Why doesn’t ISIS threaten Hollywood?

I’m incredulous.  And when you are incredulous you are probably missing something important. You always need to ask yourself WWTCT (what would Tyler Cowen think?)  So I should probably have taken a deep breath before writing this post.  You guys tell me what I’m missing.

1.  Tell me why this country isn’t showing abject cowardice by canceling one film project after another (some of high quality), because we were told to do so by a crackpot on the other side of the world.  And yet the news media reports all this like it’s perfectly normal.

2.  Tell me why Americans being interviewed say; “well how do you expect the North Korean people to feel?”  Um, how would the Jewish people in Germany have felt if Hitler was insulted by Hollywood? (Yes, I know, never use Nazi analogies.)  OK, then how did the American people feel when the North Korean media compared our first African American president to an ugly monkey? The guiding principal of the North Korean regime is that North Koreans are superior and other races are inferior.  And we are worried about hurting their feelings?

3.  Back in 2013 the city of Boston showed similar cowardice, shutting down the entire city (and many suburbs) because a single 17 year old with a gun was on the loose.  I wonder what would happen if they shut Detroit down every time a dangerous 17 year old with a gun was walking the streets.  How often would Detroit be open?  And after that incredible show of cowardice the people of Boston were so proud of their actions that they made “Boston Strong” into a sort of slogan.

4.  And then there’s the TSA.

Perhaps this is a generation thing.  Maybe it’s rational to become increasingly risk averse as we get richer.  After all, my generation has trouble with the notion that kids are no longer free to roam around by themselves.  Maybe I’m just out of touch with the world of today. Or is it our legal system?  Are movie theaters afraid of lawsuits?

But here’s what I don’t get.  If America really is this weak and cowardly, then why can’t ISIS easily defeat us?  They could phone in threats against movie theaters just as easily as the North Koreans can.  And there must be 100 times as many Hollywood films that offend ISIS sensibilities as there are that offend Kim.  Recall that women get stoned to death in ISIS-controlled areas for things like wearing a miniskirt.  Then consider Hollywood films, which often show Arab terrorists as villains. So why doesn’t ISIS copy North Korea?  Why does ISIS let us insult them? I don’t get it.

I suppose when I can no longer tell the difference between articles in The Onion and articles in the mainstream media it’s time for me to retire, or go back to focusing on monetary policy.

PS.  Et tu, Facebook.

PPS.  There is some debate about whether the Sony hacks and subsequent threats came from North Korea.  I have no expertise in that area, and obviously that issue has no bearing on anything in this post.  I do believe it was unethical for the press to print private emails that were stolen.  But heh, it’s the American media–what do you expect?  They prefer to print stories about gossip rather than controversial reports on illegal US government spying on US citizens.

PPPS.  And what’s up with the GOP?  Between defending torture and insisting that the 50 year old Cuban trade embargo will start paying off any day now, you have to wonder whether they have a secret plan to win in 2016 by locking up the reactionary vote.

End of rant.

Happy Holidays!


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30 Responses to “Why doesn’t ISIS threaten Hollywood?”

  1. Gravatar of TyphoonJim TyphoonJim
    22. December 2014 at 07:16

    First, there’s no “we” regarding film cancellations. The entities doing so are simply acting based on the fact that when it comes to the sort of attack that hit Sony, defense is often not an option. Movies are a risky affair, and it is altogether possible that in the calculus of release for any given movie, a single stone of undeniable risk will sink it. Large movie studios are not famous for taking well known risks.

    ISIS is probably not blackmailing anyone because there is no proper way to get money out of a studio for a movie. They might be able to get a payoff if they timed their demands right, but that would require specific inside knowledge of a movie. It might be worth trying, but shaking down oil refineries is more their style.

  2. Gravatar of Andrew Clough Andrew Clough
    22. December 2014 at 07:23

    I’m not sure ISIS is bothered by their depiction in western media. It seems like they want us to view them as scary, hence the various beheading and execution videos they put out.

