idiot in a Facebook thread said, “I think we owe North Korea an apology.” That’s the kind of comment that doesn’t deserve a response. She would have thought Neville Chamberlain did a bang-up job in Munich. Scary. A quote from William Blake comes to mind: “The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow.”

I guess these people never saw Team America (which was way “meaner” than The Interview, and much funnier, too, but we’ll get to that). Or Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt, where Hitler is shown in the cross-hairs of a lone sniper’s rifle. Should we have apologized to Germany for fantasizing about a lone American trying to take Hitler out? Man Hunt was made in 1941 when Hitler was alive, and the leader of Germany. There are so many other examples of fictionalized fighting against a real enemy, in comic books, films, everything else. Whatever the case may be, good, bad, stupid, not, The Interview must be shown. Because what if, say, some wacko decided to send in an anonymous threat to any theatre showing a movie that didn’t pass the Bechdel Test? Would we cave then? Because, believe me, that is not far outside the scope of possibility, and Sony’s caving to the threats made it inevitable. It would be a go-ahead to any individual with a grievance.

It’s not about the specific movie and whether or not it is good, or perfect, or hilarious, or unfunny and bad. It’s not at all about the quality of the movie, and those who were saying, “It’s a stupid Seth Rogen movie, who cares” are the scariest of them all. It’s not even about the subject matter. The movie should be allowed to be seen. I would be arguing for this even if it were a movie made by someone I didn’t like, even if it were a movie that made light of subject matter I took seriously.

It IS “the principle of the thing.” People can certainly go on and argue otherwise, but I’m done listening. I’ve heard enough. Then there were those who did believe it should be shown, who were disheartened by Sony’s initial decision, but who then were turned off by the declarations from folks who declared they would see the movie for patriotic reasons, people who declared “if you don’t see The Interview the terrorists have won” or whatever. All of that was seen as too reactionary. My God, stop thinking so much. If I go to see something and feel patriotic about it, that’s my freakin’ business. People want to police other people’s feelings and thoughts and interior motives. … Buncha busybodies.

The controversy raged, and then, suddenly, with a poof, came the news that The Interview would be released (honestly, something about the whole thing stinks to high heaven), and (hilariously) it would be small art-houses for the most part that would play it, not the big multiplexes where such a movie would normally play. So these itsy-bitsy art-houses were on the front-lines of civilization, basically. (That’s how strongly I feel about it.) So this little art-house in the Village, that shows foreign films and documentaries, was also showing The Interview. I walked into the lobby and saw two posters side by side: one for Ida, the Polish film, and one for The Interview. In what world would these two films be shown side by side? In this glorious beautiful world, apparently.

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God bless ‘Murrica.

Outside of the “principle of the thing,” (as I said, I would have gone to see it if it had starred Pauly Shore, just to assert my rights to see whatever the hell I want to see) I have such strong feelings of love for This Is the End that if I had seen it in time it would have made my Top 10 for that year. It was on Quentin Tarantino’s Top 10! One guy on Facebook said something like, “You just are bummed out that your favorite actor is being punished …” The level of discourse was appalling. No matter how many times I said, “This isn’t about me” and “This isn’t about Seth Rogen” he wasn’t getting it. He thinks “racist” stuff shouldn’t be seen at all, and he felt very righteous about it: “Good, let’s not encourage such messages.” I kept saying, “But … you haven’t even seen it yet” until I gave up.

Small tangent: In 10th grade English, we were taught Catcher in the Rye. One girl in my class didn’t want to read it (her parents had told her they didn’t want her to read it). Our great teacher made her write a paper about why she wouldn’t read it, and to do it not defensively, but offensively, in the same way that a regular term paper should be offensive: strong Thesis Statement, Back That Shit Up with examples, make your case, prove your points. (He was the one who taught me how to write a term paper. Great teacher.) He allowed her to not read the book, respecting her reasons (she gave religious reasons), but she would not be allowed to “sit out” that entire section of the class. Her participation would be about the book’s controversial reputation and how she understood it. The controversy about the book was part of what he taught us, he included it in our discussions. I loved the book so much I couldn’t understand what the problem was, and I had a lot of conversations at home with my dad about it. Why couldn’t so-and-so read it? Why didn’t she even want to see if she liked it, or if her mind would be changed? I could not understand – literally could not get my brain around – the kind of brain that refused to be challenged. Maybe she would have hated the book. That’s a possibility. But to decide beforehand? THAT I couldn’t get. It was an awakening for me of the importance of such matters. There are books I have read (not many, but they do exist) that I have wished I could un-read. There is one paragraph in Less Than Zero that haunts me, and there are times I honestly wish I had never read it. The book actually traumatized me. But whatever, I read it, and it was a vision of ugliness and heartlessness so profound that my spirit revolted from it. Good. That’s an appropriate response, yes?

