Saturday, April 18, 2015

Abraham Lincoln and America's Historic Switcheroo

Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president, was assassinated 150 years ago this week. But commemorations of his untimely death might well provoke thoughts on another American tragedy, the veering of the Republican Party away from the principles with which he imbued it.

This transformation, so evident in the north-south switcheroo that Republicans and Democrats have undergone since 1865, is compellingly explored in Heather Cox Richardson’s recent book, To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party.

Richardson brings to light an important part of the GOP’s birth through the story of Lincoln’s own family. Abraham’s father, Thomas Lincoln, actually left Kentucky in 1816 because wealthy interests were taking over the state and stifling the opportunities that Thomas, and others like him, had hoped to exploit.

Here’s the tale as she tells it:

Kentucky permitted slavery, and planters began to buy up great swaths of its rich land, putting pressure on small farmers like Lincoln, who could afford only poorer and poorer fields…Fights over land ownership flooded the courts, but only wealthy planters had enough money to hire lawyers to establish their deeds. Finally, unable to defend the title to his property, Thomas Lincoln had to leave Kentucky (page 3).

Thomas Lincoln was crushed, in other words, by the power of the slave-owning aristocracy.

Slavery was not only an abomination for enslaved people, it was also a device that allowed the wealthy to control state governments and courts, and use that control for their own benefit. It was in reaction against the slave-owning elite that the Republican Party was founded.

A powerful person who appears as a kind of villain in Richardson’s account is South Carolina Democrat, James Henry Hammond. Richardson describes Hammond as a “wealthy and well-connected slave owner with predatory sexual appetites, which ruined the lives of his white nieces as well as those of his slaves” (p. 15).

        James Henry Hammond: Southern Conservative, ca. 1860

In 1858 Hammond gave a speech in the Senate in which he explained why poor people – both black and white – needed to be kept in their places.

According to Hammond, the lower ranks of American society were made up of losers, slow-witted drudges, whose lot was to follow the orders of their betters – the refined and civilized types such as himself. He didn’t specify that these drudges, or “mudsills,” as he called them, made up 47% of the population, but he did warn against the prospect of their influence. The South was better than the North, he specified, precisely because northern mudsills (mainly white) could vote, while the South, with its population of black mudsills, was in no danger of letting these undesirables have any say in the government.*

Hammond’s speech was influential, and, in fact, it provided what Richardson calls a “foil” against which the Republican Party set itself. Early Republican ideology said that America was populated by capable individuals, many of whom, though poor, could, when given the opportunity, and with government help, raise themselves to prosperity. That, in fact, was the essence of the early Republican ideology: give every citizen the opportunity and governmental support that would make the industry of each a guarantee of national well-being. And above all, don’t allow the aristocratic conservatism of the slave-holding class dominate the nation as a whole.

The conservatism of the southern Democrats of Hammond’s day is the very twin of modern GOP ideology, with its small government policies, favoritism for the rich, and relentless efforts to deny voting rights to the poor. In fact, Richardson highlights a number of cases in which the Republicans, once they had abandoned their founding principles, worked at suppressing the voting rights of poor people even in the nineteenth century.

It is actually surprising just how quickly the Republicans abandoned its original principles. Lincoln was the only Republican president in the nineteenth century to effectively embrace them, and the only twentieth-century ones to do so were Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.

What happened was that shortly after Lincoln’s death, and with the exceptions noted above, the Republicans shifted their focus toward favoritism for the rich – the very thing that their founding was supposed to oppose. Now, not only do GOP leaders sound like reincarnations of Southern Democrat James Henry Hammond (minus the sexual predation), but the entire white South, Hammond’s original base, has switched its loyalty to the Republicans.

                 Election of 1876: The Near Solid Democratic South

      2012: The South Rises Again - this TIme in the Republican Camp

In the meantime, it is the Democrats, now entrenched in the north - Lincoln’s old territory - who fight on behalf of a higher minimum wage for workers, the right to universal health care, and the right to a safe retirement protected by Social Security. So the Democrats now embrace the ideology that Lincoln promoted: government action on behalf of ordinary citizens allowing them to attain economic security or even, in some cases, prosperity.

