Imagine a film about obnoxious white American men killing a communist dictator in self-defense and liberating the country, all while being open about their sexual attractions to women. The American left would hate this movie, wouldn’t they?
That’s The Interview, and the Washington Post’s Justin Moyer asks us to imagine how we would feel if someone from North Korea or Iran made their own film about assassinating the American president. Such a film would never come out of North Korea, of course, because it would be censored by Kim Jong-un.
But we don’t have to imagine what would happen if a rogue regime made extremely racist and militaristic comments. A government spokesman for North Korea, while threatening war, said President Obama is “like a monkey in a tropical forest.” Offensive indeed, but Obama didn’t threaten to retaliate with military strikes.
So you can see, the United States is not comparable to North Korea, and The Interview is not offensive just because it includes the killing of a tyrant. But it is bound to offend cultural relativists who agree with the fictional Kim’s assessment that America isn’t much better than a totalitarian state with a 20-year-dead eternal president founded on the idea of racial purity.
Left-wing critics have called the film everything from “awful” (Max Fisher, Vox) to a “racist, piece of sh*t movie” (Aura Bogado, The Nation) and a “dumb, racist, homophobic, misogynistic comedy” (Emily Yoshida, The Verve). It’s a comedy all right, so unbutton your shirt and loosen your belt. Let’s see why the “Progressives” are wrong again.
Is it offensive?
The jokes that make reference to Asian tropes were an easy target for claims that The Interview is racist. Some of those were indeed pointless and obvious (“Me so sorry”). But progressive criticisms go much beyond that. Don’t you know we can’t have a beautiful CIA agent (played by Lizzy Caplan) using her assets to seduce TV host David Skylark (James Franco) into taking part in the mission? Never mind that the incident only portrays Skylark as a stereotypical oversexed man turned stupid at the sight of cleavage, or that Agent Lacey shoots back at him later in the film with the comment that she didn’t get her job because of her looks. No, it is women who are being demeaned here.
So, too, is it considered sexist when Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is shown hanging out with a bunch of bikini-clad beauties. Never mind that Kim uses women for sexual purposes in real life. To portray such a fact, or even to show open displays of a straight man’s sexual attractions towards hot women, is sexist. Of course racism, sexism, and homophobia are “liberal” criticisms of everything, so there’s no need to go over each example.
It should be said, though, that the attitudes of cultural ignorance in some cases displayed by the main characters are reflections of those two characters. They are the host and producer (Rogen) of a low-brow celebrity gossip show. So when Skylark uses the Japanese greeting “konichiwa” to say hello in North Korea, it is reflective of him being a moron.
Does it trivialize North Korean government atrocities?
As the film controversy went viral, we were told in The Atlantic and The New Republic that North Korea “isn’t funny” and we should “stop making fun of” it. No one can argue against the assertion that the government’s human rights abuses aren’t funny (though the government’s laughable propaganda is), but does the film help publicize the problem or trivialize it?
Well, if you read the UN human rights reports that these writers encouraged us to read, you will find it reported that up to 120,000 political prisoners are held in camps that have invited comparisons to the Nazi concentration camps. In the film we hear that there are 200,000 Koreans imprisoned in “concentration camps.” (The 200,000 figure comes from a 2002 report by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.) The film is chock-full of criticisms of North Korea’s government for its human rights record.
It is also worth pointing out that there is nothing to prevent someone from both watching the film and reading about North Korea. Indeed, all the attention the film received might cause some people to do just that. Granted, some fans of Rogen/Franco films might not be all that excited about thumbing through a 400-page UN report, but it’s not like they would have read it anyway. What the movie does do is crystallize a viewpoint and share it in a more effective way than dry facts and figures could do alone.
Ultimately the above argument is largely about emphasizing the writer’s supposed moral and intellectual superiority over the viewers. They are saying they are smarter than someone who enjoys such filthy and overtly sexual humor. “If I sound judgy, it’s because I’m judging you,” Emily Yoshida wrote for The Verge.
But the jokes are so stupid!
Okay, there are a lot of stupid jokes. Like many bromances, it has lots of toilet humor. It just comes down to your preferences.
But some of the jokes have been misunderstood due to critics’ lack of knowledge about North Korea. For example, in one scene, Skylark asks Kim whether it’s true that he doesn’t use the restroom like a normal human being. “I do pee and poo. I have a butthole,” Kim says.
Vox’s Max Fisher wrote that “it’s difficult to imagine him ever discussing his ‘pee and poo.’” The joke is on Fisher. As difficult as it may be to imagine, the “fact” that Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il didn’t urinate or defecate is something he had printed in his official biography.
That the North Korean regime’s official propaganda is so stupid it wouldn’t even be taken seriously as a joke in a Rogen/Franco film says more about the regime than it says about The Interview.
America’s moral authority
Finally, what must irk culturally relative “Progressives” the most is that Americans are portrayed as freedom-fighting idealists who are justified in overthrowing a foreign country’s government and bringing democracy. Aura Bogado of The Nation tweeted “Good riddance” when she thought it would be canceled, and “You’re defending a movie produced by the Department of State which makes fun of Nikki Minaj’s vagina” when confronted about the means by which it was being canceled.
Unfortunately, this cringe-inducing moral equivalency and ambiguous support for free speech weren’t relegated just to dark corners of Twitter. At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that the Washington Post’s Justin Moyer suggested that this film is no different from North Korean propaganda or Iranian anti-Semitism. Of course it is, because this film, which was made by a private company, not the government, advocates the end of prison camps and the end of starvation of the North Korean people, not the end of a free and democratic nation and its people. Neither is our response to the other country’s language equivalent. North Korea and Iran go on with their propaganda day after day, and we don’t threaten war over it or hack to try to keep their films out of theatres.
In the end, Moyer wrote, “if a future North Korean missile test … is blamed on The Interview, Rogen can’t say he didn’t have fair warning.” Is he suggesting that comedian/filmmaker Seth Rogen would be to blame and not the maniac who pulls the trigger? Blame Rogen for his speech crime? A clarification would seem to be in order, lest anyone else get that impression, but the whole controversy only goes to prove the message of the movie. Anyone who would saber-rattle on the basis of a film isn’t fit to be in office.