The audience at the Cinema Village is made up of a regular crowd, some quite eccentric, little old people who come in with their rustling bags of lunch, they leave early, they come late, they talk to one another loudly in the back row. These are 70, 80 year old people who probably live in the neighborhood and have been coming to that theatre forever. To put it frankly: not Seth Rogen’s typical audience. I walked into the theatre and the place was packed, way more packed than it ever has been in all the years I have gone to see movies there. There were the “regulars,” you could pick them out, the little old people in their galoshes, with their umbrellas, carrying many bags, and then there were others, who maybe mostly frequent multiplexes, but came down to the Village to see The Interview (it was only playing at the Village and up at Lincoln Center, so probably every show was packed.) It was a totally mixed crowd, in other words.

An old woman sat down behind me, she had long white hair, coming out from underneath her fuzzy red beret, and she said to her friend, “This is not my type of movie at all. But I’m here for the principle of the thing.”

My ‘Murrican heart soared.

Anyway, after all that blabber, how’s the movie?

Like I said, I like this group of people, have liked their movies in the past, and like the things they have chosen to create thus far. There’s a dude-bro thing, but I don’t mind that if it’s funny. There’s also a questioning and deepening of the “dude-bro” cliche, which we really saw clearly in This Is the End. This Is the End had a sweetness to it I totally did not expect. I’ve seen it a couple of times and it holds up.

The Interview is hilarious, taking place in a wicked alternate reality, just off-center from our own, and some of it reminded me of Mel Brooks’ bold-ness. Some of the jokes don’t work, there’s a sloppiness to some of it: it feels like they might have included things that happened in rehearsal, or things they bull-shitted about in rap sessions about the script, things they all found funny but then it falls flat onscreen somehow. (James Franco’s long monologue about having “stink-dick” is what immediately comes to mind. It may have been hilarious in an improv-rehearsal, but it just couldn’t sustain itself in the context of the scene.) But, in general, it’s a bold audacious ridiculous movie, stupid as well as smart. In this context, stupid is not an insult. It’s a compliment. The movie is a comedy involving two semi-losers infiltrating the most reclusive country on earth with a cockamamie plan to poison the sitting dictator. Of course it’s stupid. I enjoy that kind of stupidity.

James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a smarmy celebrity gossip talk-show host who, along with his producer, played by Seth Rogen, suddenly decides that he is going to take an opportunity to kill Kim Jong-un. Because, yeah, that makes sense. And Seth Rogen’s character, who started out as a journalist, is in the midst of a bit of an existential crisis: Did I go to journalism school so that I could report on Kim Kardashian’s baby bump? What the hell am I doing with my life? So he’s looking to shake things up, prove himself, become “relevant.” When they hear through some random North Korean Wikipedia grapevine, that Kim Jong-un loves Dave Skylark, the duo sees an opportunity. Negotiations begin to get an exclusive interview. It is secretive cloak-and-dagger stuff, with helicopters meeting Seth Rogen in some mountainous area in China, giving him instructions from the North Korean side. At some point, a hottie from the CIA (Lizzy Caplan, whom I ADORE) gets involved and trains Dave in how to use these little poison strips that can kill Kim Jong-un. You are our only hope, Dave Skylark! pleads the CIA. Ridiculous!

Randall Park plays Kim Jong-un as a lonely guy with a Boy Band haircut, who is so overwhelmed by his fanboy appreciation of Dave Skylark that in their first meeting, he murmurs to himself, “Don’t say anything stupid, Kim.” (Tears of laughter. It’s a very funny performance.) Kim Jong-un tears up when he hears Katy Perry’s “Firework,” especially the chorus. “Not the chorus,” he pleads to Dave at one moment, because he knows he will start to cry. He parades Dave Skylark around Pyongyang, showing him fat children (see? no starvation here!) and grocery stores overflowing with food. Just as “useful idiots” (as termed by Stalin) were shown around Russia in the early 1930s, and shown essentially trompe l’oeil scenes of plenty and happy peasants working with smiles on their faces. These “useful idiots” would then go home and report to the West how great everything was in Russia. Beatrice and Sidney Webb come to mind. Stalin used these people, and they behaved according to Stalin’s script. Potemkin Village stuff. Dave Skylark is fooled. Dave Skylark is the definition of a “useful idiot” and Franco is hilarious in showing how easily he is manipulated by a master manipulator. Rogen, as producer, begs Dave to take everything with a grain of salt, to stick with the plan, stay cynical … this guy is a DICTATOR, remember.