  3. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. December 2014 at 07:53

    TyphoonJim, I wasn’t suggesting they blackmail anyone for money, just threaten to blow up a theater if it showed objectionable material. As the Sony hackers did.

    Andrew, They would certainly object to films showing girls wearing miniskirts, children going to school, or other activities that violate their religious beliefs.

  4. Gravatar of Student Student
    22. December 2014 at 08:03

    Nice rant. I agree with a lot of it. However, I think Sony’s decision wasn’t cowardice. This little stunt is going to make them big $$$. They will release it and it will gross twice what it would have.

  5. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    22. December 2014 at 08:09

    Actually, Hollywood DID kowtow to Nazi Germany. In 1930–before Hitler even took power, young-uns–All Quiet on the Western Front was withdrawn from theaters in Germany (which was a large market for Hollywood films). Thanks to pressure from…Joseph Goebbels. Which only whetted Nazi appetites;

    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/how-hollywood-helped-hitler-595684

    ‘The most important German representative in the whole arrangement was a diplomat named Georg Gyssling, who had been a Nazi since 1931. He became the German consul in Los Angeles in 1933, and he consciously set out to police the American film industry. His main strategy was to threaten the American studios with a section of the German film regulations known as “Article 15.” According to this law, if a company distributed an anti-German picture anywhere in the world, then all its movies could be banned in Germany. Article 15 proved to be a very effective way of regulating the American film industry as the Foreign Office, with its vast network of consulates and embassies, could easily detect whether an offensive picture was in circulation anywhere around the world.’

  6. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    22. December 2014 at 08:30

    Re the GOP: I had initially thought that the breakthrough with Cuba was going to be one of the few “feel good” political moments of the year.

  7. Gravatar of collin collin
    22. December 2014 at 09:12

    I find the episode ridiculous on so many levels (everyone is acting stupid on what likely is a bad movie.) but I see this indicates a future where the combatants are private business versus governments. All the main decisions were made by private enterprises that it was in their self-interest to cancel showings. It was US theater chains that took the first step (possibly the insurance companies input) and a Japan multinational that made the decision to withhold a movie they thought was bad to begin with. Overall, I don’t see a great cowards in the marketplace but the possible risk versus profits here. (Probably explains a lot why nuclear power has such a limited future.)

    In the long term, I do see that there will a larger scale battles of private companies battling country governments. I do wonder if private companies in 100 years will be raising armies when governments (I vote Argentina or Valenzuela here) screw them.

  8. Gravatar of John Becker John Becker
    22. December 2014 at 09:17

    Great blog post. Aren’t both sides really defending torture by not pushing for anyone to be prosecuted or doing anything about civil rights abuses like Guantanamo? I’m still under 30 but I remember growing up in the 1990s thinking that you could tell the good guys from the bad guys by who was torturing people in the movies. Americans never did it. Then September 11th happened and shows like 24 and movies like Zero Dark Thirty changed all that. America just became the bad guy who happened to have the most weapons instead of a force for good. The public, politicians, and the media seem too scared to rectify that situation by doing simple things like not being intimidated about releasing movies, letting Gitmo detainees go, or prosecuting torturers who hold or have held positions of authority. It’s amazing to think that many of these people grew up during the Cold War when they had to deal actual existential threats. Once you lose your guts you lose your liberty.

  9. Gravatar of Chuck Chuck
    22. December 2014 at 09:47

    1. This country isn’t doing anything in regards to the threats. It was theather chains and a movie studio that made the decision to not show the movie. Also, there is no evidence the threats came from North Korea. The threats and the hacking of Sony are separate incidents.

    2. Who is saying this? Can you link to these interviews? Most of the media is repeating the “How dare we give in to terrorism!” line.

    3. The people of Boston were ordered to stay in their homes by the local and state authorities. If you had lived in Boston at the time, would you have been brave enough to go about your business and potentially be shot by the police? If a cop ordered you to pull over on the highway, would you do it?

