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6 Positive Lessons Hollywood Can Learn From The Sony Hack

Maybe it has to get worse to get better.

The massive hack and subsequent release of personal, corporate and creative data from Sony over the past several weeks has been devastating. In addition to the unprecedented cancellation and reinstatement of a multi-million dollar movie and a threat of terrorist action, personal information of employees and collaborators was made public, embarrassing personal messages and beliefs were revealed and the shutters of the sometimes silly looking creative process were thrown wide open.

It is not, overall, a good thing.

However, as the cross-stitch in your grandmother's hallway taught you, every situation has a silver lining. We spoke with Prof. Robert Thompson, the director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, about lessons that can be taken away from the situation.

  1. The creative process needs to occur in a safe space.

    On paper, as bulletpoints, the starting point of a lot of your favorite movies probably sounded like total pieces of garbage.

    "They sometimes sound dumb when they’re fully formed," Thompson said. "And some brilliant films have been made of ideas that sound really ridiculous on paper."

    Take, for example, "Jane the Virgin," one of the most lauded TV shows in this year's Golden Globe nominations. A series about a virgin birth? Sounds...not so likely. However, the real-life results speak for themselves. It's a hit. That's why safe space in the creative process is important: what sounds ridiculous on paper could turn out to be a great final product, it just needs that movie and TV magic.

  2. The gender gap is real in Hollywood, but awareness is the first step.

    Wage inequality between genders is absolutely a bad look. However, the leak of pay info for "American Hustle" stars Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams, showing that they were paid less for the film, could lead to greater awareness and reform on the issue down the road.

    "A lot of things are going to come out when the smoke settles, if it settles on all of this," Thompson said. "But that particular story, I think is one that’s raised some consciousnesses of people who either may not have been paying attention to that or thinking it wasn’t happening on that level or not been thinking about it at all."

  3. Sometimes, it's OK to say harsh things. It's in the way you phrase it.

    Thompson pointed out that some confidential and critical documents, such as employee reviews or the much-crowed-over employee comments about what they'd like Sony to change about the corporation, were private for a reason. Yes, there were racist, sexist and inappropriate comments in some employee messages, but sometimes there's a good reason to be critical. It's just all in the wording.

    "The general sense of, 'you know I really ought to be a little more careful about what I say because it could be as offensive,' I think is a lesson we should constantly be reminded of," he said. "I think we’re constantly saying things that are snarky and mean and could hurt other people and sometime you got to say mean things because mean things need to be said about what people are doing. But if the idea is, when you type something really nasty and think 'oh, what if someone else heard that?' maybe you changed it, that’s always a good thing."

  4. All this mash-up and reboot stuff isn't anything new.

    Great news if there are movies that you love that already exist and did well at the box office: you'll likely see more of them. The sequel and mash-up culture isn't anything new, and, unsurprisingly, the Sony emails show that they aren't a thing of the past, either.

    Thompson said he was totally unsurprised by the proposals for mash-ups and combinations for new franchises.

    "One of cardinal rules, one of the first rules of entertainment dynamics is that if something has worked in the past, you do it again," he said. "We’ve got a movie coming out on the Book of Exodus. That was thousands of years ago. So that doesn’t surprise me. And as you’re going through these things, again, on paper they may sound ridiculous and they may be ridiculous. And some of those ideas would never happen and some of them do. No, that kind of recombining things has been something American popular culture has done for a long time. Isn’t 'The Odyssey' a sequel to 'The Iliad'? Isn’t the Act of the Apostles a sequel to the Book of Luke? Isn’t Exodus a sequel to Genesis?"

  5. It's lifted the curtain on corporate racial insensitivity.

    Racially insensitive remarks in hacked emails made headlines, and, just like the wage gap issue, Thompson said that the shocking quotes could raise awareness and spur action.

    "It’s consciousness raising for some people, yes," Thompson said. "But I think there’s a lot of other things that need to be done and hacking into Sony's files is probably not the most efficient way to solve racism in America."

  6. Like it or not, we're not going back to the Stone Age.

    Look, that reductionist thinking that a lot of people applied to this year's nude photo hack debacle -- "Don't want your nude photos to get hacked? Don't take nude photos!" -- certainly doesn't work here. Don't want your personal messages to get hacked? Don't send personal messages! Don't want your salary to get leaked? Don't...have a job?

    Not really how it works.

    "Obviously there are big meetings going on all over the place now with the IP departments of how we can make ourselves less vulnerable to this," Thompson said. "But in the end nobody is willing to pay the price of being hack proof because being hack proof would mean doing your business without being online and without using your computers. And I think nobody wants to go back to distributing inter-office memos through Xerox copies to a few people. And even those used to leak every now and again."

    So what do we do? Just be careful about what you say, Thompson advises.

    "I think we look at it and we think, 'Wow, I hope that doesn’t happen to us,' and then we go about business as usual."