There are a couple of romances that spring up, Franco gets a crush on the CIA agent handling their trip (the aforementioned Lizzy Caplan), and Rogen crushes on Sook (Diana Bang), their frightening North Korean tour-guide and handler. The two female characters are in positions of power, far superior in status to the idiot-men who are the leads of the film (I feel it is important to note this: they may end up being girlfriends or at least objects of sexual fantasy, but they’re each a bad-ass played by two very funny actresses. Diana Bang has a moment where she lets loose with an automatic weapon that is one of the funniest moments in the film. She looks like a MANIAC.) There are some really funny sequences. The whole film opens with a clip of Dave Skylark interviewing Eminem on his show. (Eminem went uncredited.) Franco’s behavior is perfectly Ryan Seacrest-y – sycophantic, calling Eminem “Em” (so funny). Eminem does not crack a smile. He plays it totally deadpan. The scene is effortlessly comedic and such a strongly set-up situation it plays itself. I love that Eminem agreed to do it. There’s another funny scene later, where Rob Lowe, as himself, admits on air to Dave Skylark that he is bald, and he takes off his toupee on the air, saying vulnerably, with tears in his eyes, his head bald, “I feel so free right now.” This type of humor hits my own personal sweet spot. Your mileage may vary.

There are some scenes that show more effort, but for the most part, it feels like what it should feel: a satirical comedy about a ruthless dictator getting his long-overdue comeuppance (not just in the eyes of the U.S. but in the eyes of his own people who fear and loathe him). In that way, the film is radical. The North Korean people are not made fun of at all. They are shown as underfed, cowed, terrified, trying to survive in a lunatic atmosphere. Their leader is the target of all of the jokes. It’s a fantasy: a fantasy of taking out someone who is generally agreed by anyone who knows anything to be a dictator, starving and imprisoning his own people, living in a bubble of his own delusional reality. Into that fascist world strolls two bumbling idiots from America who have learned about North Korea from the Wikipedia page and who are both in this for themselves, for career advancement, for prestige. Those motivations shift during the course of the film. Dave Skylark goes into practically a brainwashed state as he hangs out with Kim, playing basketball, listening to Katy Perry … his vanity is gratified by Kim’s hero-worship of him. Then he has to wake up and understand that everything he is seeing has been a Potemkin Village, erected solely for his benefit.

The Interview is no This Is the End (it’s more uneven in tone, the comedy a bit more ragged around the edges), but it’s funny, and I enjoyed it.

But what I enjoyed even more was hearing the laughter from the little old lady in the fuzzy red beret sitting behind me, the one who has probably never seen a Seth Rogen movie in her life. She laughed at every joke, and there was a delighted sound of surprise there, a sound of discovery.

She may have gone to see it for “the principle of the thing,” but that laughter told the most important story.

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26 Responses to The Interview (2014); directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

  1. Fiddlin Bill says:

    This is, as usual, a really great review. I am very very happy to find out (and now I take it as fact) that the movie is actually well made and “good.” I agree that a great deal of the pre-release hubbub was weird and not to the point. It’s probably unfortunate that Mr. Obama got involved at all, and of course he agrees with you that the film should never have been pulled, even briefly. (That decision, I’d expect, was made in the immediate moments of actual threats to harm movie-goers by the who-knows-who-they-are conspirators or possibly copy cats, and in the larger context of the world we live in, including Aurora, CO, Sandy Hook Elementary School, etc.)