Next year’s election offers some interesting prospects, given that the GOP now argues that it wants to help ordinary citizens improve their lot. But these ordinary citizens are the very ones whose lives have been threatened by Republican support for the Citizens United case and its opposition to a livable minimum wage and to Social Security. From where I stand, it’s hard to see how Republicans can possibly help ordinary Americans as long as they continue to argue, contra Lincoln, that the government just needs to step away.


Richardson, Heather Cox. 2014. To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party.  New York: Basic Books.

*Interestingly, conservative heroine, Ayn Rand, in Atlas Shrugged, makes a similar case about the unworthiness of ordinary American citizens. They are hopeless losers, her novel argues, whose lives would fall apart if the elites were to withdraw their leadership.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Rashomon at Berchtesgaden

The Rashomon effect is a psychological term that describes cases in which different witnesses offer contradictory accounts of a given event. The phrase comes from Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon, in which a samurai is killed and his wife apparently raped. Testimony from various witnesses, including the ghost of the dead samurai, all tell different, but plausible, stories of what actually happened.

                                        Rashomon poster

I am convinced that when Kurosawa made this film, his theme came from the fact that the Japanese people, once they had been subjected to American occupation, were told a completely different story from that which their government had been telling them for years. This must have had a profound effect on the Japanese in general, and on Kurosawa as well. This would explain why his characters refer to the destructiveness of war in the movie’s dialogue – even though the short stories on which the script is based don’t even mention war. It might also explain why Kurosawa’s Rashomon gate is so reminiscent of the ruins of Hiroshima.

                           The Great Ruined Gate of Rashomon

                         The “Atom Bomb Dome” of Hiroshima

How must the Japanese people have felt in 1945, when they discovered that the entire world in which they had been living for decades was a government fabricated fantasy? Suddenly they had to rethink everything in terms of the very different story the American occupation now told them. In this clash of contradictory worldviews, I believe, Kurosawa found his Rashomon theme.

I recently read the memoir of Traudl Junge, a woman who served as Adolf Hitler’s secretary in his residences at the Wolf’s Lair and at Berchtesgaden. When the war was over and the Nazi propaganda machine destroyed, Frau Junge also faced the shock of discovering that the world was not as her boss and his associates had described it to her.

She first began to understand how badly misled she had been in May of 1945 when, as a prisoner of Soviet soldiers, she heard story after story of Nazi brutality in Russia. Later, when she wound up living in the American zone, she had access to a variety of news sources and she came to absorb the full story of Nazi atrocities and German belligerence. Encouraged to write her memoir, she eventually produced Hitler’s Last Secretary: A Firsthand Account of Life with Hitler in 1947.

                          Traudl Junge, ca. 1943

To write about Hitler, as I am doing here, one feels obligated to express sentiments of loathing and disgust. I don’t find this a problem since, in fact, these feelings come quite naturally to me when dealing with this subject. But I wonder if, by reducing Hitler to nothing but an object of contempt, we might be letting ourselves off the hook a bit - not to mention offering second-rate Hollywood directors the handiest villainous plot device ever.

If Hitler was a pure and seamless villain whose every act bespoke deep-seated evil, it becomes all too easy for us to believe that nothing in us has any connection to him and his kind.

But Hitler was other things besides a monster, and Traudl’s memoir offers us a look at some of those other things. He was, for example, a tedious bore at times, who so enjoyed the company of his secretary and other staff members that he required that they stay up late after dinner to keep him company and, sometimes, listen to his oft-told stories. In many ways Junge’s portrayal brings to mind a somewhat pompous yet well-meaning (!) elderly uncle who wants to be liked and is careful to be polite and hospitable to his guests. He always seemed particularly solicitous toward the ladies. Those around him at the Wolf’s Lair and Berchtesgaden, like Traudl herself, did seem to like him, though they found some of his expectations tiresome.

And he was very fond of his German shepherd, Blondi:

“Hitler played all kinds of little games with her. He got her to beg and ‘be a schoolgirl,’ which meant getting up on her hind legs and putting both front paws on the arm of Hitler’s chair, like a good little school pupil. Her best turn was singing. Hitler would tell her in his kindest, coaxing voice, “Sing, Blondi!’ and then he struck up a long, drawn out howl himself” (p. 92*).

It is well-known that Hitler was a dedicated vegetarian, and he sometimes needled his staff and his guests by describing in detail the blood-drenched slaughterhouses in which their meat was prepared.

