As I looked across the Demilitarized Zone (a layered valley of autumn-tinged fields and soldiered fences) my heart sank with a heavy realization: Korea had more than governments, economics, armies, allies and living conditions dividing it; the landscape glowered at me as the greatest separation. North Korea was (and is) treeless.
It’s not that there were a few slopes recently logged or mining operations cutting at the land, the hills were bare and stripped to nothing for miles and miles. To my right, on the South Korea side, the landscape likened itself to a November drive between Minneapolis and Chicago (small hills with leafless deciduous trees and pockets of green from the coniferous ones); my left, across the divide, stirred memories of the broken desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. My tour guide explained that the people of North Korea were desperate for wood to stay warm in the winter and that the entire country was undergoing an environmental collapse.
A hill loses more than an aesthetic beauty when stripped of its trees; its surface undergoes the process of erosion. With no strong roots to hold the soil in place it washes out with rain, taking with it any small seedlings of a possible new beginning. It literally becomes a slippery slope.
Sony’s recent cancellation of The Interview from all platforms (including a press screening which I was going to attend) has more to do with the notorious Hermit Kingdom than its quirky new leader or its army of hackers. Americans, our allies and our enemies have just witnessed a corporate and comprehensive erosion of courage and principles. The precedent for a slippery slope of further coerced censorship, cyber-terrorism and murky Internet threats has now been set.
Aren’t ‘Slippery Slopes’ a Fallacy of Debate?
Erosion of a small principle leading to further ones is a common talking point (and fallacy) used by politicians of all stripes. The recent example of legalizing marijuana comes to mind; some say that legalizing marijuana will lead directly to other drugs being legalized; and that’s a fallacy. Each drug has distinct effects and dangers, thus each one’s legalization is a separate issue (or principle) to that of marijuana.
By contrast the submission to a terrorist’s threat whether it’s to cancel a speech, to vote a certain way or to stop the screenings of a movie all violate a shared principle. Just like allowing a convicted murderer to go free is a weakening of laws to punish murder, so to is this folding before a threat a profound erosion of expression in the face of danger.
America is supposed to be a symbol of strength for free expression. We have deep-rooted principles that have proven a history of weathering storms of violent coercion. I imagine many in North Korea would like to stand up for these principles that we presumably embody, but like seedlings on a barren hill, they are easily washed away.
The Ugly Side of Cowardice
The Interview is not the first instance that North Korea or its dictator has been directly targeted for entertainment. GI Joe: Retaliation begins with a North Korea border break in. CollegeHumor has a whole series of animated Adventures of Kim Jong Un. And who could forget “I’m So Ronery” from Team America World Police?
So why is this happening now? Could this be a publicity stunt for a sub par movie? Maybe, but highly doubtful. A slated release on Christmas is usually good enough and it seems questionable whether the movie will hit theaters at all at this point. Whatever the reason, it has resulted in a cowardly collapse in an industry that looks for limiting financial damage and nothing else.
The United States has a lot of brave people. We send many of our finest young men and women off to fight in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. Threats against them are constant and real. Despite sizable chunks of the country not believing that their mission will be effective, they go; they do it because they are sworn to defend rights and liberties of us back home.
Yet, apparently when faced with a bit of hacking and vague threats American companies buckle. Indeed there was a lack of government reassurances for security of threatened theaters, but the real problem was a shameless cascade of entertainment entities hiding behind each other’s folding. In an industry that portrays immeasurable valor like in Saving Private Ryan, I see only smoke and mirrors.
Are these cowardly entities now only capable of deploying humor on those who won’t retaliate? Is it only okay to paint the leaders of places like Jamaica or India in a negative light because for all intents and purposes they are harmless?
Putting the World Back Together
Standing up for a James Franco and Seth Rogan starring comedy doesn’t seem like an obvious way to help out the world (especially because its plot centers around assassination); but the question should be asked: how does a hereditary dictator like Kim Jung Un still exist in our time? It’s because he and his regime know how to make people crumble with fear. He knows how to force a false image of himself and censor expression.
The Demilitarized Zone of South Korea had a statue in it portraying people pushing a broken world back into something whole. Some grease on the wheels to keep Hollywood profits rolling may as well have been grease under the feet of those of us who want a less slippery and eroding future.
Photos by: Erik Bergs — Sony Pictures — Paramount Pictures