    I do think one can legitimately raise the question of whether a given film project should be undertaken. So, e.g., for the Sony execs to ask themselves whether this particular project should be undertaken given North Korea’s in fact paranoia, and in fact nuclear status, doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. There were some reasons to say “no.” At the point of inception it’s not just about censorship. They didn’t make Jodorosky’s “Dune.” Possibly too bad, but not exactly censorship. I also have wondered if Sony’s Japanese origins didn’t play some role in their decision to make The Interview. There’s a very long history of antagonism between Japan and Korea, with most recently North Korea firing missiles over Japan to “test” them. But there’s there’s the earlier history, of Imperial Japan’s literal rape of Korea too. It might be reasonable to say that in some broad cultural sense Korea and Japan pretty much hate each other. Given this, it would not be exactly wrong for the execs to say that upon reflection this movie shouldn’t get made. Which doesn’t speak to your argument: it did get made, it should and indeed must be shown, and in fact, it’s worth seeing. A happy outcome!

    • sheila says:

      I definitely think Sony’s status as a Japanese company played a huge part in it.

      // So, e.g., for the Sony execs to ask themselves whether this particular project should be undertaken given North Korea’s in fact paranoia, and in fact nuclear status, doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. //

      I don’t disagree that that conversation should take place – and that of course corporations are shy about controversy – but I disagree that fearing to offend an enemy of the US should play a part in whether or not something should get made. I’m not a big fan of the “slippery slope” argument – it’s used too freely sometimes, if you know what I mean – and is often used by fundamentalists when talking about “the gays” – “Next we’ll have humans marrying dogs! It’s a slippery slope!” – you know, that kind of thing – but in this case, I really felt that slippery slope. My reaction was definitely a “Team America, Fuck Yeah” reaction, for sure. Maybe not the prettiest or most graceful of responses – but honest. I want to get the chance to SEE this thing and see it for myself.

      I do not want a special interest group – or an anonymous threat, even worse – deciding FOR me. The decision to pull the movie was devastating – so very glad they turned that around and released it.

      And yeah, it’s funny!

    • sheila says:

      // They didn’t make Jodorosky’s “Dune.” Possibly too bad, but not exactly censorship. //

      Agreed.

      There are all kinds of reasons that things don’t get made. But Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have a track record of making movies that become huge hits – so the decision to pull it was cowardly (especially the couple of comments from scared execs saying, “It just wasn’t funny …” As though THAT was why they pulled it. Cowards. I keep bringing up Pauly Shore – hahaha – mainly because I find him so annoying – but I’d stand up for HIS right to bring out HIS “unfunny” comedy too.)

    • sheila says:

      AND – the decision to release it on Christmas Day – was a huge signifier in the company’s strong initial BELIEF in the project. At least that’s how I understand it. Movies released on Christmas Day are generally considered to be crowd-pleasing block-buster type movies. Deciding to release something on Christmas Day is saying “EVERYONE go see this.” They’re not trying to sneak it out, shamefacedly, by releasing it on a Tuesday in January. They’re saying, “This is a huge project for us.”

      So that showed their initial confidence in the movie. To then turn around and throw the movie under the bus … especially with those “We just decided it wasn’t funny enough” comments … Gross.

      Again, I understand the fear of someone blowing up a theatre. I really do get that. But that’s exactly why (for me, anyway), it comes down to the principle of the thing.

  2. stevie says:

    This was extraordinarily good to read, Sheila. And I just love that you have identified Martin Scorsese’s polar opposite is Pauly Shore! More power to that sweet lady sitting next to you. A life without open-minded older people is a life without sunshine. XXX Stevie

    • sheila says:

      // I just love that you have identified Martin Scorsese’s polar opposite is Pauly Shore! //

      roaring …

      and yes: Yay for the open-minded elderly – I want to be one myself!!

      xo

  3. mutecypher says:

    I saw it for the same reasons as the white-haired lady. I’m not much for dude-bro stuff. But I enjoyed it much more than I expected. The Katy Perry bits were my favorite parts. She’s truly a living example of Dylan’s comment that “The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for any one but inspire them?” Go Katy. Go Seth. Go Randall Park (who ruled in that part).

    I did find the “definitely show it/won’t under any circumstances show it/just kidding, here it is” odd in the extreme. A buddy of mine went to biz school with the Sony Pictures CEO, Michael Lynton, so it was interesting to get some of his personal comments about the guy. My friend was unsurprised at the caving to NK and then caving to President Obama, shall we say.

    But in the end the picture is being shown, so the right result was achieved – a good thing that should be acknowledged. But I’m glad I didn’t have to see a Pauly Shore movie to affirm our freedoms of speech and assembly.