Of the leading Nazis that Traudl met, Goebbels seemed to impress her the most. He was quick-witted and full of verve, though his wit was often used at others’ expense. She writes that though he was not particularly handsome, she could understand why so many women were attracted to him.

Himmler she disliked, but not for his brutality - of which he presented no evidence during his time at the Berchtesgaden, at least in front of the staff. She found him to be “ordinary and insincere, rather like a civil servant.” His descriptions of the concentration camps made them sound like benevolent institutions where the inmates lived comfortable lives and were “trained and educated” (94-95).

Ribbentrop was an odd man, dreamy and absent-minded, “and if I hadn’t known that he was Foreign Minister I’d have said he was a cranky eccentric, leading a strange life of his own” (95).

In 1943 Traudl Junge (whose maiden name was Humps) married a young aide named Hans Junge who, it turns out, was a member of the SS. The SS was an elite group within the German army, known not only for its fighting spirit but also for its dedication to Nazi ideology and its leading role in the Holocaust. Hans was killed on the Russian front before Traudl got to know him beyond their various courtship meetings in Berchtesgaden. When she married him, the SS was to Traudle, not an organization dedicated to evil, but a high status military unit.

                                      Traudl and Hans

Junge doesn’t try to excuse herself, and, her writing is straightforward enough that I am convinced that she was actually unaware of the horrors that Hitler’s underlings were inflicting on the people of Europe. There was one occasion when the truth threatened to break out in Berchtesgaden when the daughter of Nazi photographer Heinrich Hoffman raised the issue of the mistreatment of the Jews. Junge writes:

“I wasn’t present myself, but Hans Junge told me about it. As Hitler was sitting by the hearth with his guests, she suddenly said, ‘My Fuhrer, I saw a train full of deported Jews in Amsterdam the other day. Those poor people – they look terrible. I’m sure they’re being very badly treated. Do you know about it? Do you allow it?’ There was a painful silence. Soon after, Hitler rose to his feet, said goodnight and withdrew. Next day [Hoffman’s daughter] went back to Vienna, and not a word was said about the incident. Apparently she had exceeded her rights as a guest and failed to carry out her duty of entertaining Hitler” (p. 88).

Traudl Junge’s book is fascinating to me, and I appreciate the way she lays everything out, admitting her foolishness and even cowardice in not looking hard at what was happening in Germany while she enjoyed her privileged status. One of its more interesting aspects is its revelation of what sort of a man Hitler was when he was not being a dictator, and the mechanisms he employed to keep his bourgeois home life separate from the ruthless depravity of his politics. Furthermore, I find it interesting (and disturbing) to see just how blind people can be when they are systematically led to believe a story that is almost entirely false - until catastrophe shatters their dream state and shocks them into seeing what the world really looks like.

·       *The quotations here come from a later, 2002, edition of Junge’s book, Until the Final Hour: Hitler’s Last Secretary by Traudl Junge, edited by Melissa Muller and translated from the German by Anthea Bell. New York: Arcade Publishing.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

America - Love It or Feel Complicated about It

If you were to ask me whether or not I love my country, I would have to say no.

But wait - rest assured that I am not a communist, nor have I decided to slip away to sign up with ISIS. What I mean is that I don't love abstractions that I can't physically embrace.

I grew up in a large family (six children) in which togetherness was a constant theme. And I loved all of the members of that family: grandparents, parents, and siblings. I still do love them all, as well as those who have been added to our expanding clan over the decades. But do I love my "family?" I don't think so. My family is an idea or an ideal, not a living, breathing, huggable being.

Same goes for America. Not huggable.

I am a patriot. However, I recognize that patriotism is largely a type of delusional self-regard, a point well expressed by George Bernard Shaw when he said "Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it."

Yes, patriotism is a kind of egotism blown up to global proportions. So be it. But aren't we all egotists - those of us who enjoy at least a modicum of psychological health? In the same way that I accede to the demands of my individual sense of my own wonderfulness, I accede to a natural admiration and appreciation for my country and the ideals it is said to represent. But as I do so, I can't help but recognize that this is all bullshit. My devotion to America is bullshit, but it's my bullshit, and I'm sticking with it.

