Discussion Concerning The Interview and Racism

Ryan 
Friendly reminder that responding with racism isn’t suddenly justified if the person is a bad person (even if they’re, say, a genocidal dictator). The Interview is probably racist as hell. Team America was racist as hell.
Get over it, nerds.

Armand 
“Probably”
Even if it was, it wouldn’t justify or excuse the bully or threats of violence to prevent it from being shown. The decision of pulling it makes sense but people have a problem with the use of threats from an outside group to try to force others in deciding what should or shouldn’t be released or seen. Even if it is a stupid movie.

There’s been other movies affected by the fear these threats have caused that you probably wouldn’t label as racist, so I don’t see how this movie being “probably” racist has anything to do with this.

Ryan 
Whether they release it for bullies or not isn’t my business or concern or point, I’m just sayin’, I’m not here to defend human garbage like Seth rogan and James Franco who are intentionally stoking the fire of geopolitics.

I’m curious of your other examples and what you mean by it, though.

Armand 

Steve Carell’s North Korea Movie ‘Pyongyang’ Canceled in Wake of Sony Hack

New Regency has pulled the plug on Gore Verbinski’s next project
The shockwaves from the Sony hack have finally reached Hollywood’s development community, as New Regency has pulled the plug on its Steve Carell movie “Pyongyang,” which Gore Verbinski had been prepping for a March start date, an individual familiar with the project has told TheWrap.

Ryan 
So the fear has caused them to cancel it unprovoked- last I checked they weren’t saying anything about this particular movie. I still blame the two idiots for sticking their noses where they shouldn’t.

Would you feel the same if the plot of the movie was the assassination of Benjamin Netinyahu? (Probably spelled incorrectly)

(Also- for clarity- my #1 issue is with people who think substituting Team America is a good idea)

Or, how about Barack Obama?

Armand 
Me personally? Yea. Even if it’s shitty art it’s still art and the use of threats of violence to suppress it will always bother more than the actual piece even if I am personally against the message.

Wasn’t ever planning on seeing the movie btw. so its not like im missing it or anything.

Ryan 
Even blatantly racist art? If some dude I know wants to put up a painting outside of his house that says “Lynch all the black people” and I tell him I will beat his ass if he does, am I in the wrong?
Armand 
That persons own house? As satisfying it would be for someone spreading hate to have their comeuppance, I still wouldn’t be for the use of violence or threats in that scenario. It’s easy for me to say that right now as a hypothetical though. But I don’t believe in drawing a line to decide when it is or isn’t okay to use a threat.
Ryan 
Just curious. I disagree with you on a lot of fronts but I’m glad you’ve thought it through.
Clifton 
Whoa! “Human garbage”!? I just re-watched a couple of the trailers. I didn’t see anything that looked racist. Although Rogen’s character does laugh at the “dong” in Dandong, China. Seems lazy and sophomoric more than racist. I’m curious to know where Kim Jong-un ranks on your human garbage scale, Ryan. Maybe you could make a continuum with “human ideal” on one end and “human garbage” on the other.

If this sounds mocking, I don’t mean it to be. It’s interesting to me because I assume that you and I and Omar and Rogen and Franco (and Parker & Stone) and many of your friends share about 98% of the same beliefs: unoppressive, secular state is good; fair treatment of women and minorities is good; human sexuality in its many forms is fine as long as it’s consensual; etc. So, I wonder: if a 98-percenter can still be human garbage, what does someone like Rick Santorum or Stalin get? Is there something worse than human garbage?

Ryan 
K this is loaded and it’s 630 am so bear with me here. I think that if you claim to be anti-racist but you don’t challenge casual racism in media and among your fellow white people (eg making fun of the name dong in Chinese IS racist- there’s a long history of mocking Asian cultures for “Ching Chong” shit) – then you’re not really anti-racist. White silence is white consent. If you’d like another example of their casual racism, how about that parody of kanye’s video. If you claim to be pro-woman but you don’t call out sexism when you see it, you’re not. You should be regularly challenging your own bigoted views (especially microaggressions and casual racist attitudes). I’d feel much more comfortable giving you some commentary to read from someone who isn’t a cishet white dude like myself, if you would be interested.
Marilyn 

This film is not an act of courage. It is not a stand against totalitarianism, concentration camps, mass starvation, or state-sponsored terror. It is, based on what we know of the movie so far, simply a comedy, made by a group of talented actors, writers, and directors, and intended, like most comedies, to make money and earn laughs. The movie would perhaps have been better off with a fictitious dictator and regime; instead, it appears to serve up the latest in a long line of cheap and sometimes racism-tinged jokes, stretching from Team America: World Police to ongoing sketches on Saturday Night Live.

North Korea is not funny. It is hard to imagine a comparable comedy emerging about quirky Islamic State slavers or amusing and “complicated” genocidaires in the Central African Republic. The suffering in question is happening now, as I write.

The day will soon come when North Koreans are finally free, and liberated concentration camp survivors will have to learn that the world was more interested in the oddities of the oppressors than the torment of the oppressed.

