This week, Kim Jong-un cancelled Christmas.
Not only that, he has eliminated America’s most cherished value: Free Speech.
It may have not been the North Korean government that hacked Sony and threatened to unleash a 9/11-style attack on theaters screening The Interview. However, the US government and its good friend, Hollywood, are treating this like it’s the case. It’s lead to a holiday season spectacle that’s finally worth watching: the entertainment industry wailing and keening over the deaths of all that’s good, decent, and American in the world.
George Clooney said that “North Korea dictate[s] content” now. Sean Penn, who seems like he got tired of pretending to be a leftist sometime last year, says that this has sent an invitation to ISIS. And then there’s everyone else in Hollywood, with variations of the hackers/terrorists/Hitlers have won (thanks to Variety for the laughs):
As is often the case with invoking Free Speech, people aren’t responding to government censorship but invoking an American totem like a fetish object. It’s one of those unfortunate situations that reveals the discomforting truth about capitalism. It’s chieftains have no silly, impoverishing devotion to any nation, just to their bottom line. In reality, Sony probably saw a mid-budget misfire that they could quietly shuffle off their schedule until an embarrassing hacking scandal died down. Especially once theaters started scurrying away from controversy, as profit-driven institutions are wont to do. As a hilarious illustration of the true amoral opportunism that makes someone an oligarch, the right-wing billionaire who owns Regal cinemas and was the first exhibitor to abandon the film was named “America’s greediest executive” by Forbes in 2002. Anyone who expects a corporation to uphold values or act on principle is asking them to be something else–something out of a socialist worker’s paradise.
But back to free speech, an American mantra that’s part of our civic mythology. The idea that “the answer to speech you don’t like is more speech” is deeply embedded into the American psyche. From liberal to reactionary, this idea is treated as gospel, and like most American mythology, it’s kind of a bunch of shit. The world isn’t a level playing field, with all ideas given equal weight and the best ones rising to the top. Inequalities exist, and certain ideas are more oppressive than others. Ideas that further existing sets of oppression, like white supremacy or imperialism, are more dangerous, more protected, and more popular than radical ideas.
The US is the most powerful empire the world’s ever known. In the course of its violent shaping of the world, it makes a lot of people angry. When that anger finally pushes someone or some group of people to the breaking point, the American media and culture industry inevitably invoke free speech. “Why do those people not respect our free speech rights, or respond to our speech with their own speech?”
Usually, the reason is because the US has used every other form of communication on its end, from open war to PsyOps to “soft power” influence. No country or group of people can compete with this sort of full spectrum dominance. So, when the NATO countries spend years bombing Muslim countries and torturing their people, a bunch of vile Muhammad cartoons don’t look so innocent.
Similarly, the United States is the only country that would make a film–a comedy, too– about assassinating a sitting world leader. And if the “Guardians of Peace” do turn out to have been acting on behalf of the DPRK, they’ll be responding to 60 years of hostilities with a country that keeps 40,000 troops and nuclear weapons on their southern border.
(Of course, there are also racist reasons for a comedy about killing the dictator of North Korea. Since Korea is in East Asia, the stereotypes are of silly, dickless people–despite having nukes, not scary. For contrast, compare with Middle Eastern Iran, encoded with Orientalist, savage stereotypes–despite no evidence they want nukes, terrifying.)
The American media and culture industry basically spend billions of dollars a year to create this reality. It’s an industry devoted to propaganda, and what the Sony leaks have reminded us is that it’s a creatively bankrupt, sexist, and white supremacist one. Hollywood needs to suffer more high-profile public catastrophes, not less.
Hollywood creates, for most Americans, our understanding of the world. So it’s no surprise when The Interview screenwriter Dan Sterling defends his film by saying:
“If all countries made satirical movies about each other, and that was the only way we all fought – what a great world we’d live in.”
What a great world, indeed! If Sterling and all the “free speech” advocates out there want to live in a verdant, irenic world where conflicts are settled with incisive putdowns and withering shade, regime change begins at home. The US is the world’s greatest exporter of violence, as MLK said. Maybe once America stops being an empire, films about murdering other countries’ leaders will be more ha-ha funny. However, Sterling also says “I don’t actually think our government is currently obsessed with whacking foreign heads of state.” Given that in the last decade, the US-backed mobs have lynched Saddam Hussein and raped Gaddafi with a knife before executing him, Sterling may be an imbecile.
Still, it’s a bit surprising to see this so scandalize the culture industry. Do Americans have a problem with a cyber-war program impeding a country’s rights all of a sudden? If so, I can’t imagine what a shitstorm will happen when Hollywood learns the most powerful country is stopping plucky, Oscar-winning Iran from their right to uranium enrichment. I think they’ll send Leo, he’s always been such a humanitarian.
And as far as rights go, the last time I heard Seth Rogen making any political statements, it was one in support of Israel’s last slaughter in Gaza. He and recently humiliated Sony chief Amy Pascal publicly repudiated Palestine’s right to resist colonization, a struggle with bigger stakes than foreign box office receipts.
Anyone who wants to see a patriotic movie on Christmas day still can–there’s supposed to be a great one about a Christian fascist coming out. America’s still exceptional, no one has to measure years in Juche just yet.
The bad guys won. This Christmas, let’s, as the Kanye song goes, have a toast to the assholes. The losers are Hollywood and America’s sense of its impunity. We’ve gotten one of the funniest, weirdest spectacles in recent memory, with a bunch of rich assholes crying about the death of some ridiculous, deadly fairytale they learned in school.
Beats the hell out of some shitty Seth Rogen movie.