“Seen any good movies lately?”
Inspector O was sitting on a beach chair under a big red and white umbrella, sipping a drink with a slice of pineapple and reading an old copy of Variety, so I figured it was a harmless question. Too late I realized it sounded like a jibe.
To my surprise, O merely smiled.
“Nice try,” he said. “But as you can see, I’m unflappable these days.”
“And why is that?” I asked. I sat down next to next to him and brushed the sand from my shoes.
“You people are so fussy.” O took a sip of his drink. “You want one?”
“No, thank you. Why am I fussy?”
“You are saved from having to spend money on one more bad movie, and all you do is complain and threaten retaliation.”
“Nice word, proportional. Does that mean since our population is only about an eighth of yours, your retaliation will be that much smaller? Or is this “make the punishment fit the crime” stuff?”
“Well, whatever it is, it is serious.”
“Yes, I know. Sony Pictures is a sacred cow, one of the stars in your flag, as American as…”
“No, you don’t get it. It’s the principle of the thing.”
“Of course! Principle! Always the principle! Let me ask you a question.”
“Let’s imagine Sony Pictures and its goof balls decided it would be so much fun to make a comedy about the Prophet Mohammed.”
“I said what if your holy artists made such a movie. What would your White House say? ‘We support the right of our artists to express themselves freely.’ You know what? I don’t think that would be the entire sentence. I think there would be something about avoiding things that set off untoward reactions in a volatile region.”
“That’s a hypothetical.”
“Sure, either it’s the principle, or it’s a hypothetical. You never want to look in the mirror. Go ahead, dance around all you want.”
“I’m not dancing.”
“Then answer my question. No, let’s take another case. What if Clint Yeastwood…”
“… made a movie about the assassination of your President—not an imaginary figure, but your actual sitting President at the time? Detailed the plot, showed the holes in your Secret Service’s protection, and depicted the actual bullets entering his skull and his face exploding? Artistic freedom? I doubt the movie would survive a sizzling call from the White House.”
“Well, you have to admit, your side did overreact. It’s one thing to criticize, it’s another to hack into a company, destroy its property, and steal its secrets.”
“Actually, there was criticism, months ago, pretty vigorous criticism if you’ll recall. And it was met with what? Ridicule. Do you think it might have been good if one of your officials had at least acknowledged publicly that they understood our sensitivity, that in an age of terrorism, Washington did not think it was a good idea for anyone to be making movies that depicted the assassination of a sitting leader?”
I looked out at the beach.
“And when balloons carrying copies of the movie float into my country launched from south Korea? What then? Would the south Koreans stand for our sending copies of a movie about the assassination of their current leader across the border? No, it would be called a provocation. You’d think of all sorts of factors why they could do it but we can’t. But you know what, there are none. Sauce for goose, sauce for gander. And believe, me, assassination is a tricky thing. It has many sharp edges to it, even in contemplation. You don’t want to step into that world.”
I pointed to his drink. “Can you get a waiter over here?”
O picked up a newspaper and read aloud, “I think it says something about North Korea that it decided to mount an all-out attack about a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen,” your President said, smiling briefly—we’re told—at “the ridiculousness of an international confrontation being set off by a Hollywood creation.” Yes, a big joke. Let’s all laugh.” He laughed, only it had a bite to it that caused the couple sitting nearby to get up and leave.
“Calm down, will you?”
“Why? Because you think it’s only the principle of the thing? For whatever reason, we take the image of our leadership seriously. You may like what we think; you may not. But if you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind.”
“My goodness, aren’t we the one for aphorisms today!”
“Look, if you want to ridicule your president, fine, go ahead.”
“You’ve said some pretty crude things about our President and the South Korean president, too. You’ve shown pictures of your dogs tearing apart figures depicting South Korean leaders.”
“And the south Korean army has used pictures of our leaders for target practice. This is something between us and them. Stay out of it.”
“Well, I’m not getting into that. All I can say is, this time your people overreached, and there is going to be hell to pay. You’re the ones who better worry about a whirlwind. Have you seen what fires this has lit in the Congress?”
O stared at me for a moment, then picked up the newspaper again and turned the page. “Ah, here.” He looked at his watch and stood up. “Apologies, but I’ve got to go if I’m to catch the matinee.”
“No, a movie. The Life of Brian. Monthly Python cracks me up.”
“Monty Python,” I yelled after him, but he had already disappeared in a crowd of yellow bikinis.