[source]

Clifton 
“Dandong” is complicated for me as potentially racist because the same joke formula could’ve been,
Caller: “You are to interview Dick Nixon tomorrow.”
Callee: “Wait — did you just say ‘dick’? Ha!”
Maybe you would agree that this is clearly sophomoric and not at all racist? (There is a long history of mocking the name Dick, though this is probably due to an even longer history of sexual Puritanism in the USA that leads to many people only being able to confront sexuality in public settings if it’s presented in a comedic context.)

As for Mr. Hong’s Atlantic article, I think it suffers from Hong having too little information to base his assertions on. Here’s what appears to happen in the movie:
Franco is invited to North Korea. Before going, he is told that he must rid the world of a bad dictator. Franco grows to like the dictator because the guy clearly knows how to party. Franco is confronted by some of North Korea’s atrocities and realizes that this is partly Jong-un’s fault. Jong-un is eventually killed, either accidentally or on purpose (unclear from clip).

I like the idea of the movie overall because it may be the only exposure that many people have to the fact that, not only is there a world outside of the USA, there are places where people suffer greatly due to oppressive governments. It may have an extra barb because of Jong-il’s well known cinephilia. Just as Team America must have. (Incidentally, there is an argument to be made that the racism in Team America was actually ridiculing the way in which many ignorant people in the USA view people outside of the USA. Regardless, I don’t regard the movie as the best work of Parker/Stone due to its implicit advocacy of isolationism. I think those two are extremely socially liberal libertarians and I think the libertarian part is unfortunate because the outcome is that, as far as I’ve seen, they’ve been bad at ridiculing shortcomings of laissez-faire economics such as the characteristic economic inequality.)

It’s interesting to me to learn that Chaplin and Lubitsch both expressed regret about making movies in which they make fun of Nazis. The logic appears to be, “To ridicule a despot and to not acknowledge the suffering of the subjugated is wrong.” I agree with this, but I don’t think it’s outrageously bad to fail to do so. I also don’t think that people who disagree with me are human garbage. However, it appears that Franco and Rogen actually do shine some light on the suffering of North Koreans. (Still, difficult to say without watching the entire movie.)

I’d be interested in reading something from a non-cishet, non-white if you have something besides Hong’s article (not sure if he’s cishet). I read it and he makes good points, but he appears to simply be wrong about content in the movie. If a non-cishet, non-white person wants to criticize it, I’ll read that criticism, but I can’t take it serious unless the person watched the movie at least once from start to finish. Also, I think if we are too quick to grant non-white, non-cishet people blanket immunity from criticism due to past mistreatment, we risk not criticizing bad ideas they may espouse.

The “human garbage”/”human ideal” scale is still interesting to me, incidentally. I can’t think of anybody offhand that I’d put in the former category. Perhaps I’m too soft.

Sorry for the obvious tl;dr quality here. I thought it best to choose clarity over brevity.

Ryan 
Mm I think you should really spend more time just listening to people of color than talking to/about them about why they are wrong. I think this is especially critical for a white dude in the social sciences, and I think you have shown this problem before in other circumstances (with women, for example). Your opinion on matters that affect people of color is frankly irrelevant (as is mine, and I try as much as possible to amplify poc words rather than contribute to the conversation)
Clifton 
I like the idea of amplifying the voices of poc. I think one of the saddest results of the movie never getting released would be that no one would get to appreciate Park’s performance as Jong-un which has been, as far as I can tell, universally praised.

Here is Park himself:
“I was super-excited to do [The Interview], but I still felt a little nervous about it and I felt like my parents would be a good way for me to test if this was OK,” said Park, who was born and raised in Los Angeles. “They’re immigrants, and they understand what’s going on over there a little better than me.
[…]
“I’m just so thrilled to be a part of this movie,” he said. “I want to do as much as I can to help.”
Before taking on the role, Park — whose mother is retired from a job at UCLA and whose father works at a souvenir shop on Hollywood Boulevard — discussed the movie with people he knew in the local Korean community. Los Angeles’ population of ethnic Koreans is the largest in the United States, numbering roughly 60,000 as of 2008. Park — who grew up in West L.A. and whose grasp of the Korean language, he said, is “pretty bad” — wanted to gauge what the reaction within that community might be.

“I talked to friends who are deep in the Korean American community here, friends who are leaders of different subsections of the community,” he said. “I asked them what they thought and felt, and they all seemed to think it was a great movie idea. That helped.”
[…]
“We talked a lot about making sure this guy was real,” he said. “I never wanted to play a caricature. But I did think, ‘Am I humanizing him too much?’ Because he doesn’t deserve to be humanized too much.”

[source]

Ryan 
That’s like saying that Jason Acuna’s (“wee man”) role in Jackass means that making a spectacle of little people is justified when the large majority of little people do not feel that way. I don’t blame Park because it’s not my place to tell him how or how not to portray this sort of thing (again, my opinion is irrelevant to matters) but if large numbers of poc are telling me that this shit is problematic, how am I going to argue with them?

Another example presented to me by Marilyn: There was an article recently by an Indian woman saying she did not mind if white people wore bindis because she felt its murky history didn’t justify keeping it as only for the Indian people. However, many many many other Indian women constantly say that wearing the bindi isn’t cool and is cultural appropriation. Do we white people still have permission? Nope.

