The gravity of a farcical comedy
American diplomat and historian George Kennan said, “We export to anyone who can buy it or steal it the cheapest, silliest and most disreputable manifestations of our ‘culture.’ No wonder that these effusions become the laughingstock of intelligent and sensitive people the world over.”
Kennan is known as the father of containment, which became the basis for U.S. policy on Communism after World War II. The collapse of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War and opened the era of a sole superpower, but Kennan thought that the future of a United States with more emphasis on military than culture was too gloomy. He was especially critical of American popular culture. In an interview with the New York Review of Books in 1999, he deplored the reality of American culture being an object of mockery around the world. He even called it “trash.”
I personally don’t think American pop culture is silly or disreputable. In fact, it’s creative and healthy. Drama series like “The West Wing,” “The Newsroom” and “House of Cards” demonstrate creativity and the power of American popular culture. However, I cannot help but agree with Kennan’s concern and lament when it comes to “The Interview,” the controversial film released by Sony Pictures.
It is respectable that the filmmaker chose the ridiculous, young leader of the modern monarchy in North Korea as the object of his comedy. It may be in line with the freedom of expression to write a plot about assassinating an incumbent leader of a sovereign state, albeit a rogue one. But it’s quite hard to understand if it has to be such a cheap, vulgar and low-brow comedy with crude sexual humor throughout. The film is meant to be rowdy and vulgar, but it is rather shameless of Sony to produce and release such a substandard film. After watching it, the first thing that came to mind was whether I should brush my teeth - as if I had just indulged in too much junk food.
Less than 15 days after declaring “proportional” responses against the cyberattacks on Sony Pictures, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order listing additional sanctions against North Korea. It’s not unrelated to speculation in the civilian cyberindustry about an inside job. The leading cybersecurity firm Norse raised doubts about the North’s involvement when narrowed down its list of suspects to six people, including a former Sony worker who was previously fired.
Norse delivered its investigation results to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and briefed the bureau. However, the FBI stated that it stood by its initial report that North Korea was behind the attack, and that it could not disclose critical evidence about private companies for security reasons. If the FBI clarified the facts to the media with a strict news embargo, it could have prevented speculation. But the controversy continues, and North Korea still denies it.
If the FBI’s findings are true, then North Korea provoked the United States in a reckless attack. It has only poked the beehive and caused trouble when it would have just been better to leave it to the audience to judge. Even if the movie is somehow smuggled into North Korea and North Koreans see it, there’s nothing for North Korean authorities to worry about. Instead, some may have been disappointed by the low quality of the Hollywood blockbuster and felt offended that the United States derided North Korea.
Obama’s executive order has only confirmed that North Korea is an evil state that not only develops nuclear weapons and missiles and abuses human rights, but also carries out vicious cyberattacks. The prospects for Pyongyang and Washington are far off now, and this situation is most frustrating for Seoul. It’s quite awkward because an atmosphere for an inter-Korean summit is maturing in the new year but, at the same time, the United States is beating up on Pyongyang. Seoul cannot keep up with Washington’s sanctions but cannot completely ignore them either. In this type of situation, it’s best to approach it directly.
The inter-Korean relationship is different from relations between North Korea and the United States. Officially, Washington supports improvement in inter-Korean relations through dialogue. Therefore, regardless of additional sanctions on North Korea, Seoul needs to promote inter-Korean talks as necessary. Sanctions on North Korea are nothing new. Of course, Seoul should go through the procedure of explaining and asking for understanding to the United States on the need for inter-Korean talks. It may take more time, but Seoul’s initiative should not be hindered by the United States. If necessary, President Park Geun-hye should call Obama personally.
It would be a real tragedy if the trashy Hollywood movie directly led to a clash between the United States and North Korea, and inter-Korean talks were subsequently canceled. It is something Kennan would lament over.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 6, Page 31
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok