There are important points, applicable also in U.S.-China relations, to be noted in the presumed North Korean hacking attack on Sony Pictures, precipitated by the latter’s film “The Interview,” which treats as a spoof a CIA conspiracy to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But the points are not what we’ve read in the editorial pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, or heard from the White House.
I saw “The Interview” on Christmas Eve. For $5.99 it streamed into my home on Google Play. Fortunately, I had not paid theater prices to see it. If I had, I would have regretted not only making a bad investment of money, but also, and more so, of one hour 54 minutes of time. In truth, however, about half way through it, I had mostly stopped watching this vulgar, adolescent, unbelievably contrived, often poorly done, and thoroughly vapid movie.
Point number one: This movie should never have been made. The Sony Pictures executives who “greenlighted” its production are to be faulted for poor judgment–artistic, cultural, and, yes, political. That the studio would wind up paying a price for such bad judgment should be a surprise to no one. In other words, to anyone with a common sense and a grasp of the real world outside the incorrigibly adolescent, obliviously solipsistic, navel-gazing and narcissistic Hollywood bubble, what happened was totally predictable. And in some, if not all or even most, respects, it was just deserts.
The risible righteous indignation and feigned injured innocence heard from Sony Pictures– amplified and exaggerated by others in Hollywood, the global media, and in politics with their own agendas, not least, by President Obama—mainly served to distract from and obfuscate what responsible people, including those whose business is “theater arts” should have considered the key issue. The key issue, that is, of the propriety, wisdom, and ultimate value of this atrocious film.
Point number two: In today’s connected world, when Hollywood studios (and not just Hollywood, but all the major organs and agencies of American media) produce an extreme version agitprop content that is existentially threatening and potentially highly destabilizing to another country—and this certainly is the case vis-à-vis North Korea with “The Interview”–they are effectively launching a campaign of psychological aggression and subversion—the ultimate consequences of which are unfathomable, but potentially tragic–that is certain to receive a counter-attack. Moreover, the counter-attack will be wholly justified.
No Hollywood studio executive has been invested with the authority to engage either this own studio or the United States in quasi-warfare a foreign country. And no studio executive would, I am sure, accept any responsibility for heightened political suppression—including executions– that might follow upon secreting of his movie into a place like North Korea.
The North Korea and “The Interview” are only the extreme case. The point is that Hollywood, with almost ineffable irresponsibility (and, again, we can speak of most of the rest of America’s major media organs as well), seems to feel itself entitled to propagate and direct at foreign societies a “made in America” social and political model which would be highly dysfunctional, even chaos-causing, in those societies. It is not only natural that the leadership of those countries should reject this model. It is natural and right that they should take action to prevent such potentially disastrous consequences by keeping the content out.
Point number three: After “The Interview,” we should not now admit to ourselves that “universal [read: liberal American] values” are not, in fact, universal, and certainly not embraced, let alone practiced, by all foreign leaders. This would be true not only of dictatorships like that in North Korea, but by the leaders of most Asian countries, if not of most countries in the world. And, while we are being brutally honest on the topic, we should further admit that it applies not only to leaders, but also generally to these countries’ peoples.
The airy idealism and uplifting sentiments of “universal values” make fine rhetoric in places like the United Nations General Assembly and win approbation from bien-pensant editorialists in The New York Times, but they are largely irrelevant, if not counter-productive, in day-to-day governing and maintaining social stability, progress, and security in the rapidly modernizing, turbulent, ethnically, culturally, and politically riven societies of much of Asia and the rest of the world.
The overwhelming majority of citizens in these countries—certainly in China, the best and most important case—intellectually appreciate or viscerally sense this reality, and hence support or otherwise acquiesce to the necessity of strong, even authoritarian, government, usually under one party rule.
My fourth point, which is really a lament in the form of a question: When are “freedom of expression,” “art,” even “comedy,” just—or mostly—just buzzword excuses for double “X” soft-porn vulgarity? Almost all of the language, and much of the plot, of “The Interview,” was of the foul-mouthed “shock talk” obscenity genre that is the stock-in-trade of third rate American stand-up comics, combined with the tawdry free sex fantasies of American movies aimed at teenagers.
Of course, adolescent sex and vulgarity sell. These were the most prominent features of “The Interview,” which only makes more risible and patently mendacious the protestations of injured innocence and virtue of the movie’s producers and media apologists.
As more people see “The Interview,” much of the hype and anticipation has been replaced by disappointment or even disgust. However, expecting an anti-climactic withering of the film into obscurity may be wishful thinking. The potential of this film to entice and entrap reckless idealists in North Korea, and to seal their fates, still exists.
Such baleful outcomes are hardly uncommon consequences of Hollywood’s irresponsible, vulgar, and conceited dream factory. China is well served to be vigilant in this regard.