DUM AND DUMMER: As a rule, I hate to wake up on the wrong side of history from George Clooney. But this time, I’m taking my chances. In the showdown between Sony Pictures and North Korea’s Supreme Exalted Despot Kim Jong-un over The Interview, I’m siding with the guy who needs a new barber. I know, I know: If even one of Seth Rogen’s dude-bra comedies is suppressed, then who among us is truly free? And of course, there is the ever-so-urgent question of precedence. If we let North Korea get away with this, how many other bad movies will be squelched when Hollywood flinches in the face of a terrorist threat, real or imagined? Based on the self-cannibalizing bilge coming out of Hollywood these days, I’m rooting for the bad guys. If Barack Obama was one-tenth the dictator The Right claims, he would have already imposed a fatwā banning the production of any new movies strip-mining the doo-doo-ca-ca sensibilities of 14-year-old males for yucks and bucks. Look, I wet my pants at the Blazing Saddles fart scene as much as anyone, but is it truly our cinematic fate to endure endless films about middle-aged white guys going to Las Vegas and behaving badly?
Guilty or innocent, clearly North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is in desperate need of an image consultant. Ever since he had one of his uncles whacked after his father’s funeral three years ago, people have gotten the wrong idea. Kim Jong-un’s been pushing the bad-boy button pretty much nonstop ever since, and today, North Korea has about 120,000 political prisoners. The General Assembly of the United Nations voted 110-to-20 to refer his regime to the International Criminal Court, but China and Russia — whom Kim Jong-un has been playing against each other — nixed that idea.
In this context, Jong-un makes the perfect fall guy, whether or not he has any affiliation with Guardians of Peace, the hackmeisters who so thoroughly embarrassed Sony. UCSB cyber-hack guru Giovanni Vigna has his doubts that any nation state brought down Sony. Vigna told The Independent’s Matt Kettmann any three dudes with the skill, the time, and the wanna could have done the job with the sort of equipment one could buy at Costco or RadioShack. Given that Sony inserted malware in 22 million music CDs several years ago to make it harder for “pirates” to copy music, there might be any number of motivated suspects out there.
On the other hand, we are told that Kim Jong-un and the North Korean government have created an army of up to 3,000 elite, ninja, crackerjack computer hackers, trained in the spidery arts of “asymmetrical warfare.” They go by all kinds of cool names, like Bureau 121 — hanging out in monkish cells while holing up clandestinely in Japan, where they create crude but deadly malware with names like DarkSeoul. Given that North Korea’s hugely expensive military is made up of thrift-store tanks and church-basement airplanes, they have to compensate any way they can. That, at least, is the instant media myth. On the flip side, North Korea is so techno-phobic that all personal computers must be registered with North Korean authorities, fax machines are banned outright, and anyone found with a pirated copy of a South Korean soap opera faces a few years in the hoosegow. Even so, one might have thought these 3,000 elite cyber warriors could have put up more effective resistance this Monday when the United States executed a retaliatory hack-attack, shutting down North Korea’s Internet infrastructure for nine hours and 31 minutes. Given there are only 1,024 IP addresses in all of North Korea — population 25 million — this qualifies as a perfectly proportioned response. We get to look like we actually did something while no one on the other side actually gets injured, let alone inconvenienced.
That sure beats declaring war on Iraq in response to 9/11.
In the meantime, I will practice being shocked and appalled at the abdication of artistic integrity at the hands of cyber terrorists. Even before the Guardians of Peace got into the act, Seth Rogen had already capitulated to studio demands that he reduce the gore factor involved in the climax where Kim Jong-un’s head explodes to the music of Katy Perry singing “Firework.” Not only did Rogen reduce the flaming-hair factor by 50 percent, he reduced the number of burn marks on Kim Jong-un’s face from four to three, and the quantity of spewing head chunks by an indeterminate metric. Clearly, Kim Jong-un can’t take a joke. Ten years ago, the auteurs of South Park made an animated puppet movie — Team America: World Police — in which Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s deceased dad, was impaled and then turned into a cockroach. Il, a famed film nut, let it go, other than to ask Czech Republic authorities not to allow the film to be shown. They, for the record, ignored his request, and nothing happened.
At some point, the United States might want to reconsider the billions and billions we spend every year maintaining a garrison state presence in South Korea. We lost that war 60 years ago; maybe it’s time to go home and let South Koreans fend for themselves. In all those years, the northern hordes never invaded the South. If we really want to mess with the North, we should do unto them what we just did unto Cuba; normalize relations. Trade, as they say, follows the flag. Given that average North Koreans make $1,800 a year, my hunch is they’d be helpless in the face of American consumer goods.
With The Interview not an option this Christmas, I heard the movie about the Navy SEAL sniper with 160 confirmed kills in Afghanistan and Iraq — and 255 maybes — is really hot. Spoiler alert: He gets murdered when he comes home by a psycho vet with PTSD whom he was trying to help. Better yet, it comes out Christmas Eve. On Blitzen! On Donner!