SONY Pictures pulled Seth Rogen’s comedy about the assassination of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un this week in response, in part, to threats from a hacker group believed by the FBI to have been working for North Korea.
The news media, public and private, have been following this story around the clock for weeks. In all cases, it seems, the discussion has been almost exclusively about free speech, censorship, and a U.S. corporation caving in to threats from a terrorist regime. These are of course important aspects of the problem, but there’s another angle to this that has come up a little, here and there, from callers-in to talk radio and writers-in to op/ed columns. That is what we might call the moral angle, or the question of consciousness.
To get right to it, when I first heard the story it struck me that there is a kind of karmic mirroring going on here where one privileged, childish, narcissistic bubble-dweller surrounded by yes-men is surprised to find himself challenged by another privileged, childish, narcissistic bubble-dweller surrounded by yes-men. The scale is different but the basic psychology is the same.
Kim seems cut-off from reality, given to act on whatever whim takes his fancy, often with violent results, and with little awareness of the consequences of his actions. Or maybe I’m selling him short. Maybe he does understand the consequences of his actions. But the latter apparently cannot be said to apply to Rogen and his Hollywood fraternity. It’s really amazing that out of the whole gang–the dozens of backers, executives, actors, writers, technicians, and PR flacks who signed on to the film project—apparently not a one said, “wait a minute, do we really want to graphically portray the assassination of a sitting president–and call it funny?” The only objection seems to have come from the Japanese head of Sony corporation. It took someone with clout from outside the frat to question the wisdom of the bros.
I suspect that Sony Pictures didn’t pull the movie out of distribution just because of the threats of violence, which, according to U.S. government and intelligence sources, are hardly credible. I’m guessing they pulled the picture in large part because the reaction from North Korea, from cinema franchises and theater managers and mall business people, and from their own Japanese bosses, made them see what an idiotic idea for a picture it was in the first place. The threats and bail-outs afforded the studio a way to back out of a stupid project under the cover of “security concerns.” I bet the movie doesn’t come out online, as some have urged it should, at least not officially. I think Sony is going to shred this thing and try to forget it.
Kim Jong-un is an overgrown, powerful boy (he’s 31) whose actions play out on the world stage. Seth Rogen is a boyish 32-year old whose actions play globally too, but his acts of violence are fictions while Kim’s are fact. Rogen is obviously not as directly dangerous as Kim, but we must be careful not to draw too solid a line between the material affects of “real” and “virtual” violence.
How is a virtual representation of the head of an actual living human exploding in flames funny? It’s funny because at every level of our culture there is an attitude that regularly emerges, like mildew, that says anything goes as long as the bros like it. It’s just entertainment, right? People are not supposed to be hurt by this; they’re supposed to enjoy it. Sort of like being gang raped at a frat party.
The University of Virginia freshman who was gang raped after her “date” brought her into a room full of his “brothers” reported that the next time she saw her “date,” he said he’d enjoyed their evening and would like to see her again. It’s true that some details of the girl’s account have been questioned because of the reporter’s methods in collecting the story, but still that part about the boy’s cluelessness seems credible. It’s just supposed to be fun. And maybe she was to some degree compliant because she saw no way out. This is common among victims of coercion. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape.
This “fun” mind-set would explain why, if the accusations against Bill Cosby are true, he might really believe himself when he says it wasn’t rape, it was “misunderstanding.”
The bros think the girl wanted to have fun; they thought she had fun; it was intended to be fun. The bros think rendering the head of a human into flaming fragments is fun; they had fun; it was supposed to be fun. What’s all the crying about?
The shift in consciousness that is now beginning to slowly and painfully emerge in the larger culture with regard to gender relations is the same shift that needs to happen across the spectrum of our cultural and political activities.
Comedy, in particular, is a serious matter. The words and pictures we choose to present in that realm must be carefully thought in relation to their potential consequences. This is not censorship; it’s sense. Nobody with a moral conscience could possibly find “The Interview” entertaining. Seriously, people, let’s get funny.