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The Problem of Misrecognition According to Charles Taylor

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In Charles Taylor’s Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, our eyes are opened to the issues of our world today, and how they are being swept under the rug. Misrecognition of differing cultures and their people is one of the overarching issues discussed in Taylor’s work. Giving proper recognition, equality, and respect for countries and cultures around the world are just as important as having no reservations about a perfect stranger. The problem of misrecognition is not just evident in countries across the globe, but is also found when we take a closer look at Hollywood’s new movie “The Interview”, and the controversy it has created in the world today.

The concept of misrecognition, as written by Taylor, is that the identity of others, as well as our own, is built on the recognition, or lack of, of others. On this idea of recognition, Taylor states that, “Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being” (p. 25). To interpret, and hopefully clarify some meaning of Taylor’s words, when we do not give proper recognition to a specific culture, or person, to some extent, we condemn them. This condemnation appears all over the world today as we look at the political issues that many countries and cultures have with one another. One of the more recent issues between the United States and North Korea would be over the film “The Interview”.

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The film by Sony Pictures has a main plot of holding an interview with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un and the main characters are recruited by the CIA to assassinate the leader. In producing a film that indicates the murder of Kim Jong-un, Sony Pictures also produced much controversy. This controversy is one that is reasonable as many see the film as offensive and as a risky step, while others see it as only a movie that is meant to entertain. On the one hand, with seeing this film as risky, it is also seen by many across the globe, as one of the greatest forms of disrespect for North Korea. Disrespect is commonly an effect of lack of recognition, due to the fact that when someone doesn’t fully understand why a culture or people act the way that they do, the feelings of respect are nonexistent. This may be the cause of the so-called ‘disrespect’ in “The Interview”. In any case, the assassination of Kim Jong-un in Hollywood’s film, was a step taken that many in North Korea find offensive and consider it an act of terrorism.

The offense that North Korea took from “The Interview” is in some ways understandable. However, if we look deeper into the causation of this offense and disrespect, we find that these feelings could be a product of miscommunication or misrecognition. Taylor writes that there is a demand within cultures but that even further than that, is a demand “that we all recognize the equal value of different cultures; that we not only let them survive, but acknowledge their worth” (p. 64). Simply acknowledging the existence of a culture isn’t giving it full recognition. Acknowledging their existence and their worth is what gives a culture recognition.

It could be reasonable to assume that when Hollywood made the decision to film and produce “The Interview”, North Korea’s culture wasn’t given full recognition. The reasoning behind this assumption is if their culture and its worth had been acknowledged, the plot of the film could have been altered as to not offend the people of North Korea. However, because the film was carried out the way it was, people of North Korea did take offense due to the lack of recognition and now the United States are faced with controversy of tension from the country.

There are many that see the film as pure entertainment and believe that North Korea shouldn’t take offense to such a light movie, which in some cases could be true. In the majority of cases, however, the feelings toward the film are not so carefree. Those negative feelings should have been noticed and taken into account before production of the film even took place, but were not analyzed as much as they should have been. Due to the lack of recognition, those negative feelings have been amplified through the opinions of the citizens of North Korea. Taylor continues on in his writings of recognition to talk on how “… misrecognition has now graduated to the rank of a harm that can be hardheadedly enumerated …” (p. 64). That rank of harm that misrecognition has procured, according to Taylor, is held on the same platform as “… inequality, exploitation, and injustice …” (p. 64). Because of Taylor’s work, our eyes can be opened to the opportunity to look at the controversy of “The Interview” through the eyes of North Koreans.

The controversy that has risen out of “The Interview” is not only because of the opinions of many, but also because it has followed exactly what Taylor wrote about misrecognition being a form of oppression. Because Hollywood did not give North Korea full recognition, its culture and people have, in a way, been condemned. This due to the fact that since the film has been released, many if not all Americans already have or will view the film. This means that the way Kim Jong-un is portrayed and assassinated will be in the minds of millions. People, who may not have any previous opinion on the leader, will now have Hollywood’s version of the dictator, whether that version is seen as good or bad, that image will be the only thing that many Americans know about the leader. Because of this side effect of the film, many Americans will view North Korea in a certain light due to the misrecognition included in “The Interview”. To use Taylor’s words, America may be condemning North Korea and its culture in “… a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being” (p. 25). That ‘mode of being’ can range from others’ opinions, to the actual cultural living in the country.

