Friday, December 19, 2014

Japan bows to North Korea

     Where does one begin?
     On the plus side, it isn’t America groveling at the feet of a tin-pot North Korean dictator, afraid that somebody is going to ... do what? Scramble the Fandango website? Set off a stink bomb at a multiplex? Does anybody really fear that North Korean agents are going to mow us down if we buy tubs of buttered popcorn and go to see Seth Rogen and James Franco’s “The Interview,” the now-shelved bromance comedy depicting the assassination of Kim Jong-Un? Heck, after the slaughter at Aurora, Colorado, we worry about that risk already, when we see any movie, tempting fate that our matinee will be the one where some deranged gunman or al-Qaida wannabe decides to go out in a blaze of glory. How can we then cower in front of hypothetical North Korean henchmen? Heck guys, get in line. Fear is a big tent, there’s plenty of room for you.
     My bet is whatever information Sony hackers dug up is so embarrassing that all they had to do was dangle it and the studio began inviting theater chains to drop the film. Although I can’t imagine what: The terabytes of emails already leaked suggest Hollywood studio executives are vain, insecure backbiters complaining bitterly about stars and each other. Stop the presses.
     No, this isn’t the American people who failed. We’d have formed block-long lines to see the film, whooping and grinning at the cameras, delighted to waggle our middle fingers at this third-generation madman.
     Rather, it was Sony, the Japanese conglomerate, that quailed, pulling the plug on the film’s Christmas Day release. Which in a selfish sense, I was glad about, because given the pressure from North Korea, suddenly seeing a Seth Rogen movie shifted from a lapse in taste to a patriotic duty. I would have been obligated to attend, only wishing the North Koreans would also command all Americans not to drink Jack Daniels.
     I should add that I’ve never seen Seth Rogen movies. They could be sublime. They could be “La Dolce Vita.” But I doubt it.
     There is a delicious irony to Sony spiking the film. Because the Japanese have a long history of hating the Koreans. One enters a fraught zone when making sweeping generalizations. But I feel on firm ground, with enough experience to safely say that, as much as Americans like to castigate ourselves as perennial bigots, and rightly so, as Native American killers and black enslavers, the Japanese are our equals, also world-class haters, but unlike us, they can't come to grips with their history of brutal prejudice and gut-churning atrocity. 
     Whatever bad you have to say about America — and some seem to vomit forth a geyser of condemnation on command — our faults are no big secret. Whenever I wish we could go back to the heroic George Washington chopping down the cherry tree version of American history I was taught in first grade by Mrs. Farmer, I think of the Japanese frantically trying to sanitize their history, an effort that intensified since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took the leash off ultranationalists, now going after journalists and historians for daring suggest that the Japanese did horrible things during World War II which — spoiler alert! — they did.
     I have only room for one story.
     My parents hosted a Japanese college student to fill the hole that we kids left by skipping off to college. The teen was supposed to join other Japanese students taking a trip to Niagara Falls, which became a weepy crisis for her - though born in Japan, her great-grandparents were ethnic Korean, so she had a special passport. She was afraid her classmates would see it while crossing into Canada, afraid of the undying shame it would cause her. She never went.
     Pause to think about that. Her great-grandparents. It's as if some Chicagoans had "shanty Irish" stamped on their passports.
     'The Interview" is one lost battle in a long war, a war we'll win, because the truth will out, eventually. This is what makes Kim Jong-Un such a wonderful, transgressive object of ridicule, because we absolutely shouldn't laugh at him. The horror he, and his father and grandfather before him, inflicted on North Korea and the world is real, even if we'll never see it, never grasp the millions of Koreans who starved to death. No black and white newsreels to carve the horrors into memory. Not to forget the 36,000 Americans killed in the war his grandfather started.
     I like to think Sony has a plan, to stream the movie on Netflix, or whatever. Do it on the 4th of July. Because capitulation is the gift that keeps on giving, and every nut with a grudge will be inspired by this.


  1. If we had a president that had some balls, this one doesn't, he'd ban all Sony products from the US until Sony Pictures released the movie to theaters.
    To make things even more absurd, Alamo Drafthouse, a theater chain in Texas was going to show "Team America: World Police" an insane romp by the South Park guys that kills Kim Jong Il, the current dictator's father, but Paramount also chickened out & won't allow it to be shown now.

    1. This is America. We don't have a president who can ban Sony products, nor do we want one.

  2. So, when it comes to immigration, he's a tyrant for changing policy, but you would have him banning products of corporations whose business decisions he disagree with? You can't be serious.

    1. Nice job of totally misconstruing everything I wrote.
      This has to do with the abject cowardice of a particular American company, kowtowing to the demands of a foreign country.
      This is about a foreign country, threatening to kill Americans in America!
      And SPE is an American company, while Sony itself is Japanese.
      Don't forget, all the studios except for Warner Bros. kowtowed to Nazi Germany until late 1940 & refused to make any anti-Nazi films, even though most were owned & run by Jews.

