In a plot twist straight out of a stoner action comedy: it actually was the North Koreans who hacked Sony. Because of Kim Jong-Un, we now know that Sony executives discuss Angelina Jolie in a manner that makes you think she said she didn’t want to be their lab partners. But worse: now Sony isn’t going to release Seth Rogen’s The Interview, a comedy about a journalist assassin going after Kim Jong-Un because of threats to theaters.
Why does this matter? We were probably going to wait for it on Netflix anyway. We’re already mired in our own discussion about whether idle threats matter. (In the popular podcast Serial, a teenager went to jail 15 years ago in part because when a girl turned up dead someone quoted him saying, “I’m going to kill her.”)
This matters. If North Korea has hacked Ford and threatened to bomb a container ship of F150s, we’d call in the Navy. But Sony? It’s up to them to pull their own plug. No one wants war with North Korea, but this is an attack on a huge sector of American business: Hollywood is a bigger contributor to our national bank account than even travel and tourism (suck it, Grand Canyon!).*
So. Because we can’t go see Kim Jong-Un’s head blown off in CGI from the creators of movies in which teenagers try to get laid, here are the greatest moments in cinematic war comedies:
In 1933, while no one in Europe could print a map with any confidence that it would be correct the next day: the Marx brothers made Duck Soup, a comedy about crumbling nations. Most remember it for the fantastic mirror scene. Uptight Yale Literature grad-school professor Harold Bloom considers it to be one of the greatest works of the 20th century.
Presented without comment: In 1945’s “Herr vs. Hare,” Bugs Bunny plays Hitler.
1942’s “The Ducktators” is an Animal Farm-y romp made to sell war bonds.
“Daffy the Commando” is pretty much the same plot as The Interview. Daffy Duck goes after Hitler directly. But zee Germans didn’t gas any nickel matinees.
Fun fact: during WWII, Charlie Chaplin starred in, wrote, produced, directed and scored The Great Dictator. The title character is a Hitler-but-not-Hitler despot who wants to wipe out the Jews. It is fascinating. The rise of Hitler was something like (I’m going to apologize for this analogy in advance) when the world met Sarah Palin in 2008 and said, collectively, “Doesn’t she look just like Tina Fey?” Chaplin and Hitler were both known for the “toothbrush mustache.” They were born four days apart in Europe. Both risen from poverty to prominence. Before this, though, Chaplin had never used spoken dialogue. Or much of a script. He and a team built sets and just fucked around Jackass-style. “I was determined to go ahead,” he later wrote, “for Hitler must be laughed at.” When he heard that Hitler himself used Chaplin as an example of the Jewish Entertainment Complex, Chaplin (a non-Jew from London) replaced his hugely popular Tramp with simply “A Jewish Barber.” Just to make one of cinema’s most beloved characters a Jew at a time when they were being exterminated—bravo, Chaplin!
Peter Sellers’ spot-on The Mouse that Roared was an English film that does a great job of handling the ways the old world met the new superpowers. This one gets an extra point for being the rare one about Americans. (My French-speaking friends should take a look at the hilarious Les Guignols de L’info, France’s are-you-fucking-kidding-me answer to the Daily Show. Puppets doing the news. The American president has been played, since 2002, by a Sylvester Stallone puppet).
With the Cuban Missile crisis not far behind, 1964’s Dr. Strangelove is a masterpiece of mutually assured destruction.
The Naked Gun took on the Ayatollah in 1988.
In the original trailer for Hot Shots—some fantastic Charlie Sheen comedy—the voiceover guy promised theatergoers that the movie had all their favorite stars, including “Saddam Hussein, as himself.” This was right after George Bush the First had invaded Iraq.
Team America: World Police gave Kim Jong-Il this wonderful number in 2004.
In 2009, a post-Sopranos James Gandolfini was in this across-the-pond comedy of sorts about the new ties between Bush and Blair with In the Loop.
This is what we do in America. We make huge messes and wars and jokes. Now that we’re starting to make fewer wars, we need to keep the joke department in full production.
If we’re being honest: Sony pulled The Interview mostly for liability issues. All of these movies opened in America and no one was killed. But does Sony want to pump another $100 million into a movie that people are just going to stream in March?
We live on a great planet that we’re trying to fuck up for no reason. So you want to brainwash your citizens with your state-run journalism, and we have Fox News. Who cares? I stand with Harold Bloom and Seth Rogen on this matter and call on all patriotic Americans to continue to break the international tension and contribute to our gross domestic product with art in which fearsome dictators get hit in the balls.
*If you’re a numbers person: We actually spend more on art school than we do on cable television. Art school! All of the arts is $916 billion, including $200 billion in advertising, $104 billion from arts education, including college art departments, and a measely $100 billion on cable.