As we look at the several different views one could have on “The Interview”, and what Taylor writes about in the case of political recognition, we are able to take a step away from our initial opinion, and look deeper into the repercussions that the film has on the culture of North Korea. Those repercussions, again, come about due to the lack of recognition for North Korea; recognition has now become a demand that most human beings believe that they deserve straight off the bat. Taylor explains that “… the logic behind [this demand] seems to depend upon a premise that we owe equal respect to all cultures” (p. 66). This demand for respect, recognition, and equality is one that is reasonable in the view that no other person should be held above another. No culture should be held above another for no reason. When “The Interview” hit screens across the globe, this was not the case. North Korea was held lower than America and Americans assassinated their leader. The misrecognition, lack of respect and complete disregard for equality of others, was apparent in the film. These same points will continue to be argued for and against on the subject of Hollywood’s film and the people of North Korea.

Shortly after the first release of “The Interview”, it was pulled back due to safety concerns for there was a threat to the United States from North Korea about how the people of the country saw the assassination of their leader, an act of terrorism and war. After the threat, the movie was altered slightly in the scene of Kim Jong-un’s assassination, to not be so graphic, and was re-released to the public. However, despite the changes that were made, the film was still offensive to the people of North Korea, and with good reason. As mentioned before, the mock assassination of a current standing leader is nothing to take lightly. It is something that, to many across the world, see as a sign of disrespect, and feel that the film should not have gone forward with the second release.

To reiterate the point of this argument, the film “The Interview” could have been produced purely for entertainment, however many citizens of North Korea found it offensive. This could be due to the misrecognition of the country and therefore produced a misrepresentation of their leader, and the inequality the country was shown. Because of the way Kim Jong-un was portrayed and then assassinated in “The Interview” it is clear that the opinions of those in North Korea were not taken into account, or held very highly, during the production of the film. This is reason enough for alarm for Americans due to the fact that if the citizens of this nation cannot give proper recognition, respect, or equality, then should we deserve it ourselves? If we cannot give proper recognition to all cultures and countries, is it feasible for us to see ourselves as worthy of the same? When a culture is rejected or seen as ‘lesser than thou’, there is a judgment being made and most of the time it is being made without proper knowledge of that culture. Taylor writes that “… the act of declaring another culture’s creations to be of worth and the act of declaring oneself on their side, even if their creations aren’t all that impressive, become indistinguishable” (p. 69). Taylor later goes on to write that those who might benefit from the ‘politics of recognition’ know that “…they want respect, not condescension” (p. 70). Being condescending of a culture for kicks and giggles is not in any way acceptable to many people across the globe; it is seen as childish and, again, disrespectful. With that being said, it may be well to conclude that Hollywood’s movie “The Interview” offended many citizens of North Korea, and with good reason. To point fingers and poke fun at a country, its culture, and leader, is completely condescending of Hollywood. As a result of their joke, tensions have risen between the United States and North Korea over a film that should not have been produced. Having the assassination of a leader who is alive and is in office, be the plot of a film, which is created for entertainment, was a step that should not have been taken at all. Never mind the fact that the entire film is a comedy where it is intentional that an audience laughs at the screenplay. This fact, paired with the hopes of an audience laughing at North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, should make every person re-think their stance on the film. Analyzing this issue with greater knowledge and from a different point of view opens the mind to the possibility that the citizens of North Korea may in fact have reasonable cause to be angry with the United States. “The Interview” is a film that many people will debate over and many will still be angry about for years to come, but in looking through a different lens, we can step into the shoes of others and hopefully have a better understanding of the reasons behind their feelings. Misrecognition is just as powerful and harmful as proper recognition is. With the lack of recognition, we condemn those we don’t fully understand; but with proper recognition, we grant other cultures the equality they deserve.


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