    2. "Nice job of totally misconstruing everything I wrote" = "I can't face the idea that what I said was confusing and possibly stupid." Not to get into an argument with you, but what part of "If we had a president who had some balls..." did I misconstrue?

  3. Mr. Steinberg once again paints a black and white picture which I don't think holds up to scrutiny. Supposedly Japan is "worse, since, unlike us, they can’t come to grips with their history of brutal prejudice and gut-churning atrocity." He goes on to cite some of that atrocity and continuing deep-seeded racism (he could have done even more on the history front).

    All true, but what is the Japanese equivalent to the U.S. theft of billions of dollars from the impoverished ancestors of Native Americans hearded onto reservations that's happening right under our noses? I defy ANY fair minded reader to research the history of the Indian Trust cases - which involved the forced removal of a Reagan-appointed judge for being too sympathetic to the Native Americans' cause in the individual trust case. It was the Obama administration that culminated the "take no prisoners" approach of his predecessors and the bipartisan boot-to-the-face settlement, which Congress hasn't approved four years after the fact (and not just because of the GOP, in fact Democrats in the senate have been among the worst players here).

    Imagine if Israel didn't exist and Germany's response to the Holocaust was to say to the remaining Jews "here, have some of our least desirable land to live in squalor as compensation. But if there are valuable minerals or oil under it, we'll take care of the money for you. Oops, turned out we forgot to keep any records, but there's no good way to account for how much it was worth (even though you and many others say that there is), so we'll give you nuisance money to go away and keep the rest." And then the Germans acted like they had "come to grips" with the Holocaust because, you know, they put it in the history books and some of their people get grumpy during whatever their equivalent of Thanksgiving is or if their sports teams are called "The Hooknoses".

    As for African-Americans - yeah, we've so come to grips with that that *liberals* have adopted the mantra "Black Lives Matter, Black Jobs Don't." Conservatives take a "blame the victim" response. And both groups aren't very bothered by the "atrocity" levels of urban crime. Ta Nehisi Coates' Atlantic piece from earlier this year tells you just how much we have NOT come to grips with our history regarding African-Americans

    You can still make arguments that the Japanese are worse - they're a generous nation when it comes to foreign aid but until there's more than the token, pressed-lips acknowledgement of its leaders it's still a form of psychological harm. But there is no cause for us to boast about how we have 'come to grips" with anything, let alone allow lines in history books to excuse present-day obligations.

  4. why is a film about the assassination of a countries leader supposed to be funny?

  5. In US, we have film of people killing leader. In Russia, they have film of leader killing people.

  6. I never thought I would say this but I agree with Donald Trump's statement to the effect that we shouldn't be surprised that the North Koreans would react to the extraordinarily offensive notion of a "comedy" about the assassination of their leader. There seems to be no realistic solution, and after everyone has had their say about the terrible precedent it sets and the affront to our First Amendment rights it should pass from public view. If our government finds a constitutional way to take action it should probably be done out of sight.

    1. I'm not clear what you mean "constitutional way to take action"? They have evidence North Korea is involved, and it's an act of state-sponsored terrorism. If they didn't have nuclear weapons we'd have taken action weeks ago, but that's the strategic reality - I'm not seeing where there's a legal problem here.

      It's amazing that Anonymous can hack deep into the U.S. government but can't find a copy of this film to put on the internet.

    2. I mentioned the Constitution because virtually everything the President undertakes these days seems to evoke dark mutterings of constitutional overreach by the disloyal opposition. Pardon my feeble sarcasm.

      One hopes that our own cyber warriors have some countervailing actions up their sleeve, but beyond that it is difficult to see what we can do to punish the North Koreans for their act of terrorism. We have already succeeded in making them international pariahs, so there's not much point in denouncing them at the U.N. We buy nothing from them and sell nothing to them and their currency is already virtually worthless, so the pertinence of economic sanctions seems slim. We, along with our South Korean allies, regularly engage in spear sharpening military activities off their coasts to remind them that invasion of the South would not be a walk in the park. I would hope you are not thinking of actual military engagemet, the matter not being, as a former statesman famously said about something else, "not worth the healthy bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier." Also, from the relatively charmless pool of present day actors it would be difficult to cast new episodes of MASH.

  7. "I would have been obligated to attend, only wishing the North Koreans would also command all Americans not to drink Jack Daniels." Don't you mean that you would wish that they'd command that folks MUST drink Jack Daniels, so that you'd be thumbing your nose at them by not doing so? Or is this sentence meant to jokingly appeal to the Jack Daniels-loving masses, and I'm taking it too literally?

  8. Wouldn't it be cool if it turned out that the hacker was not the evil fat guy with the atrocious haircut, but a Sony rival or better yet a 17-year-old computer geek "just having fun"?


    P.S. My Korean wife hates the Japanese in general, but was so proud of herself that she could remember a few words in Japanese to babble back to our daughter's friends' little girl.


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