The Interview and Cultural Superiority as International Satire

Curator's Note

“Sure, he's a brutal dictator responsible for incomprehensible suffering, but what's really bad is Kim Jong Un's taste in TV and music!” That's most of Kim's humiliation at the hands of The Interview. The Sony hack? The film's status as international incident? These are the effects of a movie whose central joke boils down to the affront of suggesting that the dictator likes The Big Bang Theory and Katy Perry. At some point during the Cold War, we began to laugh at Soviets (real and imaginary) who loved American culture, but enjoyed it in unrefined ways.

Laughing at those who misappropriate a dominant culture has deeper roots – certainly, Amos and Andy played on this theme as did Uncle Josh at the Motion Picture Show (Edwin S. Porter, 1902). But by the late-70s, Westerners seemed to look more explicitly across international borders as they subtly looked down on the reported Soviet obsession with blue jeans and laughed aloud at the Czech emigrant “Wild and Crazy Guys.” While Soviets were a prime target, this type of joke was never entirely limited to Eastern Europeans: Germans love Hasselhoff and French love Jerry Lewis, and post-9/11 comedies gave similar treatment to Middle Easterners, Muslims, and terrorists. From the perspective of a nation that exports more media than it imports, we can rest assured that our culture is superior.

In a blatant contradiction, the particular angle of The Interview's joke suggests that, unlike foreigners, we can tell that most of our superior pop culture is still shit. We can hardly blame the film for trotting out old Cold War tropes, since American news media approach Kim similarly. You probably know something of his nuclear ambitions and might be vaguely familiar with his human rights record, but you're probably more intimately familiar with his twin loves: Dennis Rodman and fancy cheese. The film celebrates its own cheap joke by suggesting that humiliation might kickstart a North Korean revolution and I'm sure it was satisfying to think that Kim was actually upset. Still, for all of the incredible repercussions, it's kind of an easy joke.


I love a post that can connect Kim Jong Un, the "Wild and Crazy Guys," Hasselhoff, and fancy cheese! One of the things that surprised me about the reactions to the Sony hack was the blame that was put on Sony for the allegedly irresponsible choice to green light this film in the first place. The charge seems to have been that Amy Pascal should have known that this kind of comedy would be too dangerous and opened the studio up to too many risks. But to your point, the actual comedy seems pretty tame, especially considering that the South Park guys have had a lot more fun at the expense of Kim Jong Il and Un. Should Amy Pascal have refused to green light the film in the first place? Does the fallout from the film mean that we won't see any political satire for the foreseeable future?

Philip--Agreed, The Interview's premise does revolve around an "easy joke," whether it be the old Cold War tropes that are a staple of US entertainment or Rogen, Franco and Company's brand of humor based on friends getting together to make stoner and gay jokes. In this context, Rogen and Franco were the best stars to roll with the disruption that befell their movie. As extensions of their characters (in this and all of their collaborations), the two seemed to revel in the "shit" that is American pop culture and use it as a way to have fun with the catastrophe threatening their film's release by making appearances at theaters that showed the film and joking about the controversy on a variety of talk shows. If the movie had been a drama, I'm not sure bouncing back from--or distracting from--the real worries of the leak would have come across that easy going. Jen, Philip, Emily, and Ross, thanks for participating in this conversation about the Sony hack. Illuminating thoughts all around!

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