At the center of the Sony leaks, sits the film The Interview, a comedy from Seth Rogen and James Franco in which our heroes are sent to murder the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un. Included in the most recent batch of hacked emails is footage of one of the final scenes in the film - a clip that shows Franco and Rogen succeeding in their mission and Kim Jong-Un being incinerated in slow-motion. This is a far superior death than the one the film industry granted to his father, Kim Jong-Il, who was unceremoniously tossed from a balcony and impaled on a spiked helmet in 2004’s Team America: World Police.
In reality, Americans have killed neither of these men. But culturally, we’re more than happy to flex our muscle and destroy these enemies of the state in the most gratuitous way possible, actually watching parts of Kim Jong-Un’s face burn off of him. It’s gruesome, but it’s telling of how American culture deals with what it views as repressive forces in the world at large – we will literally burn your face off.
Take what you will about what that says about Americans as a whole, but foreign leaders have been fictionally dying some pretty insane deaths at American hands for the past few years. Most notably, American service men shoot Hitler’s head until it’s a bloody pulp in Inglorious Basterds, as film stock itself is used to blow up the floor on which his dead body sits. In Tarantino’s ultra-violent vision, American visual culture runs rampant over our enemies, blowing them to bits.
Saddam Hussein is killed in both Hot Shots! films -- blown up in the first and crushed in the second. Osama Bin Laden is killed on South Park, shot by American soldiers and blown up with dynamite at the same time. We even revisit the killing of Pharaoh this holiday season, the most archetypal baddie there is, watching him drown yet again in the Red Sea.
While effigies cross cultures, the assassination of a world leader by the everyman is an American genre onto itself, with even our slacker males (Franco and Rogen) getting in on the action. Americans never seem to get tired of seeing their enemies bite the dust, which isn’t all that surprising. Where diplomacy fails, culture takes over.
When faced with the fictional demise of our own head of state however, Americans are less than thrilled. While assassinations of fictional presidents have been a staple of American film, the fictional assassination of a real president is less than welcome. In 2006, British filmmaker Gabriel Range released the film Death of a President, which depicted the assassination of current U.S. president George W. Bush. Viewed unfavorably by most of the world at the time, Americans and even global audiences were unsettled by the realistic portrayal of a would-be Bush assassination. At the time of its release, Hillary Clinton said, "I think it's despicable. I think it's absolutely outrageous. That anyone would even attempt to profit on such a horrible scenario makes me sick.”
The strong reaction by Americans to a taste of their own style of entertainment demonstrates just how uncomfortable we aren’t being the most powerful country in the world, even when at fictional war. We want to be the world’s only remaining superpower in every conceivable level – even if that means having sole dominion over fictionally killing heads of state.
Photos by Columbia Pictures / Everett Collection