What Kim Jong-Un Can Teach Us About Stories

A few days ago Sony Pictures announced they had no further plans for the release of their new film, The Interview. The decision followed a massive breach of Sony’s security, leading to the leaking of thousands of private emails and documents to the public. Even the head of Sony’s entertainment division was affected–32,000 of his private emails were released as a result of the hack.

The FBI blamed North Korea, and that seems to be the consensus right now. Why did North Korea do it? Well, that’s where The Interview comes in. The Interview’s comedic plot follows two people trying to assassinate Kim Jong-Un, the leader of North Korea.

North Korea takes stories seriously. Maybe we should too.

Apparently, North Korea didn’t like that, and so they hacked Sony.

Beyond the fact that this is an intriguing situation, to say the least, I think it highlights something else worth thinking about. If we step back and survey the entire scenario, what do we see? What’s it all about, at its core? We see a country, hacking a company, because the company said something the country didn’t like. And the company isn’t even based in said country.

Sony is based in Japan, but yet North Korea is getting frustrated over this film. Why? Why spend so much time on something so seemingly insignificant?

I have no idea what North Korea’s reasons are, but as storytellers I think we can get something useful from this. If North Korea is doing all this over a film–a story–what does that tell us about stories? What does that tell us about films?

I think what it tells us is simply that stories are powerful things. Stories can move people. Stories can affect the way people think. Stories can change the world. And history supports this idea. If we jump back a couple hundred years, we run into Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book that was massively influential in the battle over slavery that occurred in the build-up to the Civil War.

And Uncle Tom’s Cabin was simply a story. A novel. And yet look at the impact that it had. And Uncle Tom’s Cabin isn’t the only example. Look at books like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. Both have had a serious part in the discussion over government censorship, surveillance, and interference in daily life.

Don’t get me wrong–one doesn’t have to agree with the messages in influential stories to realize that they are influential. We as writers need to recognize that, and remember it when we’re telling our stories. As we write novels or screenplays we need to remember that the words we’re putting down can change people. The words we’re putting down can affect them, move them, and compel them.

Storytellers have a huge responsibility as a result of that. Storytelling isn’t just a fun little thing we do. Stories can have a huge impact, and that’s something we need to keep in mind. And if you’re still not convinced that stories are all that important, just take another look back through history. In the past, some stories have completely defined cultures. Look at things like The Illiad, Beowulf, and similar myths and tales. These stories were passed down from person to person, bard to bard. They weren’t written down and read, they had to be memorized and spoken. Were these stories true? Absolutely not, but they were impactful. They were meaningful. They were massively influential.

Think about the standing given to bards and storytellers in the past. Because stories were so scarce, it was an event when a bard came to town. People gathered around to hear the tales of a place they didn’t know, and people they’d never met. Bards were treated with respect maybe because people understood the importance of stories.

Nowadays it’s easier to get our hands on books, movies, and TV shows–not to mention music. But somehow it doesn’t seem like that makes stories necessarily any less powerful. Stories can still be serious things.

And so, regardless of whether you agree with Sony’s decision to cancel the release of The Interview, it might be helpful to take a step back and realize what all the fuss is about. All the fuss isn’t about a document threatening North Korean National Security. The fuss isn’t about a hostage crisis, or a new move by countries against North Korea. The fuss isn’t about things we would normally consider worth government intervention.

The fuss is about a story.

Why? Maybe, in part, it’s because stories are worth making a fuss about. I, at least, would do well to remember that.


2 thoughts on “What Kim Jong-Un Can Teach Us About Stories

    1. Indeed, it is sad. I do think, though, that many people realize how powerful stories are, but many don’t take them seriously enough. Hopefully people do start taking them very seriously!

      Thanks for the comment!


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