    4. Do you comply with the TSA when traveling? Or do you defiantly stand up for liberty?

    If you form your perception of “America” from the media, then you are getting a distorted image. The average person is going about their business without much thought to North Korea or ISIS. But if guys with guns tell them to take off their shoes at the airport or stay inside their home for a day, they’ll do it because they don’t want to get shot.

  10. Gravatar of Jesse K Jesse K
    22. December 2014 at 09:56

    “Perhaps this is a generation thing.”

    One of the reasons kids are no longer free to roam around by themselves is that levels of supervision that were acceptable 50 years ago, and even reminisced about today, are either outright illegal or frowned upon by the police, CPS, etc.. And these policies are almost entirely set by baby boomers, whether it is legislators, executives, or judges. Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony Entertainment is 54. Massachusetts Governor Patrick is 58 years old. The average age in the House is 57, and in the Senate, 63.

    It’s the Boomers world.

  11. Gravatar of MP MP
    22. December 2014 at 10:04

    This is hearsay obviously, but I was speaking with a lawyer at a large white shoe firm who said Sony had spoken with their insurance companies and was told that they would not be covered by insurance in the event there was a terrorist attack over the film. She claimed this was a huge reason they dropped the movie.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. December 2014 at 10:43

    Patrick, Good point, but I would have been far more shocked if they had refused to release the film in America. This seems far worse.

    Collin, As I said, fear of lawsuits might have been a factor. In America, many of our problems are ultimately traceable to our legal system. Why should Sony be liable if a theater showing a Sony film blew up? Only in America. . . .

    Becky, Yes, very sad.

    John, Good points.

    Chuck, If that’s directed at me you missed the entire point of the post. None of your 4 objections have any bearing on my claims. The post is not about who made the decisions.

    I heard several interviews on the radio, I don’t have a link. If you saw something different, that’s heartening. But I predict the government will do nothing to solve this problem and things will get steadily worse.

    Jesse, Yup, boomers are more risk averse than the previous generation, and I’d guess the next generation will be even more risk averse. But you must understand that I grew up in a world ruled by WWII veterans, so that’s my benchmark for “normal.”

    MP, Yes, but that doesn’t change any of my views on this.

  13. Gravatar of Charlie Jamieson Charlie Jamieson
    22. December 2014 at 11:09

    People are risk averse in strange ways. They worry about the Ebola virus, then get in a car during rush hour traffic.

  14. Gravatar of Gordon Gordon
    22. December 2014 at 15:30

    While this doesn’t address the question you raised Scott, I thought you might find it interesting that computer security expert Bruce Schneier is calling into question the claim that the North Korean government or military was behind the Sony hack:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/12/did-north-korea-really-attack-sony/383973/?single_page=true

    Unfortunately, one thing that continually is overlooked in all these hacking incidences is that the NSA is violating its mandate to protect the US computing and network infrastructure. The NSA is very aware of the vulnerabilities in many systems. But rather than disclosing them to the vendors to improve security, it sits on this knowledge so that it can exploit them itself.

  15. Gravatar of benjamin cole benjamin cole
    22. December 2014 at 15:48

    This is not a rant; it is common sense. I am outraged by censorship.

    Jeez, no one remembers that at the height of the 1960s Cold War, when we faced bona fide threats, one could board an airplane without showing ID, like a train or bus.

    Since 9/11, more than 180,000 Americans have been murdered by terrorists: they are called drunk drivers.

    Egads.

  16. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    22. December 2014 at 18:24

    They’re not going to try and distribute the film if all the theatres are backing out, as they were. And a threat like this only works on a specific target film: how could ISIS possibly threaten moviegoers to *every* film they find objectionable?

  17. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    22. December 2014 at 18:52

    In your latest post on your “macro toolkit”, you left out methodological individualism. This would have helped.

    ” 1. Tell me why this country isn’t showing abject cowardice by canceling one film project after another (some of high quality), because we were told to do so by a crackpot on the other side of the world. And yet the news media reports all this like it’s perfectly normal.”

    The “country” didn’t do anything. A few individual Sony executives pulled The Interview from theaters.

