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Join the discussion: Should North Korea’s threats be taken seriously?

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James Franco rides a North Korean tank in the trailer for "The Interview."

James Franco rides a North Korean tank in the trailer for “The Interview.”


“This fall,” reads the trailer for the upcoming film "The Interview," “James Franco and Seth Rogan will try to assassinate Kim Jong Un.”

Un, the ruler of North Korea, is less than thrilled at the premise of the film.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry called the plot of the movie “intolerable,” “the most blatant act of terrorism and an act of war,” and vowed “merciless” retaliation if the film wasn’t stopped, according to the New York Times.

North Korea’s government, centered in the capital city Pyongyang, has since sent a letter to President Obama asking that the film be canceled immediately. Upon receiving no response, another letter was sent to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, according to the Telegraph. The North Korean government argues that a film that centers around assassinating a current head of state is an “act of war,” wrote the Telegraph.

Any North Korean threats against the U.S. in regards to this movie have not been taken very seriously, as the lack of response from the White House shows. There has also been no response from the U.N., and actor Seth Rogan released a tweet suggesting that he isn’t too worried about consequences from Korea.

The real reason North Korea is so furious about the movie may not be the assassination plot but the fact that the film is a comedy, according to Paul Fischer of the New York Times.

“Last year, the North Korean regime issued no threats of war or destruction when the Hollywood action thriller ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ featured North Korean commandos attacking the White House,” wrote Fischer. “It had no problem being portrayed as rogue, dangerous or aggressive. But funny — that’s taking it too far.”

While North Korea was once taken seriously, it has quickly become a global laughingstock, Fischer suggested, and Pyongyang will fight this new perception any way it can.

“Kim Jong-Il’s movies … built a worldview for his citizens in which North Koreans were both the purest race on earth and the last people bravely resisting Yankee imperialism,” Fischer wrote of Un’s father and previous North Korean leader. “The fear, for his son (Un), is that films like ‘The Interview’ are contributing to another narrative: one in which North Korea is laughable and irrelevant.”

Others believe the opposite.

"I really object when people say, 'Oh, Kim is crazy,’ ” Dartmouth professor Jennifer Lind told Vox.

According to Lind, North Korea actively promotes its image as the international madman. They have reached a certain level of immunity because the global community has written the country off as crazy and not a real threat, Lind argued. In 2010, for example, North Korea torpedoed a South Korean ship without any consequences from the West, she said.

"Normally, when someone kills an American or an American ally, the U.S. has responded in a pretty forceful manner," she told Vox. There was no real response to North Korea’s actions in this situation because of their reputation for unpredictability and irrationality, which is really "a way for them to enhance deterrence."

When Western media poke fun at the overly aggressive North Korea, it “play(s) right into any North Korean strategy of convincing the world of its own insanity,” wrote Vox author Zack Beauchamp. “When you're mocking North Korea, it's worth keeping in mind that they're brutal, but not necessarily dumb.”

The glossed-over brutality of North Korea is the reason some critics of Hollywood have a problem with the movie.

“Lost in this cycle of … mockery is the suffering inside North Korea, where poverty and oppression never gets the big-screen treatment, where torture and prison camps are scrubbed from the local multiplex,” wrote Vinay Menon on the Canadian news site OurWindsor.

Whether we view the North Korean government as a threat or a punchline, Menon wrote, our media portrayals are ignoring the very real plight that North Korean citizens are living through. Human Rights Watch outlines North Korea’s history — and current practice — of torture, prison camps, and starvation, among other abuses.

We aren’t doing ourselves any favors when we use the media to trivialize the horrors of North Korea, according to Menon.

“Hollywood is in the business of making money, not making the world a better place. I get it,” he wrote. “But sometimes, just sometimes, you have to wonder what might happen if we weren’t so busy laughing.”

Bethan Owen is a writer for the Deseret News Moneywise and Opinion sections. Twitter: BethanO2