And for one final analogy: If you and I go to a restaurant and you order the fish and I do not, I cannot tell someone else what the fish was like based on anything but your review of the fish. And I certainly can’t tell you that your review of the fish is inherently flawed

[Note: I planned the following response before talking to a friend. After talking to a friend, I abandoned this response and posted my exchange with that friend (further down page) instead.]

Clifton 
Park portrays a real, specific person; Acuña was, unless I’m mistaken (I never really watched Jackass), trying to live up to the title of his TV show. Park consulted many members of his local Korean community to make sure they were OK with the movie; Acuña did (I assume) embarrassing things in order to live up to the title of his TV show with no apparent regard for what anybody thought, let alone his local little people community.

I don’t know any little people myself. I googled “large majority of little people object to negative representation by Wee Man in Jackass” and other similar search strings and came up empty-handed. What are you basing this assertion on?

So far, Marilyn presented an article by one Asian person (“Hong,” according to the web, can be Korean or Chinese — I couldn’t determine whether or not he’s Korean) with an opinion that represents only one person: himself. Using your suggestion, I amplified the voice of a Korean person (who presumably has read the whole script of the movie) who claims to be speaking to the opinions of not only himself, but at least four other people within his local community of LA-based Korean-Americans. So, this means we currently have a sample size of 6 (maybe more): 1 person (who may not be Korean) opposed to The Interview and 5 (low estimate) probable Koreans who are favorable toward it. Therefore, 100% of probable Koreans consulted by Park are favorable toward The Interview. So, shouldn’t we support releasing it? For them?

The question I would have regarding bindis is what would the portions of Indians be who are indifferent versus those who are in favor versus those who are opposed? Let’s say that the breakdown is 70% indifferent, 10% pro, and 20% against. Is it then ill-advised for non-Indians to wear bindis? Again, I googled this and could only find two articles where the writers were opposed to this cultural assimilation.
Or, must we always simply err on the side of caution and refrain from cultural appropriation even if only one person expresses outrage?

As far as your restaurant example, this does sound like a good idea. We could drink some craft bears and wallow in our cishet whiteness. You and Marilyn could explain all of the ways that I’m a bigot and I’m sure I’d learn a lot. I wouldn’t order the fish, though, because, hey, haven’t we done enough to the fish already?

[Note: This is the actual response I sent.]

Clifton  Unfortunately, I only have one Desi friend, but I did ask her about the bindis thing. Here’s the conversation we had, with very minor edits:

Clifton 
Hi, Shazfa! Do you think it’s offensive for non-Desi people to have bindis?
Shazfa 
It depends on the type and the occasion. The decorative type that look like crystals or whatever are OK in the appropriate context. Something like a bindi made of sindoor or haldi (turmeric powder) is usually associated with Hindu rituals, so I wouldn’t even wear them and I am a Desi person. Let alone a non-Desi person wearing them.

In general I think it’s offensive to appropriate bits and pieces of a culture you’re not a part of unless you are invited to do so by a member of that culture. For example I find cheongsams beautiful but wouldn’t wear one outside of the context of a Chinese friend’s wedding if she asked me to wear one.

Clifton 
OK. If you saw a white person wearing decorative bindi, how offended do you think you would be on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being not at all offended and 10 being extremely offended (they were not invited to wear the bindis by anyone)? Would your response be different if it were a Mexican person with a darker complexion? Also, if you saw a white person wearing bindi made from sindoor who had not been invited to do so, what level of offense do you think you would feel on the same scale?
Shazfa 
I’m not one to get too offended so maybe a 2-3 at the white or Mexican person wearing random decorative bindi. It would be a 5 for a sindoor bindi but more of an lol wtf reaction to be honest. Decorative bindis and henna and other Indian stuff were all popular in the late 90s. So I did have a lot of white friends who wore them not knowing/caring about who they might offend or why. But it’s more of a “that’s distasteful/ignorant” reaction than an “Oh how dare you.”

I think the main issue is that a brown person who wore a bindi is often seen as a fob, or not assimilating enough, but if a white person does it it’s cool and trendy. It is taking the good without having to bear the burden of any of the bad parts about that culture. At the same time I’m not going to go all ugh white privilege on you because life isn’t tumblr.

Clifton 
Hmmmm. So, people do white privilege rants on Tumblr?
Shazfa 
Oh man that is all they do! The term “social justice warrior” was coined on there. White privilege and rants about feminism.
Clifton 
Wow. This is really interesting. This sounds familiar to me. Do well-educated people get sucked into that stuff too?
Shazfa 
Yeah. You can tell when they are well meaning but more impassioned about an issue than the people that issue actually affects.
And they do it with everything.

[Ryan quietly unfriends me.]

This refers to a discussion a year prior concerning catcalling. Ryan made a post suggesting that all women are constantly hounded by catcallers. I chimed in to ask what the actual figures would be, assuming, in order to reduce catcalling, we’d first have to know its actual prevalence. I was subsequently harangued as a sexist and rape apologist

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