    Cowardice? Suppose you received emails threatening you with death you started writing bad things happening in North Korea. Suppose you believed they know where you lived. Suppose you are legally banned from using lethal force to defend yourself against the foreign hackers.

    “2. Tell me why Americans being interviewed say; “well how do you expect the North Korean people to feel?” Um, how would the Jewish people in Germany have felt if Hitler was insulted by Hollywood? (Yes, I know, never use Nazi analogies.) OK, then how did the American people feel when the North Korean media compared our first African American president to an ugly monkey? The guiding principal of the North Korean regime is that North Koreans are superior and other races are inferior. And we are worried about hurting their feelings?”

    For crying out loud, did you just condemn millions of individuals, many of whom might even be your friend if you met them, because of the actions of certain individuals who happen to also be North Korean?!?

    Are you kidding me?

    Methodological individualism would have prevented you from thinking exactly like a racist thinks. The North Korean citizens, the innocent ones, caught in the cross fire do not deserve your scorn. Treat others as individuals rather than aggregate blobs.

    “3. Back in 2013 the city of Boston showed similar cowardice, shutting down the entire city (and many suburbs) because a single 17 year old with a gun was on the loose. I wonder what would happen if they shut Detroit down every time a dangerous 17 year old with a gun was walking the streets. How often would Detroit be open? And after that incredible show of cowardice the people of Boston were so proud of their actions that they made “Boston Strong” into a sort of slogan.”

    See 3.

    Collection is running amok on this blog. Innocent people are being attacked for the crime of belonging to a group Sumner understands them as being.

    Beware of Sumner’s collectivist wrath. He’ll condemn you for what your neighbors say or do.

  18. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    22. December 2014 at 20:08

    Charlie, Gordon, and Ben, Good points.

    Saturos, you said:

    “And a threat like this only works on a specific target film:”

    Nope, several other films have also been pulled, so it works against many films.

    You said:

    “They’re not going to try and distribute the film if all the theatres are backing out, as they were.”

    True, but that has no bearing on my post. BTW, if an independent distributor offered to show it, I predict Sony would refuse.

  19. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    23. December 2014 at 05:56

    That’s still different than ISIS threatening to attack every single US moviegoer (which would be the “principled” thing for them to do.) America didn’t give up on all financial activity when 9/11 happened, it defended itself, and it’s going to invade the entire middle east before it shuts down its entire entertainment sector because of fundamentalist Muslims.

    Anyway, quite off topic, but re: the torture report and the lack of response from government, this Hacker News thread has some *really* good comments: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8784304

  20. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    23. December 2014 at 13:06

    Scott, I think that is exactly how the GOP will run in 2016. Worked well enough in November 2014. Not that I think they will topple Hillary. I can’t wait to enjoy conservative schadenfreude when Clinton takes the reins in 2017.

  21. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. December 2014 at 13:22

    Saturos, Yes, and in addition to the GOP and the media the Obama administration has been horrible on this issue. Didn’t they oppose releasing the torture report?

    Benny, Yes, I think the GOP will lose in 2016. But the Dems are also getting worse every day, so who knows? Never in my life have I seen both parties be this incompetent at the same time.

  22. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. December 2014 at 13:23

    BTW, Sony changed its mind. Who says my posts have no impact? :)

  23. Gravatar of Why is there not more terrorism? Why is there not more terrorism?
    23. December 2014 at 22:29

    […] is more from the Scott on the question here.  This is hardly my area, but here are a few […]

  24. Gravatar of dieter dieter
    24. December 2014 at 04:26

    Huh? There have been numerous cases in recent years of censorship for fear of Islamic acts of violence. The Mohamed cartoon crisis being the most prominent one. Not a single american mainstream publication published the cartoons. Yale University Press refused to print the cartoons in a book dealing with the cartoon crisis.
    But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Many TV shows, art exhibits, plays, articles, scholarly books have been censored or withdrawn. Not to mention the murder of Theo Van Gogh and Pim Fortyn and the murder attempts against Lars Hedegaard, Lars Vilks and Kurt Westergaard.

