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Safety in Manners: What I've Learned from "The Interview"

I am adding this link to a recent article regarding the topics in this post. It was published by the Daily Mail in the UK: I'll leave it to you to follow the many threads of its implications, but it makes for an important addition to this post.

___________________________________________'s first definition of manners is "a way of being done." The sentence stands as well with a slight edit. Manners are "a way of being." How we are is intrinsic to who we are. Good manners lead to and come from good morals (and morals are not to be confused with judgementalism).

Why bring up manners in a post the week before Christmas? Scroogish and Grinchish, no doubt, but I feel compelled by the week's news, which includes mucho bru-ha-ha over Sony's movie, "The Interview," now shelved and previously scheduled to debut on Christmas Day... because North Korea and keystone cop assassination plots have so much to do with Christmas, yes? And, perhaps because in the midst of the commercial frenzy we've created from what once was a sacred, contemplative occasion, I'm touching on morals right about now in the hope that I'll not lose sight of the deep connection between this holy season and moral behavior, a connection to how we are who we are.

Slate's Adam Sternbergh called "The Interview" "brutal, edgy satire." He thinks that's a good thing. He's not alone.There's lots of brutal, edgy satire to choose from these days, even without basic cable. It finds a receptive audience or it would not be abundant.  I'm old enough to remember what stand-up comedic satire looked like in the 1960s and 70s. Bill Cosby told jokes about Noah's ark. The edgy Smothers Brothers protested a war and supported the smoking of a certain plant. Carol Burnett made us laugh so hard we cried when she portrayed a secretary in a time when that job was considered the best position a woman could expect in business. Fast forward to Tosh.0, among others. I can't even quantify the difference between then and now. Sternbergh's words are true enough: our satire has turned brutal and edgy in many instances. It may still be very funny, but does the humor make the brutality okay...valuable? We know it's profitable. Are we also finding out, not for the first time, that it can be dangerous?

One of the most-aired comments on Sony's pulling of "The Interview" came from cyber-
security expert Peter Singer: "The ability to steal gossipy emails from a not-so-great protected computer network is not the same thing as being able to carry out physical, 9/11-style attacks in 18,000 locations simultaneously." 

Singer is correct. However, 9/11 was devastating enough in one NY location. It would take only one location being attacked for Sony to be blamed for not having pulled the movie. Terrorism values the denominator of one. Ask Peter Kassig's parents. Peter was one of the "few" Americans beheaded by Isis. The terrorists aren't out for the 18,000, they're out for the one...out to diminish that supreme American value: the life of the individual. I don't see how a movie's profits or a lost entertainment opportunity could ever equal even the remotest chance of one life being lost. 

Beyond the cyber attack and its consequences, I wonder why a movie about killing a country's living leader is funny. I wonder what Americans would think if other countries created movies about killing our living president? Would we laugh it off? We might, and what would that say about us? It would be, at the least, a set of manners lacking in respect. (The fact that we make many movies in our own country about our own president's life being in danger is another topic.) I also wonder, if "The Interview" had cast Navy Seals to carry off a secret and dangerous attack on the North Korean leader, if that country might have been--at least--less offended. Having seen one trailer for the movie, I have trouble getting the image of Seth Rogan's half-naked, out-of-shape, jiggling body out of my mind. That makes me wonder something else: What movie would do a clothes-less take of a woman whose body was in that same shape? At the risk of sounding hopelessly old-fashioned, I believe the movie to be simply and colossally rude. Rude in manners and rudely made. (Perhaps the trailer does not do it justice.)

Beware the quiet kid the high school jocks bully with repeated rudeness. He may come to school one day with a gun. Then we will be shocked, because someone who was treated with the brutality that we laud in our own American satire turns from victim into perpetrator. That scenario has been part of American newscasts far too many times. The misfit kid might even come to school one day--or an embassy or a military base--with a nuclear weapon. 

I'm taken aback by the mindset that an insulting--albeit silly--movie about killing someone who is (in)famous and alive is a) funny and b) harmless, just because it's satire. I'm taken aback by the naivete of 21st-century Americans who began this century with the horror of 9/11, watched the Boston Marathon bombing, know that Americans have been brutally and unjustly beheaded, and know that North Korea is as unstable as it is weapon-rich. What's more, it's old news that our cyber security is not just that: secure. As far back as 2009, the FBI warned people to do online banking from a dedicated computer on which they never surf the Internet. It's old news that governments and criminal organizations have brilliant people dedicated to breaking in to the web infrastructure so tightly spun into our lives that we cannot operate without it. It would be easier to live with no indoor lighting now than without the Internet. 

The last item in this news to surprise me: the mournful talk about how much money Sony will lose. No amount of money..NO AMOUNT OF MONEY.. is worth the loss of one human life. Talk to the parents of the 148 people killed this week in a school in Peshawar, Pakistan. Offer them any amount of money to make up for their loss. Any person who dared make such an offer would choke in the face of that vast grief. Sony did the right thing by pulling the movie. Too many Americans have already died in acts of terrorism. One more would be too many. Even the chance of one more loss is one chance too many.

When I lived overseas, most of what I saw in the media about the United States consisted of reports on movies created here, and the stars in those movies, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, and school shootings. School shootings always made the international news. I saw little that represented the values that many Americans I know do indeed have. Or the manners. We have those, too, a lot of us. Some of us even value those manners over edginess and a belly laugh at someone else's expense. It's good to show good manners and kind actions toward friends and neighbors. It's smart to show those same good manners to one who would relish attacking you directly or indirectly and has the means to do so.

There is a story about a lion and a cricket (It has various attributions, one of which is Native American). The cricket says to the lion, "I can conquer you." The lion reminds the cricket that he is the king of the beasts and declares war on the cricket. The cricket hops into the lion's ear and begins to trill. The lion can't stand the noise. He swipes at his ear again and again as the cricket continues to make his vibrating racket. Eventually, the lion cuts himself with his great claws and bleeds to death.

The cyber world is an uncompromising equalizer, as the making and breaking of the $48 million production, "The Interview," reveals. It is wise for the vulnerable to be respectful and kind, to include good manners in their way of being and doing. It is also wise in today's world to assume vulnerability, something that Americans have a hard time feeling familiar with. Size does not decrease vulnerability and may, in fact, increase it. And then, of course, beware of talking crickets.

Images, copyright Government of South Australia, Women's and Children's Health Network.


This is one of the most intelligent and thought-provoking commentaries I've read about this horrible matter. Thank you for posting.

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