Last weekend (January 24 ,2015) the controversial comedy, "The Interview," starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Randall Park was released to Netflix.
The movie, which seemingly upset the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) for its portrayal of Kim Jong-un, its "supreme leader," was streamed millions of times over the weekend, with mixed reviews on social media. “The Interview” was originally intended for normal, wide release in theaters worldwide, but Sony Studios scrapped that plan subsequent to the nation’s biggest theater chains pulling out due to terror threats, supposedly from the hackers who infiltrated the studio in late November, 2014. Still, Sony has been able to make up at least $40 million after limited release, digital downloads, and now an undisclosed deal from Netflix.
The question I'm asking is how "The Interview" helps peel back the film on a little known religio-political current active in the world today -- the Juche idea.
The plot of the films revolves around the characters Rogen and Franco play as pop-cultur turned political journalists who are coached to assassinate Kim Jong-un (Park) after booking an interview with him.
Near the climax of the film, the people's propaganda minister Sook Yung Park joins the conspiracy but contests the assassination opting instead to de-deify the young North Korean leader. She says, "people think he is a god. We must make them see he is not a god."
According to Adherents.com, Juche is the 10th largest religion in the world, with 19 million followers. It is ranked right behind Sikhism in terms of size (23 million), right ahead of "Spiritism" (15 million) and Judaism (14 million).
But what is it? Can we even call it a religion? Why haven't I heard of this? Are there any Juche temples in my town?
Also known as "Kimilsungism," Juche is the only state-recognized ideology in the DPRK. Christianity, Buddhism, and all other religions are not permitted in North Korea -- only Juche is allowed.
Typically translated as "self-reliance," it is a religio-political argument formed by Kim Il-sung which postulates that the Korean masses are the masters of the country's development. For two decades, from 1950s-70s, Kim and other party theorists such as Hwang Jang-yop as built on this Idea to justify the government's policies and its actions. Among these are its Third-world-oriented political and military independence and economic self-sufficiency.
Juche was first referenced as a North Korean ideology in a speech delivered by Kim Il-sung on December 28, 1955 -- "On Eliminating Dogmatism and Formalism and Establishing Juche in Ideological Work." In it, Kim Il-sung stated, "To make revolution in Korea we must know Korean history and geography as well as the customs of the Korean people. Only then is it possible to educate our people in a way that suits them and to inspire them an ardent love for their native place and their motherland." In this way, Kim Il-sung was establishing a metaphysics of "Being" for North Koreans that entailed a place-bound sense of geopolitics, destiny, revolution, and the cosmos, which was intensely nationalistic.
Hwang Jang-yop, Kim's chief ideologue, re-discovered Kim's speech at the time when Kim sought to build on the twin pillars of a cult of personality and his own version of Marxist-Leninism into a North Korean creed. Drawing on Marxist-Leninist principles Juche espouses state atheism, to the detriment of all other religions. At the same time, the cult of personality developed into a mythology that the supreme leader of the DPRK was indeed a god -- the divine imprimatur on the Juche idea.
In 1982, Kim Jong-Il, Kim Il-sung's son, produced a treatise On the Juche Idea, in which he stated:
Juche, in this formulation, is a sort of reactionary modernism, founded in Marxist-Leninist ideas of geo-politics and Confucian ideals of hierarchy that added an emphasis on the power of a Korean mythos mixed up with blood, soil, race, destiny, and place seeking to mobilize the Korean people to be self-sufficient and perhaps sublime national achievement. Juche is the cosmos-constructing and identity founding mythos of the North Korean people and their "republic" that undergirds the charisma of authority established by Kim Il-sung and disseminated by mass media, propaganda, and other elements of state control, which molds a human leader into a heroic, and in this case, worshipful icon with unquestioned authority and wisdom.
But, is it a religion or a secular political philosophy? Adherents.com shares this reasoning:
While those at Adherents.com attempt to establish Juche as a religion in order to include it in their religion rankings, I am more prone to say the answer is yes -- Juche is both a religious ideology and a political philosophy.
Religion has often been utilized as an element, and sometimes a prime one, in the magic of state craft. In this instance, Kim Il-sung and his philosophical followers developed a distinctly Korean, heretically Communist, atheistic ideology that supplanted all other religions and ideas for the sake of establishing the Korean state. It is an ideology with rituals, community building elements, ideas of sacredness and profanity, cosmological consequence, and an ability to guard against chaos and questions of identity for the Korean people in conception and the political elite in reality. It is a totalizing ideology that, at the very least, functions as a religion if it is not a religion in and of itself.
Interestingly enough, Juche has established some centers in other countries as well. There are centers, reportedly, in Australia, Japan, Europe, New York, and India. Established in Paris in 2003, the European Regional Society for the Study of the Juche believes that by studying "the Juche idea" the people of Europe might also be enabled to "consider everything centering on human beings" and to "solve things and matters arising in all the human affairs...relying on the efforts the people themselves." Divorced from its Korean context, Juche is meant to be a Third-World ideology, advancing that developing countries should be permitted to do so independently and be treated as equals in global politics rather than as subordinate to foreign powers and the world's elite nation-states and regions.
If you are critical of such an idea, you may be met with a rejoinder from the successor of this ideology -- Kim Jong-un -- who, in "The Interview" befriends Dave Skylark (Franco) and picks up on some of the latter's philosophy. To all those who hate on Juche, he might reply, "you hate us cause you ain't us."
*To learn more about Juche as an ideology, you can read Kim Jong Il's On the Juche Idea or JUCHE: A Christian Study of North Korea's State Religion, written by Thomas J. Belke from an evangelical Christian perspective.
*For a soundtrack to the Juche, check out this unique Bandcamp album.