As if we needed to hear more North Korea jokes from white American celebrities.
The 72nd Golden Globe Awards resulted in even more hype for The Interview when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler made cracks at North Korea’s negative reaction to the movie, as well as alluding to the “censorship” of the movie that occurred as a result (and also making some obnoxious rape jokes about the recent Bill Cosby controversy while they were at it). While many people on social media sites were quick to call out the pair for their tasteless jokes, others came to their defense and many audience members were shown laughing hysterically and Fey and Poehler’s comments. The movie has been creating controversy for months now, largely because North Americans believe that Sony’s decision to cancel the theatrical release of the movie due to backlash from North Korea was a breach of freedom of speech.
Let’s take a look at the word “freedom”. Freedom is something we hold in incredibly high regard in North America, but is something that is virtually non-existent in North Korea. Their economic freedom, political freedom, freedom of association and, of course, freedom of expression are restricted to a degree that North Americans could not possibly fathom. The lives of North Korean people are strictly monitored, and a “wrong move” can result in detrimental consequences. Law breaking can result in public execution. People are forced to watch their family and friends being shot. In 2014, Amnesty International UK released a video of testimonials from victims of North Korean camps (which can be seen here).
There are stories of some prisoners being forced to dig their own graves. One woman, who attempted to flee from North Korea, was caught and detained in a prison camp. She revealed that women who are sent to camps are subject to STD and pregnancy tests, and if they are found to be pregnant they are forced to have an abortion. Women who become pregnant at the camps have miscarriages due to the gruelling and intense manual labour they are forced to do. People detained in camps work from sun up to sun down, doing demanding physical tasks. In addition to this, starvation is a massive problem in North Korea. A former military captain reported seeing piles of bodies of those who had died of starvation in public places. Testimonies include stories of people eating beans and other foods picked out of animal excrement. Another woman was sent to a camp after being charged with guilt by association, along with her entire family, including her elderly parents and four children – aged 9, 7, 4 and 1. Each one of them died of starvation, and the woman was forced to bury them herself without coffins. This was not an isolated incident – if someone is charged with guilt by association, their family is detained as well, regardless of whether or not they were involved or even know what the charge is.
If you truly believe that freedom is important, maybe the human rights violations occurring in North Korea should be bothering you a little more than not being able to watch a mediocre movie. Accept that their freedom of expression is probably being violated a tiny bit more than yours is. If you’re really that desperate, throw on Pineapple Express or something. Same shit, different movie.
People are trying to justify The Interview by portraying it as a tale of heroics, about two vigilantes fighting to end a totalitarian regime. There is nothing heroic, however, about making a comedic film based on cheap laughs about an oppressed country that we are separated from by thousands of miles. There is nothing valiant about choosing to laugh at the misfortunes of others, so long as there’s an entire ocean to separate us. Just because something isn’t happening in your own back yard doesn’t make it any less real. And the things that are occurring in North Korea at this very minute are incredibly real. Sony has made a statement saying that The Interview has already raked in over $15 million. If this movie were really about making a change in North Korea, perhaps some of that money could go towards helping rescue North Korean citizens. I’m sure it would probably help.
We should not be defending Seth Rogen and James Franco – we should be ashamed of them. The past several weeks have shown that Americans have the capacity to get upset about this movie, but for all the wrong reasons. The Interview is tasteless, and those who feel comfortable in partaking in the mockery of an oppressed group of people need to rethink their ethical standpoint. These are people you’re laughing at. Not extras in Seth Rogen’s shitty movie. Sentient human beings, who are just as alive as you are. Approximately 25 million human beings to be exact, who are suffering every single day of their lives as a result of North Korea’s corrupt system. Keep that in mind when you laugh at Rogen or or Franco or Fey or Poehler.
The Interview isn’t just a funny movie for the people of North Korea. This is their lives. It’s not over for them after 1 hour and 52 minutes of overdone stoner comedy – they deal with extreme violence and poverty every day as a result of something that has been turned into a big joke by North Americans. If a North Korean citizen makes fun of Kim Jong Un, they may very well be executed. If Seth Rogen or Tina Fey do it, they get millions of dollars.
The worst part is, Seth Rogen and Evan Greenberg are funny. Anyone who’s seen Superbad is gonna have a really hard time telling me that shit isn’t hilarious. They are funny, talented guys who clearly have the resources to make a movie about whatever they want, yet they chose to create something totally distasteful, and quite frankly, racist. Something tells me that if Rogen were to make his next movie about The Holocaust or 9/11 people wouldn’t find it terribly amusing – so why is it that we can see the humour in genocide and terrorism towards one group but not another?
In addition, as self-identified feminists, Fey and Poehler should probably know better than to make fun of an oppressed group.
Humor can be a powerful tool in negative situations. It can boost morale and help enact change, but this is not the driving force behind Rogen, Franco, Fey and Poehler’s jokes. This is about wealthy and privileged North Americans exploiting another country’s adversity for money. And if you are against the starvation, torture, captivity and murder of other human beings, then you should be standing against these comedians’ racism instead of laughing along with them.