The Interview: Where does North Korea stand?

North Korea hack Sony in return

Blake Jones reviews the most controversial film of 2014…

The most controversial film of 2014, Sony’s most successful digital release, the spearhead of the most sneaky marketing method:The Interview, by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, made millions and made the world’s most secretive country pop its head out. Our human nature results in us typically wanting what we cannot have. Sony declared that The Interview was something we could not watch; immediately, people wanted to watch this film, especially those who had not heard of it before. Was it just a marketing act or are Americans watching the film in cinemas genuinely defying North Korea? One notable trend throughout all of history is that the films and book which we ban turn out to be the most popular. So where does North Korea stand? Is it being outrageous in banning the film? If we look at banned media throughout history, is The Interview controversial in the same ways? Or is North Korea being more unreasonable than other countries have been in the past for banning it?

You know what’s more destructive than a nuclear bomb? Words.The Interview

Films are the most commonly banned media. They are much more explicit and it is easier to see the more edgy sides to them and therefore they are at much greater risk of being banned. Some films are quite correctly banned. Some are overly gruesome and have been banned to protect citizens, for example Cannibal Holocaust, Grotesque and Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein. There are also sexually explicit films which have been understandably banned, including Last Tango in Paris, The Tin Drum, The Outlaw and, of course, all pornography. Whilst the other films are unnecessarily banned, it is more understandable to ban a film due to its nature. Yet The Interview is not as offensive as Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) and instead we should look at books, a form of media which tends to be banned under much more interesting and particular circumstances.

Among books there is an undeniable correlation between popularity and controversy. The Harry Potter series, Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, The Da Vinci Code and the Bible, are amongst the top-selling books ever, yet they have all been banned at some time either nationally, from libraries or from schools. Where does this correlation come from and what causes certain books to be banned?

Possibly the most banned book of recent years is George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It is currently banned in Cuba, Kenya, China, UAE and North Korea, and was banned in the USSR. If one were to put together the years this book has been banned in different countries, it would amount to over 221 years. Whilst it is mainly banned due to its criticism of communism, in the UAE it is banned due to the images of pigs which go against Islamic values.

How does Animal Farm compare to The Interview? Animal Farm is considered an intellectual masterpiece and one of the best books of the twentieth century; The Interview generally gets the caption: ‘rubbish’. Undoubtedly Animal Farm is more subtle, with the book being one extended metaphor for the Bolsheviks; instead, The Interview blows up subtlety (along with Kim Jong-Un).  This may well be less tasteful, and this may be why Animal Farm is critically acclaimed instead of The Interview. However, George Orwell never denied that the book represented the Bolsheviks and it aligns so perfectly that Orwell can barely be called subtle. The success does not come from the comparison to communism, instead it is the fact that it comments so boldly on the selfishness of human nature and how we are not much better than pigs if they had power.

George Orwell’s controversy does not end there. Nineteen Eighty Four was banned in the USSR for its entire reign. Moreover, during the Cuban missile crisis, the book was nearly banned in the USA and UK. However, not just attacks on communism are banned. The Communist Manifesto was banned in Turkey for 165 years. New ideas and the critiques of them are the most powerful and dangerous things to governments, and when they are spread through books, the easiest response is to ban them. The Interview spread one simple idea: Kim Jong-Un is a normal human being and not a god. As Kim Jong-Un puts it in The Interview, ‘You know what’s more destructive than a nuclear bomb? Words’. This was emphasised by him pooping his pants on live worldwide television. All the same, certain ideas and messages are so powerful that they have to be stopped. It may be hard for us to think of the interview as powerful, but for such an uninformed people it is truly shattering and would result in widespread riots if it were to reach the North Korean public.

'Where they burn books they will also ultimately burn people.'
‘Where they burn books they will also ultimately burn people.’

Books are also banned when they hit on particularly emotive topics; the greatest example is religion. The Satanic Verses, a book which comments on the life of the Prophet Mohammed PBUH, is currently banned in 21 countries. The Da Vinci Code, perhaps the most controversial book of this century, is currently banned in Lebanon. The Bible was banned in Ethiopia and the USSR. Whether these books promote faith or criticise it, they have been banned. Religion is something people are naturally defensive about, often because it is the most important thing to them. Thus, it is unsurprising that books with religious themes have been banned.

Compare this to North Korea: Kim Jong-Un has a god-like status. If North Koreans were to watch The Interview would they find it offensive, since such a divine being was being insulted? We cannot know, but this is why The Interview is more controversial than a film about assassinating David Cameron would be. They were insulting someone who means so much to many people. They should attack this idea, since it is based on political propaganda, but all the same it is a more risky area, which they should have avoided. However, if they wanted to be controversial they were definitely doing the right thing.

Perhaps media is only controversial because it is the only way to appropriately portray the subject manner. Was The Interview made to be edgy? Probably, but fundamentally it was made to be funny. Having Kim Jong-Un sing Katy Perry’s Firework whilst driving around in a tank blowing up forests and firing missiles on each ‘boom, boom, boom’ in the song, is undeniably funny and that is why they did it. They would have been aware that it would cause offense, but they were happy to. The Interview may not be the greatest artistic masterpiece, but it pushes whatever boundaries it needs to, to create what it wants to create, and we commend that in other works and writers. Thus, before we pass The Interview off as some rubbish which was controversial to gain attention, we must remember that the creators were undertaking a brave act and, in the same way as many who went before them, they are risking a lot to make the best film they can.

Therefore, whilst controversial books are often successful, it all hinges on whether or not they are good. An incredibly edgy book may not be banned if it was so awful no one would read it. Perhaps being good is what makes a book controversial, because it comments on something in such a remarkable way that a government believes it needs to suppress this. The Interview must have been good in some part, since it did what had not been done before and created something which was disputed enough and different enough to cause dispute.

There was without doubt good reason for North Korea to ban the film, though they may not have been right to do so. However, whilst I do not support the regime in North Korea, when one compares The Interview to the other films and books which have been banned over time, North Korea is no worse than any other country. Instead American propaganda has portrayed them to be far more morally wrong in the banning the film than in fact they are. The Interview is controversial in the same way many other banned films are. Sony was right to make this film, but North Korea does not stand in too shameful a place in history, compared to all other countries.