To Understand the Sony Hacks, Follow the Money

The hacking of Sony’s emails and the threats against the film “The Interview” have created an international crisis, as the US government prepares a “proportional response” against the North Korean government, the alleged culprit. It has also created a moral crisis in the US as our media wrestle with the consequences of acceding to the demands of terrorists and extortionists regarding the release of their products.

As a practicing skeptic, I want to offer another way of interpreting these events. The identity of the extortionists is important, but it is not the most important consideration. What I find most interesting is the huge explosion of demand for what is most likely a stupid comedy full of stock contemporary vulgarities, insider jokes, and semi-funny tropes.

Whatever the case prior to the threats, now everyone wants to see this film. Many commentators urged the company to go directly to pay-per-view and on-demand television release of the film. But the so called “Guardians of Peace” have also included in their threats every way in which the film can reach the public, including piracy.

In other words, illegal copies of the film will become quite valuable, if only as collectors’ items.

Which leads me to the figure that emerges when I connect the dots by following a certain logic. I expect that somewhere, perhaps on the “dark web,” copies of “The Interview” will soon become available. Text messages with well understood euphemisms will circulate, as will cryptic tweets, telling how and where to get a DVD or flash drive version. Copies of the film put up for bid will sell for prices that rival those of a Beyoncé concert or playoff tickets.

Somebody’s going to make a lot of money.

Then again, maybe the DPRK government is behind the hacks and threats. If so, it is a demonically clever way of achieving two political goals.

For one thing, it sends a message to the US government that it cannot kick North Korea around with impunity.

But the most powerful effect is on the economic status of Sony, whose stock lost 10% of its value over the past week. Remember, Sony is a Japanese company. And Japan has been largely unrepentant over its occupation of Korea from 1910 until the end of WWII. Japan’s treatment of the Korean people was ruthlessly oppressive and included forced labor, conscription of Korean women into sex work as “comfort women,” conscription of Koreans into the Imperial armed forces, and economic exploitation of Korea by Japanese businesses. Although Sony was founded in 1946, its global reach and position in the entertainment industry makes it a highly visible target for North Korean economic revenge on a Japanese corporation.

Whatever turns out to be the truth about the hackers and their ultimate goal, we will have to wait for the other shoe to drop. That may be soon, if our government takes swift action. Or, like the hacks into the records of Target, Home Depot, Staples, and other US businesses, we may have a very long wait.

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