Why the cancellation of The Interview’s theatrical release is a good thing
The Interview, a movie about two unsuspecting Western journalists (James Franco and Seth Rogen) being hired by the CIA to kill Kim Jong-Un was, this December, at the last minute, cancelled for theatrical release by Sony, as the company feared violent retribution from the North Koreans following a recent cyber attack. While many in the West have viewed this incident as a North Korean assault on free speech, some in U of T’s radical left community take a different view. The following analysis comes from Chevy Phillips, who has for a number of years been an activist with the U of T club for the Communist Party of Canada. The views expressed here are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of the newspaper editorial staff
President Obama has publicly admonished Sony for cancelling the theatrical release of the Seth Rogen comedy The Interview as an affront to free speech. Sony, for its part, claims it had no choice but to cancel the film, arguing that terrorist threats had been made against movie-goers. Meanwhile, the government in Pyongyang has denied being behind the cyber-attack, which dumped emails, movie scripts, and other sundry confidential material on-line and left Sony reeling as a result. It has also denied with equal vehemence making terrorist threats against movie theatres.
Despite the FBI’s certainty that North Korea was behind this affair, the reality is that such allegations are hard to prove. One may also question the likelihood of North Korea preparing to kill US civilians en masse for going to see the movie, since even one such attack would undoubtedly result in an unimaginably severe counter-attack from the US. Would North Korea really put its very existence at stake over a film, however offensive that film may be? US media constantly ridicules the leadership of North Korea, and the North has no track record of either threatening or carrying out attacks against US civilians as a result.
However certain the US would like to pretend North Korean culpability is, it isn’t. We’ll probably never know who the “Guardians of Peace” (GOP) hackers actually are. Some discussion has even suggested the hacking was a revenge attack by former Sony employees. In a recent development, as reported in Business Insider on Dec. 20th, the GOP uploaded a video to Youtube mocking the FBI and seeming to suggest the Feds were way off in attributing blame to North Korea. Furthermore, a recent BBC news item featured an IT security expert who argued there “more evidence of Iraq having WMD than there was of North Korea being behind the Sony hack.”
That all said, I maintain that the cancellation of The Interview was perfectly justified.
Take, for instance, the analysis of China’s Global Times which points out that, “The [film’s] vicious mocking of Kim is only a result of senseless cultural arrogance,” while also observing that the Chinese themselves were also not so long ago the targets of such mockery and opprobrium.
The situation on the Korean peninsula has been tense for decades, and such tensions are hardly eased by the annual joint military exercises conducted by US forces stationed there and their South Korean allies. The North feels these are little more than “invasion exercises,” and fears nuclear annihilation should such an invasion be mounted. Such nuclear threats against the North go back to the 1950s and General Macarthur’s ravings at the time about creating a “wasteland” in the north, right up to the modern day as seen in the memoirs of former CIA chief and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The Korean War (1950-53) was an extraordinarily destructive conflict, with up to three million Korean casualties, that included threats from the US-led forces of chemical and nuclear attacks. Noted North Korea expert Bruce Cummings points out that far more napalm was dropped on Korea and with much more devastating effects, than would be dropped on North Vietnam. The notorious American general, Curtis LeMay said himself, “we went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, someway or another, and some in South Korea too.… Over a period of three years or so, we killed off—what?—twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure?”
The extraordinary loss of life and destructiveness of the US-led campaign against the North has not been forgotten in Pyongyang. The North Koreans are often accused of being paranoid, but perhaps that’s not surprising.
Let’s imagine for a moment that the situation was reversed. Let’s imagine a country like Iran, or perhaps North Korea itself, had produced a blockbuster movie, complete with well-known actors, about the assassination of President Obama. How would the US react? Would they accuse the offending movie (and state) of threatening peace and stability, and promoting terrorism? Such a reaction is not particularly hard to conceive of.
We should therefore not be too surprised that North Korea has reacted badly to the prospect of The Interview. But we should also not assume that nation’s government is behind the cyber-attack on Sony as a result. The latter does not necessarily follow from the former, and just about anyone (nation state or otherwise) with an interest in causing harm to Sony could now be using the North Korean’s understandable anger as cover for their own machinations.
In light of all of this, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing a movie depicting the assassination of a real life, currently-in-office, national leader in an extremely sensitive and possibly explosive region was pulled.
The principle of free speech has been most often invoked in the critical reaction to Sony’s cancellation of the release of The Interview, but this is misplaced. When the long-standing possibility of war breaking out (again) on the Korean peninsula is concerned, keeping the peace and potentially saving millions of lives as a result is far more important than a few laughs and cheap shots at cultural stereotypes. The world is not a poorer place as a result of one low-brow comedy being consigned to digital and “straight-to-DVD” release.
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