Which brings us to Rudy Giuliani and his bullshit. His insistence that President Obama does not love his country is, I suspect, a way to put Obama on the spot. Obama is a very smart guy and, though he is obviously a dedicated patriot, he may, like me, not feel entirely natural and comfortable talking about love in relation to the complex, ethically uneven, interlocking network of institutions and narratives that is America. If he were to talk honestly about his sentiments regarding his country, he might well be forced into the kind of analytic discussion that I have indulged in here. And this would be politically disastrous for him. Giuliani's goal, I believe, is to try to damage Obama by forcing him either to speak in a stilted and unnatural manner by clumsily declaring his love for America, or to avoid the topic and raise suspicions about his patriotism.

Now Giuliani, while sticking to his charge that Obama doesn't love his country, claims that he, Giuliani, certainly does not question Obama's patriotism.

The real issue here is not Obama's patriotism, which no sane person could possibly question, but Giuliani's slick double talk. He is clever, that guy, clever in a very creepy way. Imagine - he was once the front runner in the GOP presidential field. Yes, America (a country about which I feel...oh, never mind), we could have been blighted with a Giuliani presidency. A presidency so thoroughly shot through with underhanded thuggishness that this experience, I believe, would have reminded us all, more than anything, of a return of the spirit of Nixon.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

How Prototypically We Forget

Brian Williams is stepping down, at least temporarily, from his NBC anchor position. His sin was having misrepresented some of his experiences during the 2003 Iraq War. I don’t want to praise Williams or to bury him, but I'd like to suggest that his difficulties stem at least partly from an involuntary cognitive pattern I call “conflation to prototype.”

The prototype of any category (for my purposes here) is that member which best or most prominently represents its category. The prototypical 1960s band would be the Beatles, the prototypical dictator, Hitler, the prototypical 1950s sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe.

The “conflation to prototype” is a cognitive slip that occurs when an incident or thing or quality is misremembered or misperceived as the prototypical member of its category. Here’s an example from my family tree. My late Uncle John fought in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, one of the fiercest battles on the Western Front. The most prominent Allied leader in that battle was General George Patton whose fast and aggressive actions helped throw the Nazi forces back into Germany.

According to family lore, repeated almost every time the Battle of the Bulge came up in conversation, Uncle John was in General Patton’s army at that battle. But, it turned out on closer examination, that he was actually in the army of the somewhat less famous (and less prototypical) General Omar Bradley. Uncle John never lied about his action and rarely even spoke about it, but other family members, knowing that he fought at the Bulge, simply conflated his Bradley-led service with the actions of Patton’s famous army. And, by the way, hats off to Uncle John, who was wounded in the battle and received a decoration.

Awhile back, when I spoke to an old friend from Lakeland High School whom I had not seen in decades, I found out that I too had been subject to this kind of conflation. She told me that the word on me from my old LHS classmates was that I was a member of the Weather Underground. The WU was a famous, radical organization of the 1970s that used the bombing of public buildings as an anti-Vietnam War tactic. I was amazed at this news about myself and assured my former classmate that I was never part of a bomb-planting, leftist group.

I was, however, an active participant in and organizer of anti-war demonstrations on my California campus in the 1970s. And I did sport the long hair and pointedly casual attire that went with being a student radical. So on this basis, apparently, my old high school friends transmogrified me into a Weatherman.

We do this kind of conflation all the time. Even our racialized skin color code reflects this. Black and white are basic color terms found in all of the world's languages. In this regard they are different from color terms like mauve, chartreuse, and burgundy. And, when we try to classify people by color, we wind up resorting to prototypical colors like black and white. Actually, if we were more precise in our human color categorization, we would describe black people as dark brown, coffee-colored, beige, and so on. Then we would describe white people as pinkish yellow, beige, dark tan, etc. But we don’t. We conflate our categories to such prototypical colors as black and white – and yellow and red and brown.

Same goes for hair color. If Lucille Ball’s hair color appeared on a paint chip, it would not be called red. It would probably be identified as “metallic sunrise” or some such.

