Everyone talks of censorship, not of those sick and dying inside North Korea
It is typical for people around me to pick my brain on matters of regional politics in Northeast Asia, especially when North Korea is in the news cycle. I’ve never backed-down from the impossible task of trying to guess what the DPRK is up to, but in this case, I’ve declined to offer much in terms of an opinion.
My hesitation stems from the fact that the whole debate about “The Interview” being pulled from theatres and how Sony Pictures Entertainment has effectively censored free expression is the typical individualistic argument I would expect from North America. Having to explain to everyone that censorship shouldn’t really be the heart of this issue requires a Korean history lesson too lengthy to package into a response for a friend’s casual inquiry about this particular news item. But here goes…
It’s ironic that, especially at a time of heightened public awareness on the issue of bullying, that the entire world seems to be doing just that on a macro-level with respect to North Korea. Yes, their track record on human rights is atrocious; their behaviour towards the rest of the world continuously bellicose and their system of government (if we could even call it that) is long past its expiry date. Decades of diplomacy seems to have made little to no progress, and while diplomats undertake further study of how to breakthrough in North Korea, the general populace sits back offering little more than racist jokes and a few laughs, thanks to the free expression demonstrated by such films as “Team America: World Police” and the more recent, now-scrapped film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.
It is difficult to find someone who can intelligently discuss North Korea. Most of the stuff I hear when the subject is brought up is about the Kim’s poor taste in clothing or hair styles. That joke, much like the suffering of the North Korean people, has long passed its best before date. People ask me for my opinion on Korean issues because of my interest in its political dynamic. I do not claim to be an expert on the subject, but having focused on this in my studies and having been “on the ground” — which includes a few footsteps inside the world’s most brutal country — gives me a bit more credibility than a lot of the fools talking about Kim Jong-un’s fashion statement.
Does pulling “The Interview” set a precedent? Does it start a sort of censorship on creative expression? Perhaps. Another film starring Steve Carrell has been shelved and a planned re-release of Team America in some US theatres has been scrapped.
Going back to my point about bullying: seems like North Korea has had enough of Hollywood defining them and they took a stand. The Sony hack seems to demonstrate that North Korea has the ability to do some damage, and Hollywood has now backed-down. It might be a while before someone sells the idea of killing a North Korean leader in film again, which makes sense to me, given that no mainstream studio executive would ever touch a film whose plot suggests the killing of a living US president, let alone a sitting commander-in-chief.
North Korea is a disturbed country ruled by a paranoid elite whose only day-to-day concern is their grip on power. A film which suggests the assassination of Kim Jong-un, regardless of whether it is cloaked in comedy, serves to only advantage the leadership in North Korea, who have played this as an act of aggression by “American imperialists”. It also kills any diplomatic progress (if any has been made through back-channels) with a new leader in North Korea who seems to be distancing himself from his father’s militaristic rule. I wrote a few weeks ago that Kim Jong-un seems more interested in the state of the North Korean economy than his role as head of the military, which is something positive in a part of the world so riddled with negative news.
In summary, I couldn’t care less if this is censorship. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m sure it’s no different than others like it, containing the same kinds of Asian stereotypes and the overheard jokes about North Korea. While everyone in the world seems to be so consumed with the idea that Sony pulling the movie starts a trend toward censorship, my opinion is thus:
What about the people of North Korea? All of them, from the ones starving to death near the Yalu River or those rotting in the mines of prison camps.
For those of you who cry about this movie being shelved, you can still go check out a movie this Christmas day. You’ll still have your pick of film, and you may even luck out with the concession stands being open. Get yourself a pepsi and a popcorn — at least you’ll get to do that. The average North Korean person doesn’t even know what popcorn and pepsi is, and they’re probably more hungry than you are.
Adrian Hong, a writer for The Atlantic magazine, said it best:
The day will soon come when North Koreans are finally free, and liberated concentration camp survivors will have to learn that the world was more interested in the oddities of the oppressors than the torment of the oppressed.