    And the establishment usually supported censorship, because “feelings were hurt”, or because of pretended aesthetic criticism or they simply ignored such events. The victims of violent threats are frequently equated with the aggressors. They are said to be no better than the Islamic radicals.

    Or, as Obama put it:

    “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied.”

    ISIS does not engage in these tactics, because other militant Muslims have been doing this for decades.

    P.S.: Can you name recent Hollywood movies that depict Arabs as villains? The Wikipedia article on the subject lists Rules of Engagement (2000) as the most recent example.

    P.P.S.: The 2012 remake of Red Dawn was changed from a Chinese invasion scenario to a North Korean one because of political pressure from China.

  25. Gravatar of Why is there not more terrorism? * The New World Why is there not more terrorism? * The New World
    24. December 2014 at 04:33

    […] is more from the Scott on the question here.  This is hardly my area, but here are a few […]

  26. Gravatar of ASD ASD
    24. December 2014 at 06:40

    The bosses of ISIS have the UNenviable job of bringing about “The Caliphate”.

    But to everyone else, dissilusioned-with-the-decadent-West-for-some-reason Muslims in Europe and elsewhere, it’s just a tooled up, oil-financed street gang with plentiful spoils of war in the form of women, and plenty of killing on the todo list. This plays to the unreformed machismo of these idiots. They will have plenty of appetite for their rape because murder and conquest is the strongest aphrodisiac there is. Depressing, sorry, but the truth requires that I not pull punches. Just a good excuse to have some fun, albeit fun that is destructive to everyone else. They may believe Allah is on their side, but even if they don’t believe that and understand that beating NATO et al is a ridiculous fantasy, it hardly matters. It’s comradeship, thrill of adrenaline etc. It supplies “meaning”. I can’t imagine that 100% of them are clinical psychopaths, but nevertheless, we should kill them all even if it takes 1000 years. If they can’t even overthrow the govts of Iraq or Syria, their lives are gonna be a LOT shorter than mine.

  27. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. December 2014 at 10:18

    dieter, There were recent films on the killing of Bin Laden and the 1979 Iranian revolution that depicted the Arabs and Iranians in a bad light, but you make some very good points. Even so, I’d say the withdrawal of an already made film was a new low, and I’m glad it’s been reversed.

    I don’t watch much TV, but aren’t there US TV shows that focus on stopping terrorists? Don’t they ever include Islamic terrorists?

    And there are certainly many Hollywood films that depict women in a way that ISIS would not approve of.

  28. Gravatar of Daws Daws
    24. December 2014 at 10:19

    @ Scott the Cuba embargo is not a correctional measure. it is a punishment. hopefully other potential parties to nuclear standoff understand that they’ll b hobbled by blockades or other nuisances

    hopefully the war in Iraq, counterproductive as it was for real people in the region, will persuade some govs that US will hurt them for building nukes (more than it persuades those govs that noox r the only sufficient crusader-repellent)

  29. Gravatar of Mike Sax Mike Sax
    27. December 2014 at 10:54

    Hopefully the GOP enjoyed their 2014 ‘wave election’-things are going to be a little tougher for them next time. Consider what one Republican is saying in concern for his party.

    “Few things are as dangerous to a long term strategy as a short-term victory. Republicans this week scored the kind of win that sets one up for spectacular, catastrophic failure and no one is talking about it.”

    http://blog.chron.com/goplifer/2014/11/the-missing-story-of-the-2014-election/#28114101=0

  30. Gravatar of Zamba Zamba
    9. January 2015 at 04:12

    I also pondered that question and haven’t come with a clear conclusion. It’s weird that they attack economic, political and military facilities, but have no interest whatsoever in the cultural industry.

    Maybe their rant is more nationalistic than purely religious or cultural.

    But I guess all those terrifying terrorists do actually enjoy american comedies, after all. =)

    hugs to y’all

    Zamba

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