I also had a great great grandfather who was said to have fought at Gettysburg, even though, as I found out through careful research, he never got closer to the Gettysburg battlefield than my house is to Disney World ®. Though I bet some of my out-of-state acquaintances actually picture me as living near Disney World.*

My point is that when we misremember or misconceive, we often simplify by collapsing our information into the most prominent version of a thing or event, the one that most easily comes to mind as representative of its type. I’m guessing that Brian Williams “remembered” having his helicopter downed by enemy fire because he arrived at a battle site in an aircraft shortly after another copter had been forced down by hostile fire. The two events “My copter landed in a site where a battle had recently taken place” and “A helicopter was hit by hostile fire and forced to land at a battle site” collapsed into a single prototypical category leading Mr. Williams to see himself as a war reporter who actually experienced the dangers of war in a prototypical fired-upon engagement with the enemy.

Of course, I won’t deny that ego also had something to do with Brian's faulty memory. Who doesn’t want to see himself or herself in the most favorable or impressive light? Such a longing, though, is perhaps more typical of media icons than it is of the rest of us mortals.

*For the exciting details of Great Great Grandfather Flynn at Gettysburg, click here.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Je Suis Charlie (99.9%)

I have a new hero. It is Charb, the late editor of Charlie Hebdo, gunned down, along with several of his associates, by murderous thugs last week.

I regard good satire is a gift from the gods, and, though I was not even aware of Charlie Hebdo until the recent tragedy, I am now pleased and grateful to know of its existence.

But there is a rub, and that’s what accounts for my reluctance to go 100% in support of this brave little magazine. The rub is this: I would not post or publish pictures of the prophet Mohammad.

I am not concerned about terrorist attacks, since I am not big enough to be noticed by terrorists, but I am concerned about courtesy.

Muslims did not invent their prohibition on depictions of the prophet as a way to challenge non-believers, and they don’t maintain this prohibition as though it were a chip on their shoulder, one they dare anyone to knock off. It is a centuries-old part of the Muslim faith and it’s one I am willing to respect.

I have had heard ordinary, non-fanatic Muslims express discomfort over depictions of Mohammad. Their discomfort comes from their sense that an important religious taboo is being violated. I would guess that their feeling is similar to that felt by many Christians when Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ depicted Jesus being tempted by sexual fantasies.

So, though I certainly don’t want to see laws prohibiting Charlie Hebdo-type satire, I am unwilling to identify entirely with some of its more rude and disrespectful aspects.

To me, avoiding intentional insults to religious beliefs is similar to avoiding ethnic or racial slurs. I don’t believe in insulting or disparaging individuals by throwing around the infamous n-word, and I don’t feel my freedom is being drastically curtailed by my restraint on this point. To me it’s more a matter of common decency rather than overly timid political correctness.

Certain words embody an element of viciousness that comes from their reflection of real, non-verbal injuries. To verbally target someone whose people have been routinely and heavily victimized by discrimination is to blast them with society’s heavy artillery. Certain ethnic groups – Black, Hispanic, Italian, etc. – have been systematically injured for decades or even centuries, and what they have suffered is embodied in the terms (wop, beaner, and so on) that some mainstream Americans use to disparage them. When a white bigot calls a black man “nigger,” he dredges up the socially entrenched mentality that has injured African-Americans for centuries and essentially gloats over it. He is, in a sense, kicking someone who is down. These are the kinds of words that, like sticks and stones, do break deeply embedded psychological bones. Their poison will endure as long as the social inequality they celebrate endures.

In contrast, there is no epithet that an African-American or a Mexican can throw back at a white person in this country that carries the sting of entrenched social inequality. Words like gringo and cracker are all but harmless here.

The same can be said in male-female verbal relations. There is a long-entrenched social sensibility that says women should restrain themselves in their sexual behavior; if they don’t they can be injured with labels like slut or whore, labels that have no equally injurious male versions.

And then there is the nuclear option: cunt. Here is a term designed to injure females by reminding them of their vulnerability in the areas of both sexuality and assertiveness. To call a woman a cunt is to say, “You are female and the whole world says your (sexual and/or assertive) behavior sucks!”

There is no male equivalent because there is no equivalent socially entrenched value that undermines the sexual and assertive behavior of males.

Refraining from ethnic, racial or gender-based slurs, or from intentional religious insults, does not make me feel as though my free speech has been impaired. It just makes me feel respectful.

I know, of course, that not everyone shares my views. Certainly Charb did not. So, in that light let me conclude by agreeing to disagree with Charb on this point.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Give Us "The Interview" or Give Us Death!

