ON TARGET: "The Interview" more offensive than North Korea's response

As the world devolves into a series of violent bloodlettings in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Nigeria, and international brinkmanship pushes NATO ever closer to an armed clash with Russia over Ukraine, it is interesting to note that the power of propaganda remains undiminished in this so-called era of enlightenment generated by the Internet.

One of the clearest examples of this would be the furor created by Sony Pictures with its new film The Interview. The basic plot centres on two American journalists acquiring access to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and that rare opportunity prompts the CIA to ask the reporters to assassinate him.

Not surprisingly, when the North Koreans learned that this film ends with the death of their actual leader and that the movie is considered a comedy, they took offence. A group calling themselves the Guardians of Peace subsequently hacked into Sony’s corporate computers, whereupon they uncovered a treasure trove of embarrassing material. The nature of the material hacked and released to the media was not a threat to U.S. national security or global peace, but rather petty backbiting by Hollywood stars. Who would have thought that some actors find it difficult to work with Angelina Jolie?

While the disclosed material might have caused a few cheeks to redden at Sony headquarters, it was hardly an attack against U.S. interests. Then, of course, the Guardians of Peace went the extra nine yards by invoking the terror spectre of 9-11. The claim was made that if The Interview was released in theatres, there would be a wave of attacks mounted against those cinemas that dared to show the film.

While it seems highly dubious that these unknown hackers could step up their game from stealing emails to bombing cinemas, the movie theatre owners were not prepared to take that risk. When Sony subsequently took the unprecedented step of postponing the release of The Interview in any form (even direct to DVD), the media backlash was intense. Commentators wailed that America’s First Amendment right to free speech was heavily violated, and that North Korea was now effectively Hollywood’s most powerful censor.

Prominent actors denounced Sony’s decision to postpone the release as being cowardly. The CIA deepened the animosity by claiming it had proof that North Korea was responsible for the original hacking of Sony’s computers. This would be the same CIA that claimed to have proof of Iraq’s non-existent arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, which led to the disastrous invasion of the country in 2003, and the unchecked wave of deadly violence that continues to this day. But I digress.

In the end, Sony did release the movie on Christmas Day at select theatres and through online purchase.

However, at no point in the debate about free speech did anyone stop to ask about such trifling matters as common decency and common sense. The plot of this movie is to kill an actual living national leader. Kim Jong-un has been pilloried in the West in the same ruthless manner that his father, Kim Jong-il, was during his 17-year rule. For decades, North Korea has been listed as a rogue state by the U.S. and, as such, it has been isolated from the international community through embargoes and blockades.

Since diplomatic ties have been cut for so long, and because there are no independent international media sources based in Pyongyang, much of what we are told of Kim Jong-un’s behaviour and eccentricities stem from unconfirmed rumours.

One bizarre story recently claimed that Kim Jong-un had decreed that every male in North Korea must, by law, adopt his distinctive haircut. While this would certainly be proof of the man’s megalomaniacal madness, in the photo accompanying the story, Kim Jong-un is flanked by two senior army officers who are both sporting sideburns, rather than their leader’s preferred shaved sides with a plush pelt on top.

Regardless of this real or imagined proclivity, and the heavy-handedness of the despotic North Korean government, Kim Jong-un is a living, breathing, real human being. To make a movie about killing him and call it a comedy is not about free speech, it is about poor taste. I believe Canadians of all political leanings would find it appalling if another nation produced a film wherein the climactic scene is the assassination of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and it was supposed to be funny. I know I would.