    • sheila says:

      // But I’m glad I didn’t have to see a Pauly Shore movie to affirm our freedoms of speech and assembly. //

      hahahahahahahahaha

      These are the absurdities I think about. Come on Pauly – make a terrible movie and I’ll back your ass up!!

      // so it was interesting to get some of his personal comments about the guy. //

      Fascinating – anything you feel at liberty to share?

      You could absolutely FEEL the corporation flailing about in a panic – like a giant dying Leviathan in all of those switch-backs. Utter panic.

      And yes, go Katy Perry! Especially when “Firework” blasts, all as a giant tank which was a “gift from Stalin” shoots flames out into the forest around Pyongyang.

  4. mutecypher says:

    //Fascinating – anything you feel at liberty to share?//

    Naw, I’m hoping I didn’t say too much already.

    //You could absolutely FEEL the corporation flailing about in a panic//

    That’s what it looked like to me, as well. And to some degree it’s understandable. They’re accustomed to competing against other movie studios, at a tactical level, and video games and streaming services at a more strategic level. But not accustomed to dealing with a hostile country making physical threats. If it actually was North Korea. As an aside, isn’t it odd that we give our government credit (of a mostly negative sort) for being able to find out anything that anyone’s ever done through electronic media, but we (or at least I) have doubts about their skill/veracity when it comes to finding who hacked Sony? I can understand the panic, but I don’t understand letting it be visible. I tried not to immediately condemn Michael Lynton for pulling the movie, I didn’t know what information he may have had about the credibility of the threats, the specifics. And it’s one thing to put yourself at risk, but it’s another thing to put other folks at risk. The risk isn’t just to theater-goers, but to the people who work there, and conceivably to anyone in the vicinity of the theater. Now, with how quickly that decision was reversed, it doesn’t appear that there was more specific information in his hands, it was just a snap judgement. And one that was wrong.

    It took me a couple of days to realize that the leaked Sony emails were no different than the hacked celebrity photos from earlier in the year. I didn’t look at the photos, and so I stopped reading the emails. But not before reading what Scott Rudin wrote about Angelina Jolie. Yikes.

    • sheila says:

      Yup, I went through the same process with the emails – and then stopped reading them. The whole thing stunk.

      Angelina’s a tough cookie. I’m sure she was like, “Whatevs. I’ve got chicken pox right now, six kids, I’m one of the biggest movie stars in the world, I could give a rat’s ass.” At least I hope that was her response.

      // As an aside, isn’t it odd that we give our government credit (of a mostly negative sort) for being able to find out anything that anyone’s ever done through electronic media, but we (or at least I) have doubts about their skill/veracity when it comes to finding who hacked Sony? //

      Yeah, that’s a good point.

      In general I don’t think corporations are particularly clever or subtle – (in the same way governments aren’t those things either) and really doubt that all of this was a publicity stunt – although once it became clear the outrage their decision had generated they clearly had second thoughts and started waffling – throughout all of that, it did occur to me: Are they doing all of this … on purpose??

      Whatever the case, glad the damn thing was released.

      // I can understand the panic, but I don’t understand letting it be visible. //

      Right? You’re Sony – how about a better game-face?

      I do appreciate the journalists who have really been digging into this – the corporate culture, the background hacking information in re: codes, and everything – The clarity is welcome after all that nonsensical chatter.

    • sheila says:

      And yes: the credibility of the threat: what was the nature of the threat? That was my fear – that it was based on nothing, and yet we would cave in the face of it. So some wacko with a chip on his shoulder – like Travis Bickle or someone – could wreak havoc on our national life by making anonymous threats: “I’ll blow up your theatre if you don’t show Rambo every Saturday.” Or whatever.

      I think they just got spooked – and then made poor-judgment comments about how “the movie just wasn’t funny anyway” – completely missing the point – and then did a turn-around. Will be interesting to someday get the whole story – you know, some big long New Yorker piece (like the one in December about the shake-down at The New Republic – which was an awesome piece, after two weeks of crazy rumors flying and editors declaring their unhappiness on Twitter, and all that.)

    • sheila says:

      Here’s the New Yorker piece about the New Republic, in case you missed it:

      http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/inside-collapse-new-republic

  5. mutecypher says:

    Thanks for the link. I was aware of all the resignations and that things seemed to sour dramatically when Hughes’ husband was plummeting in flames during the elections, but didn’t have more knowledge than that. A sad thing. Time will give the answer to Wieseltier’s “We are also stewards and guardians and trustees. The questions that we must ask ourselves, and that our historians and our children will ask of us, are these: How will what we create compare with what we inherited? Will we add to our tradition or will we subtract from it? Will we enrich it or will we deplete it?”

