I've seen a lot of talk recently about how horrible it is that Sony Pictures has canceled the release of "The Interview" in the wake of terrorist threats of violence against movie theaters that show it. What I haven't seen much of is talk of how this was a horrible movie to make in the first place. Let me be clear: I don't support terrorism. I think I can stand on a professional record of not liking it a whole bunch.
I also like freedom of speech. Yay, I'm writing stuff! Down with North Korean douchebags!
Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about how this is a movie about the assassination of a foreign head of state at the hands of the U.S. Government. If this head of state had been, say Angela Merkel, probably there wouldn't have been terrorist threats and criminal hacking to prevent the movie from coming out. Because Germany isn't that kind of place, and yay for them. But also because who cares - nobody would have seen that movie in the first place. Nobody would have wanted to.
And this, from the country that gave us the Holocaust!
It's offensive, crass, tasteless... you name it, that's the premise here. If Bollywood came out with a snazzy dance number about knocking off Obama, you can bet we'd be up in arms. Hell, we'd probably be up in arms if they did it about assassinating former President Bush, because, well, that ain't cool, man.
Let's also add that this is even more illegal than torturing people, because no administration has attempted to redact the section of Reagan's Executive Order 12333 that prohibits the CIA from engaging in assassination. Torture is shitty and we should all know better, but when the President telling you that it's okay, it's easier to see how it happens. That hasn't happened with assassination.
One could carry a strong argument that the meaning of the word "assassination" may have been abused in order to allow for drone strikes, but "for political purposes" is pretty central to what Reagan was trying to do with EO 12333, and I can't think of a world in which the killing of a recognized head of state by another government isn't an "assassination". You can argue about whether waterboarding is "torture", but not whether it is "stress-inducing".
So "The Interview" is offensive and perpetuates myths that make America look even worse, internationally. I imagine it's funny - I definitely laughed at "Team America" - but is funny enough to justify it? There's a difference between an offensive portrayal of Kim Jong Il in "Team America" and the depicted assassination of Kim Jong Un in "The Interview": one's an ass-ination, the other's an assass-ination. Extra "ass" there, you see?
In other words, it's one thing to make a foreign head of state out to be an idiot. It's another to depict his murder as a good thing.
I'm not arguing that the movie doesn't have a right to exist. I may be arguing that it should never have been made, but not because it's something that should never be said or depicted.
What I am saying is that it's pretty fucked-up that we think that this is okay, and moreso that we think that this is entertaining. What does it say about us as a society when we are so totally comfortable with the first-degree murder of the figurehead of a - [cough]coincidentally[cough] - yellow-skinned nation that we find it humorous, but we balk at the nation's espionage agencies so much as tapping the phone of the head of a primarily white one?
Yeah, I'm pretty sure that North Korea is not a nice place to live, and that Kim Jong Un is a huge part of that. I'm pretty sure that the people there could be doing a lot better than they are, but they happened to be born to be ground under the bootheel of a dictator and their lot in life is the suck. Guess what? There are a ton of places like that in this world. It's not okay.
But neither is it all right for us to make fun of them. Because that is what we are doing, when we say that it's all right to giggle over their Dear Leader getting blown to bits. We aren't doing it in solidarity with them, because we think that, yeah, he really is a bad guy who needs to die to make the world a better place. We're doing it because it's a joke. It's hilarious. We are telling them that the man who is so singularly responsible for their continued misery warrants nothing more from the United States than a Hollywood punchline.
How do we, generally moral and upstanding people, fall prey to this racist bullshit? How can we not sympathize with what it would be like to be in North Korea, despising our own leaders, and to know that this movie was coming out? It's because we've been told, over and over, that North Koreans are Other. And we believe it.
They live in a "closed-off society". They're part of the "axis of evil". They talk about their "Dear Leader" - aren't they funny! They're different from us!
We do this because we're human. We want there to be outsiders that we can disregard. We want to know who's ours and who's not. We want to know who we can laugh at, or who we can enslave, or who we can eradicate, without having to worry about it.
Consider "Inglorious Basterds". It's a movie about Jewish terrorism, torture, mutilation, and the political assassination of a head of state at the behest of the U.S. Government.
Buuuut... they're Nazis. Nazis are the ultimate Other. You can do whatever you want to a Nazi and nobody feels bad about it. Carve up his face? No problem. Scalp him? Ehh... go for it.
Now, Nazis do bad things. Really, really, really bad things. "Holocaust" is not a nice word and never was. We want to hate them. We want to turn our brains off and not think about them as people, because my god, how could people do that to other people?
By not thinking about them as people, that's how.
So don't succumb to otherism. Don't be an otherist. Don't side with morally corrupt moviemakers, even if they may appear to be the little guy being scared shitless by North Korean bad guys. They aren't the good guys, here. Nobody in this whole mess is worth your time, unless you happen to be an FBI cybercrime investigator.
Speaking of being scared, don't be terrorized. Spend sixty seconds thinking about what you'd have to do if you were a North Korean commando who wanted to commit an act of terrorism in the United States. First, you'd have to get here. Great, I'll just book a flight! Except I'm a North Korean who wants to come to the U.S., so no way am I getting a visa without an anal probe of an interview. Or you could get a fake passport that would get you through security... but you've gotta do that for every member of your team, because if anybody gets caught, the jig is up. Then you have to get here, and get weapons, and pick a target...
Nope. Not gonna happen. North Korea can't do it. Hell, the United States would have trouble doing it on our own soil in the month timeframe that the North Koreans have had since they knew the hack against Sony was successful. There's just no chance. It's an empty threat. There are reasons why we don't see a lot of terrorism on American soil: it's really, really hard to do.
So go see a movie. I hear "Big Hero 6" is good.