I’m hopping mad. The FBI has just confirmed that North Korea tore into Sony the way lions sometimes tear into gazelles. NK’s bad behavior stems from the fact that Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un hates Sony’s guts. Those guts, by the way, are now on display for all the world to appraise.

But that’s not what infuriates me. I’m mad because theaters won’t be showing Sony’s The Interview, the Seth Rogen movie that many believe is behind Kim Jong-un’s unseemly bile.

Li’l Kim* is mad because The Interview doesn’t treat him with the respect he feels he deserves. He believes he deserves to be revered as the world’s greatest leader, author, warrior, holy man, artist, basketball player and golfer. On this last point, Kim reports that he made eleven holes-in-one while shooting a score of 34 the first time he ever picked up a golf club. The Interview, on the other hand, treats him as a vile yet pompous megalomaniac who dies when his head explodes.

Nobody at Sony or in Pyongyang seems to have come up with a compromise that could bring the two sides together on this issue.

But the all-around chickening out on showing The Interview is bullshit, and that’s what has me steamed.

I admit that national leaders are usually treated with more respect than The Interview grants Kim. When Charlie Chaplin mocked Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator (1940), he created a phony character who was obviously a Hitler parody, but he didn’t identify the character as Hitler himself. And, he didn’t portray his head exploding.

                        Chaplin's Dictator, Adenoid Hynkel

Still, even granting that The Interview does not exhibit the best of taste, can we name anyone else on the planet that more richly deserves to be mocked than does Kim Jong-un? For a while Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe gave him a run for the money, and Syria’s Bashar Al Assad is still a contender, but I’d have to say that as of now, Kim Jong-un is front runner in the finals for The World’s Biggest Asshole award.

And that’s what galls me. Why should this humongous asshole keep Americans from seeing The Interview, no matter how cheesy it may be? George Clooney has tweeted that he wants us to all stand up to this bully and I agree. I also agree with Joe Scarborough, the right-wing host of “Morning Joe,” when he says Sony should show the premier in New York, as planned, and have the theater ringed with police. It’s unlikely the Democratic [sic] People’s [sic] Republic [sic] of Korea actually has the ability to carry out an act of violence there, and by backing down, Sony and the theaters are letting it get away with some pretty low cost terrorism

Kim Jong-un is the third leader of the Kim dynasty and his interest in Hollywood films comes to him legitimately. His father, the late Kim Jong-il, was said to have amassed a huge DVD collection and also showed a keen interest in upgrading North Korea’s movie-making capabilities, albeit through unorthodox methods. (Father Kim Jong-il, by the way, according to North Korean officials, was born on the slopes of Paektu San, Korea’s most sacred mountain, under a shining star and a double rainbow. Jesus, you may recall, only had a star.)

Anyway, in 1978, Kim Jong-il, dissatisfied with the quality of North Korea’s film directors, decided to kidnap Shin Sang-ok, a South Korean director of proven ability. In order to pull off the caper, Kim had agents first kidnap actress Choi Eun-hee, the ex-wife of Shin, and a woman for whom he still had feelings. When Ms. Choi mysteriously disappeared from the streets of Hong Kong, Shin flew there to investigate, whereupon Kim’s agents nabbed him and spirited both him and Ms. Choi off to Pyongyang.

Kim had the couple remarry and then, after a prison term following a failed escape attempt by Shin, put them to work making movies for the DPRK. They played along until they were able to elude North Korea’s clutches while attending a film festival in Vienna. When they failed to return to Pyongyang, Kim Jong-il promptly denounced the United States for kidnapping them.

Yes, the Kims are an interesting family. But dammit, I want my movie back. In line with George Clooney and Joe Scarborough’s recommendation, Culture World hereby declares its willingness to defy Supreme Leader Kim no matter what the consequences.

To do so, I offer the following pictures, the first of which is of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

 The second one is of a head exploding. Is it Kim Jong-un’s? Culture World can neither confirm nor deny.

Come on, guys. We're America. Bring back The Interview.

*The apostrophe in Li’l has traditionally followed the vowel “i” as in Li’l Abner. It stands for the glottal stop some people use to replace the “t” sound of “little” (the same sound that occurs in the middle of the English expression “Uh-oh!”). Recent versions of “Lil” have the apostrophe at the end of the word - for reasons beyond Culture World's understanding.