    I hope it’s a different answer from the one that looks likeliest now.

    • sheila says:

      It just seems like at some point you have to throw in the towel, sad as it is.

      But the description of the toxic atmosphere leading up to the brouhaha … Ouch.

      I’ve been following the whole NY Times buyout thing, too … For some reason, the whole thing fascinates me, maybe because I’m not really a part of corporate culture anymore, but I’ve been through all that – multiple times in my old life. I remember sitting at my desk at iVillage (where I worked for 11 years) – this was back in 2006, 2005 – and a murmur went through the desks. You can FEEL the molecules shift – people all hearing news at the same time – “what’s going on?” I asked my cube-mate. She said, “Check out Gawker right now.” Went to Gawker and there was a brand-new post saying “Word on the street is the folks at iVillage are not going to be happy in T-minus 30 minutes …” I mean, it was something that alarming and immediate.

      About 2 seconds later, an email went out from the CEO asking everyone to gather in the main area. So obviously someone had emailed Gawker a tip – that was when Gawker was still totally relevant, at least to New York media types, of which I was one.

      We all filed into the main area, we all had read the Gawker thing like 5 minutes before, and there the CEO was telling us that they were going to close down the New York office entirely and move the entire office to Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey (where the CNBC headquarters are.) Our offices were in New York – I worked out of the office at 30 Rock – Englewood Cliffs was a million miles away, it would be a reverse-commute for many – they assured us they would set up convenient shuttle busses, etc. – but for people living in Brooklyn it would add a full hour onto their commute.

      They were also streamlining and consolidating departments – they told us – so of course then came waves of layoffs. Relentless. People quit, too. But I still love that Gawker broke the news to us – really gives a snapshot of that weird little moment in time.

      I, amazingly, made the cut – and then spent a year or so driving to work like a real grown-up, driving up to Englewood Cliffs, on my side of the river. It was a total culture change, too, for iVillage – which had been (in the beginning) a hip new-media company, with hip addresses – in the Flatiron District – and suddenly we were on a corporate campus with NOTHING around it – you had to eat in the commissary – there was literally nothing around it but forest, and the huge CNBC satellite dishes sitting in the middle of a field.

      I found the whole thing fascinating and not at all a bother – I actually enjoyed the novelty of it. Also, my dad was very sick, and I needed the job – and I sort of floated around boss-less (literally) for a year. They needed someone to still handle what I handled – but nobody was overseeing me. It was crazy! I literally had no one to report to – nobody checked in with me – I was invited to no meetings – nobody even noticed whether I was there or not. I could FEEL my own redundancy but nobody had noticed yet. It was total and utter leadership CHAOS. But it worked for me – personally – because I had to take so much time off for my dad – and I didn’t even really have to run it by anyone. As long as I worked ahead and got my stuff done, I could take the time off. So strange.

      Finally, they admitted the Englewood Cliffs thing wasn’t working – and the relationship with NBC had crumbled anyway – and they moved us to Chelsea Market – laying off a bunch of people in the process (and again I survived the cut) – but that situation lasted only about a year, and finally they gave me the axe and a HUGE severance because I had been there so long. I still have a 401k with GE (the parent company).

      Anyway, it was all so long ago – but reading that New Yorker story brought back a lot of memories.

      • sheila says:

        That was a novel.

        In short, I look forward to the inevitable excavation of what went down backstage at Sony during that week of switch-backs.

  6. mutecypher says:

    It was a good novel.

    Between the time that John Sculley left Apple and Steve Jobs returned, we had some less than stellar CEOs. We began to joke that the company was run on the Bulimia Model: binge hirings and purge firings. Apple has always received a lot of attention, so I’m familiar with reading about layoffs before senior management got around to informing the hoi polloi. It happens a lot less with management that thinks ahead, versus management that hopes things will somehow work out. Ready, shoot, aim.

    And speaking of Sony Pictures management, I’ll read that long form journalism when it comes out, too.

    • sheila says:

      It’s amazing that a company like Apple can have any privacy at all! How do you crack down on, say, an employee who gets wind of something and sends an anonymous tip to Gawker (or the equivalent nowadays, whatever that might be.)

