In March 2013 ads started appearing on buses in Dublin for a movie called Red Dawn. This is a re-make of a 1980s action movie in which America is invaded by Russia and a bunch of young people form a guerrilla insurgency.
What was to me an obvious – and brilliant – idea did not occur to Hollywood. This was to re-set the film in a country that had, ten years earlier to the month, been invaded and then seen a load of people form insurgent groups. There really was no need to cook up a load of nonsense about a North Korean invasion of the USA, which is of course what the studio did.
I just watched a documentary called Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. It goes into how Hollywood consistently shows Arabs as irrational, violent, lecherous people.
This of course serves a political function. American movie audiences can rest easy and write off most visible resistance to US power as just outbursts of irrational rage and jealousy and “hate.” In this way Hollywood explains away all global opposition to US power, blaming it on the deficiencies of angry victim peoples.
Red Dawn came out at a key moment and given the very strong links between Hollywood and the Pentagon maybe this shouldn’t surprise us. There’s nothing wrong with fantasy (eg. the North Korean invasion scenario) but when popular fiction as a whole turns toward the same fantasy it starts looking like something sinister is going on.
2011 videogame Homefront also shows a North Korean invasion of the US.
2013 movie Olympus Has Fallen shows North Korean terrorists seizing the White House and demanding reunification. In case this doesn’t terrify audiences, of course they also plan to incinerate the whole US in a nuclear holocaust. Cos that’s the kind of thing they’d do.
After over a decade of extremely threatening language beginning with Bush’s threat to invade at any time, and after the US provided concrete examples by invading Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, the US today has thousands of nukes in South Korea pointed northwards and tens of thousands of troops on manoeuvres around the borders of North Korea. North Korea meanwhile has zero nukes. It recently launched a satellite, which is a completely different thing.
And US popular culture churns out movies and games showing a North Korean invasion of the United States!
It comes straight from the headlines, of course. North Korea has apparently suddenly taken to “provocative” “bellicose” “sabre-rattling” “brinksmanship”. If you actually read the statement of the North Korean government it’s no more provocative than anything you hear from the US or South Korea. If you actually look at the last ten years the US has pushed more sanctions on North Korea and repeatedly threatened it physically and verbally.
But never mind – Hollywood has warmed us up to believe that North Koreans, like Arabs, are just racially irrational and violent, prone to outbursts like unleashing a nuclear war despite having no means of nuking anyone and infinite possibility of being nuked to rubble several times over.
Bill Frezza writing in our old billionaire-worshipping friend Forbes magazine, amid a lot of claptrap about how terrible the Greeks are and how “we” should let them go Communist as a punishment, throws in this sickening line:
“And frankly, a psychopathic family dynasty ruling a nation of stunted zombies hardly makes North Korea a proper Communist exemplar.”
Not only is the North Korean government bad, not only are there massive problems in North Korean society… but North Koreans are “frankly” a load of stunted zombies. There you have it.
The newspapers play their part, as usual, coming out with pictures of North Koreans starving on the streets and other North Koreans in labour camps. 2 million people are in prison in the US, many of them performing slave labour for private companies. Goldman Sachs made $300 million last year speculating on food prices and causing people to starve.
Where are the “EXCLUSIVE!” front-page pictures and media denunciations of this atrocity? Where are the big-budget movies and the threats of invasion? I remember the last time there was an occupation of Wall Street. NYPD didn’t like it.
Lastly, where is the connection drawn between sanctions and starvation? Almost nowhere.
Imagine for a minute that silly scenario of a North Korean military machine poised to invade the USA, somehow. We must imagine then that the USA is a weak, poor outcast nation and that North Korea is a massive world power, presumably with its own massive film industry whose products are watched the world over, like those of the US today.
Imagine what these big-budget North Korean films would look like. Imagine how they would portray Americans. War-hungry Christian zealots who believe the world is about to end. The marching white peaked hoods of Ku-Klux-Klansmen. Outcasts who go to school, mall or cinema and start shooting people for fun. Fat lazy men who sit in front of the TV all day.
A Gulag Archipelago of orange-suited slave-prisoners from ethnic minority backgrounds and secret prisons where unspeakable tortures await the enemies of the state. The cheerful, gung-ho massacre of Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis. An economy that’s tanked and a political class that thinks the solution is catastrophic cutbacks.
You can see that these hypothetical North Korean Spielbergs would have a lot of material to work with. Like the crimes and atrocities of the North Korean state, these scary American characters and vistas of US atrocity are based on reality, but they would be used for propaganda purposes to demonize the American people. The Bill Frezzas of this world would portray the people of the US as obese racist fanatics bristling with guns.
You see, people, whether from the USA or North Korea, generally care about each other and need a damn good reason to allow slaughter and bombing to take place. The threat of US bombs, nukes and troops of course allows the North Korean dictatorship to rally North Koreans to its side. The media-created nuclear monster that is substituted for the real, living, breathing society of human beings that is North Korea is likewise used to scare perfectly rational people into supporting the US war machine. In either case, the real enemy is not in some foreign land but at home, hiding its own viciousness behind a painted monster.
I have written little about the political reality in North Korea and I offer no detailed commentary on the ongoing crisis there. Unfortunately it amounts to a serious enough task just to ask people to treat the situation rationally and to think of North Koreans as human beings and of North Korea as a society not a nightmare.
A word on the preposterously-titled movie Olympus Has Fallen. The use of the phrase “Olympus” to describe the White House is a bit creepy, isn’t it? Olympus was the mountain on which the gods lived in Greek mythology. See also the hilarious solemn urgent enunciation with which characters talk about “the President of the United States”. From 24 to Air Force One, Hollywood routinely depicts action-hero presidents battling conspirators and terrorists. In all cases the office of the “President of the United States” is treated as something sacred.
In the Stalinist dictatorships there was a cult of personality around individual leaders – in the archaic institutions of US democracy, the office of president is treated as a holy institution. For example, an entire city is blown up in The Sum of All Fears – but never mind! They managed to get the President out on time!