Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Well, it’s on again. Sony Pictures, in an extraordinary display of courage and defiance of Kim Jong-un, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, has decided to release the controversial comedy “The Interview.” The principle of free speech has been upheld by Hollywood’s finest. Pretty soon now and we’ll all be hearing the sound of cash registers, Sony’s corporate team, and an exclusive band of C-list actors singing, “Ka-ching….Ka-ching….Ka-ching!”

The film’s producers are telling us that the release of the film is all about upholding deeply held democratic principles and values. But, God forgive me, I’m having a very hard time believing that release of “The Interview” has much to do with principles or values. It’s all about “Ka-ching….Ka-ching….Ka-ching.” By the time all is said and done, “The Interview” will probably make more money than it ever would have if it had been released prior to Kim’s threats of Armageddon.

There’s a part of me that thinks I might enjoy it if I were to see it. I love comedy¸ particularly slapstick. I love anything Laurel and Hardy ever did. I’ve seen Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” many times and I laugh myself to tears every time I see it. But, my all-time favorite screen comedian is Charlie Chaplin. He was the master of masters.

I also love satire and parody. When it’s done right, it provokes thought and, hopefully, prompts the public to act. Chaplin’s 1940 film, “The Great Dictator,” was a masterpiece of the genre, possibly on a par with Jonathan Swift’s 18th century classic, “A Modest Proposal.” Chaplin’s genius was especially evident in the scene where Adenoid Hynkel (Adolf Hitler) cavorts around his office playing with a large world globe, occasionally kicking it gently with his feet, tapping it with his hands, and once bumping it with his buttocks. He’s so consumed that he even caresses it gently, like a mother would a child. By the time the scene was over, audiences around the 1940 world realized that Hynkel (Hitler) was a raving lunatic.

Unfortunately, as brilliant as Chaplin’s work was, it didn’t stop the carnage. Years after the war, Chaplin made a sad admission. He said that if he’d known what was happening in the death camps while he was making “The Great Dictator,” he would have scrapped the project. Chaplin never said why.

I guess some things just aren’t that funny. Nazi death camps weren’t funny in the 1940’s. Stalin’s gulags weren’t very amusing, either. While those involved in the production of “The Interview” might think the subject matter is funny, people who are unfortunate enough to live in North Korea don’t think life there is funny, nor do they find Kim Song-un very amusing.

It’s been reported through secret United Nations channels, that some North Korean mothers are being forced to drown their infant children to satisfy the demands of Kim. Men, women, and children are being systematically starved to death while Kim and his minions swill down close to a million dollars’ worth of Hennessy cognac every year. In February, 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council published a lengthy report on human rights abuses in North Korea. Included in those abuses are:

“Confiscation and dispossession of food from those in need” (page 10)

“The police and security forces of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea systematically employ violence and punishments that amount to gross human rights violations in order to create a climate of fear that pre-empts any challenge to the current system” (page 11)

“As a matter of State policy, the authorities carry out executions, with or without trial, publicly or secretly” (page 12)

“Extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds” (page 14)

"Lengthy prison sentences for simply watching video recordings, dance, photos, books, or drawings that Kim deems to be “decadent, carnal, or foul” (page 59)

There’s very little about North Korea or Kim that’s funny, but there is one thing. Hollywood and Kim Song-un have a shared contempt for religion. The United Nations report quotes Kim as saying, “Religion is a kind of myth. Whether you believe Jesus or Buddha, it essentially believes a myth…. we cannot take religious people to the socialist society and religious people should die to cure their habit.”

Like Kim, Hollywood detests religion. In the 1991 film “At Play in the Fields of the Lord,” for example, one of the main characters let Hollywood’s philosophical cat out of the bag with this gem, recited by one of the main characters - “Jesus….Kisu…what’s the difference….it’s all hocus-pocus.”

It all goes to show that Tinseltown, geopolitics, entertainment, and lunatics can sometimes become strange bedfellows.

The international crisis appears to have passed. The cash registers are once again singing, “Ka-ching….Ka-ching….Ka-ching.”

Hopefully, this little kerfuffle has taught Sony and the rest of Hollywood a valuable lesson. Don’t provoke lunatics, especially if you don't want to wind up in their gunsights. Pick safer targets, like religion, instead.

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