It’s difficult to tell whether the North Korean regime has anything to with the hack attack on Sony Pictures, or the subsequent terrorist threats against movie theaters planning to screen The Interview. The forthcoming Sony film centers around an assassination plot against North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. (Those terrorist threats have worked, by the way: Five major movie chains have just cancelled plans to screen the James Franco and Seth Rogen comedy.)
But I’m not so sure that Kim should be so quick to condemn the movie–even if it does include a scene in which his head blows up. I’m reminded of an astute argument that Ron Rosenbaum made in the New York Observer some years ago, in which he argued that in Charlie Chaplin’s classic comedy The Great Dictator, "Hitler became merely Chaplinesque: a figure to be mocked more than feared, a comic villain whose pretensions would collapse of his own disproportionate weight like the Little Tramp collapsing on his cane. Someone to be ridiculed rather than resisted.”
Rosenbaum continued, “Given a chance to take on Hitler, to do something genuinely scathing, something that might cut deep (as, for instance, the brilliant satires on Hitler penned by the brave, doomed anti-Hitler Munich editor Fritz Gerlich) he took the lazy clown’s way out. His Hitler is a harmless schlemiel who falls down stairs. No need to resist someone who will probably collapse of his own accord.”
And now watch the trailer for The Interview. Kim Jong-un—a murdering sociopath who imprisons 200,000 people in labor camps and develops nuclear weapons, when he’s not executing members of his own family–is presented as nothing but a ridiculous clown, with his affection for Katy Perry and preposterous dance moves. Or go back and watch Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s (admittedly clever) Team America: World Police, which similarly depicted the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il as a comic buffoon on par with Austin Powers's Dr. Evil. Yes, just hilarious: The man starved four million of his own people to death, but he had such a goofy accent!
At home, Kim Jong-un operates under the governing assumption that it is better to terrorize than to amuse. But on the global stage, the opposite is almost certainly true. A figure of fun, after all, hardly needs to be sanctioned or shunned or attacked. The Interview, however perversely, may have served Kim’s foreign policy interests. Perhaps it's better fewer people will be able to see it now.