Thinking Serious Thoughts

We’re not saying we're on North Korea’s side this time around. But we’re definitely not on Seth Rogen's.

With all the recent fulminating about Sony Pictures Entertainment’s appeasement of North Korea by canceling the release of The Interview, and its potentially chilling effect on freedom of expression, we’ve ignored one very positive side effect: Seth Rogen and James Franco have been temporarily silenced.

Not entirely, but pretty close to it. During this merciful interlude, their public appearances are canceled, their smug wisecracks are stilled, and the smirks are wiped off their pampered man-baby faces.

Well, off of Rogen’s face, anyway. There’s a recent photo of Seth Rogen, head down, hat low, posture tense, closely accompanied by a bodyguard rumored to be an ex-Navy Seal, that is a nice antidote to his usual brand of self-congratulatory potheadedness.

But James Franco has been a prancing dilettante so successfully for so long, with so little blowback, his contemptuous smirk seems to be permanently affixed. He also got himself a bodyguard, it appears, but he’s still popping up like a rash all over the intertubes. Presumably, if James Franco isn’t out on the town making an elitist ass of himself, the terrorists win.

In one memorable Instagram selfie of a few days ago, we see Franco’s grinning head sticking out of the window of a shiny black SUV while behind him a hapless celebrity reporter tries to keep up on a scooter. The accompanying text is such a masterpiece of condescension, it makes you suddenly sympathetic to the paparazzi:

Look at this poor guy . . . he has to follow me around all day and harass me with his stupid camera to make a living.

These are the fatuous leaders of the “frat pack” that have helped to poison American film comedy for a generation. They’re still doing dull self-referential retreads of the Judd Apatow bromantic comedy shtick that seemed sort of fresh back in the mid-2000s with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Superbad, but almost ten years later stinks like a rotting corpse. James Franco got wearisome fastest, with his much-mocked dilettante escapades as absentee New York University student, rotten poet, bad video artist, shill for Gucci men’s cologne, and reviled Oscar ceremony host, but Seth Rogen’s gaining on him.

A recent Rolling Stones interview is Exhibit A.

In this pre-controversy publicity for The Interview, Rogen indicates that he is now a man of affairs, taking his oeuvre seriously. Reporter Josh Eells fawningly recounts every awesome bong hit Rogen takes and every brilliant auteurist film Rogen’s made leading up to the radical triumph that is The Interview:

In some ways — just as Superbad was the story of teenage Rogen and [producing partner Evan] Goldberg trying to get laid, and Pineapple Express was the story of them being 25 and directionless and stoned, and This is the End was the story of them coming to grips with the terror and awesomeness of Hollywood — this movie is the story of them in their early thirties, grappling with the question of what they want to contribute to society.

“Yeah, we talked about that a lot,” Rogen says. “. . . Are we gonna just make movies about guys trying to get laid over and over again? Or, now that we have people’s attention, maybe we can focus it on something slightly more relevant. . . . We’ll make a movie that will maybe for two seconds make some 18-year-old think about North Korea in a way he never would have otherwise.”

Mission accomplished! Not only are eighteen-year-olds thinking for two seconds about North Korean in ways they never would have if it hadn’t been for the fiasco of The Interview’s non-release, the whole country’s joined in on this Seth Rogen-sponsored Think-In. So many thoughts!

For example, there’s the contingent of the American public that thinks our First Amendment rights have been violated by the US government when it refused to allow The Interview to be shown. (The government, in fact, had absolutely nothing to do with SONY’s decision not to release The Interview.)

There are the hacked e-mails revealing the thoughts of Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin about the movies that President Obama would like to watch because he’s black: Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave, and The Butler.

There’s Penn Jilette’s answer to cyber-terrorism and the mass-release of hacked e-mails and personal information: “Let’s not look.” Problem solved!

There’s Aaron Sorkin’s screed against the media because they covered the story of the hacked e-mails, i.e., the news.

There are the Sony executives who blame distributors, exhibitors, and Obama for the non-screening of The Interview, claiming that the company’s eager to release it. (No plans were announced to release the film online or in any other venue.)

There was the idea on the part of some theater owners to run Team America, with its raucously insulting puppet-portrayal of Kim Jong-il, as a defiant gesture in response to the non-release of The Interview. Only apparently they didn’t ask Paramount, which owns the film and refused to allow it.

There was George Clooney’s announcement that he circulated a petition seeking commitments among many unnamed powerful people, “basically the heads of every place” in the film industry to stand together against any attempt to restrict cinematic freedom of expression. He expressed shock, utter shock, that no top corporate executives in Hollywood would risk going out on a limb for a noble cause. (Because Clooney’s worked with these people for years and knows perfectly well they don’t take brave stands, at this point I think we must assume Clooney’s laying the groundwork for an imminent run for political office.)

These and so many other related brainstorms have been percolating all week long, and will no doubt continue as this farcical story develops. This is one of those moments in our culture when its grotesque idiocy seems suddenly exposed, manifested everywhere, all over the media, everywhere you look.

The 1980s were one long collection of such moments. So were the post-9/11 years under George W. Bush. But this inanity jamboree we’re experiencing right now demonstrates why Seth Rogen and James Franco, with their perpetual roving clown-show, are the perfect stars for America today. They really make us think!