      And totally agree with your comments on Chris Hughes below. “Why buy the brand?” Sounds to me like he was a naive idealist, a big-talker, but ultimately hollow – he thought he was doing a good thing, he liked the splash he made by buying TNR – but then almost immediately he started dismantling it. The reality of the situation was too much for him. He didn’t have the experience to understand the challenges – that TNR is not going to be a profit-making venture – as far as I can understand, it’s been losing money for years, and propped up by wealthy donors. And that’s fine, if those donors want to keep supporting the place – but ugh, the language – the corporate-speak – “create a vertical content-driven model …” or whatever the hell. I hate that kind of language.

  7. mutecypher says:

    And, I would have thought that Chris Hughes knew that TNR was going to be a stewardship/curatorship buy going into the thing. He could have just started a new media company from scratch if that’s what he wanted. Why buy the brand if you’re not going to sell the same product? Who’d buy Ferrari and turn it into 4WD truck company?

    The older I get, the more I respect the wisdom of Harry Callahan: a man’s got to know his limitations.

  8. Lizzie says:

    The father of one of my students works at Sony. According to her, personal information was released about people in certain departments, such names of children, phone numbers, etc., and some of them received threats on their phones that named specific members of their families. While I don’t know many details, what she described certainly spooked me; it seems to me like the initial decision may have been influenced by the initial fear/panic of the targeted employees.
    On a separate, but related note–have you read Nothing to Envy? It’s an excellent, and haunting, book about life in North Korea. It’s based on interviews with defectors that balances the broader historical/political implications with the effects on the people who actually live there. I definitely recommend it.

  9. Sheila says:

    Lizzie- well that sounds more credible a threat than “we are scared of North Koreans bombing our theaters because maybe they mean business, oh I don’t know, it wasn’t a funny movie anyway.”

    Yes I’ve read that book. Haunting indeed. There have been a couple of good books from defectors.

    • sheila says:

      Escape from Camp 14 is also good. There’s so little information that gets out about the place – even Soviet Russia had a hearty and vocal community of people who had escaped so there was some idea of what went on behind the wall of silence.

  10. sheila says:

    While it is not yet clear who is responsible for removing all references to gays and lesbians from the promotional material of the American DVD release of “Pride” (about gay and lesbian support of the striking miners in England in the 1980s) – it looks like it might be someone at Sony. Now on the DVD description, the activists are referred to as “London-based activists” (whereas they were clearly described as “gay and lesbian activists” on the release of the film)- and, more sinister, the image on the DVD cover has been photo-shopped – a banner removed that has a reference to “gays and lesbians support the miners.”

    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/american-dvd-cover-for-pride-appears-to-photoshop-out-gay-banner-and-remove-all-references-to-homosexuality-9956368.html

    I realize I am relatively anti-Sony right now. This looks pretty bad, though.

    • sheila says:

      But this is what is great about the Internet. Someone noticed immediately that the image on the DVD was different than the one for the movie – and posted about it. The banner had clearly been photo-shopped out, the banner that explains the whole point of the whole film.

      This is a tempest in a teapot, really – and I’m sure we’ll get a non-apology “he did it, no she did it” soon.

      Still. I love it when something that is clearly so sketchy – something that is not an “innocent mistake” but a conscious choice to misrepresent something and “erase” the gays and lesbians in promotional material – is immediately clocked by some eagle-eyed observer.

  11. mutecypher says:

    Absent any knowledge of what rights they have per their contract with the film makers, one could argue that Sony can alter the DVD box however they want.

    Or to put it another way, even Cowardly Douchebag Companies have a free speech right to self-identify.

    // but ugh, the language – the corporate-speak –//

    I don’t miss that at all. Though I do enjoy the euphemism that so-and-so “has been given the opportunity to succeed somewhere else.” That one is a keeper. I wonder if it will be used about Mr. Lynton in the near future.

    • sheila says:

      These types of decisions baffle me – especially since Pride was successful (relatively) and won some awards. Everyone knows it’s about gay & lesbian protests. Anyway, they were busted on it the second every person who had seen the film opened their copy of the DVD. Ha!!

  12. sheila says:

    More corporate shenanigans, this time at Boston.com – which I have also been watching sort of lackadaisically, because the whole thing has been so rancorous and fascinating. (Nothing to do with North Korea, Sony, or The Interview … but interesting.)

    http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/media/2015/01/8559274/more-fallout-bostoncom-after-retraction

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