Steve Paul

Dumb and dumbest: To its detriment, Sony ignored a cardinal practice of fiction

Actors James Franco (left) and Seth Rogen last week attended the premiere of the Sony Pictures’ film “The Interview” in Los Angeles.
Actors James Franco (left) and Seth Rogen last week attended the premiere of the Sony Pictures’ film “The Interview” in Los Angeles. Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP

There’s an old standby disclaimer in the world of publishing fiction. It goes something like this: Any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental. It’s meant to avoid lawsuits when the writer of a novel creates characters who may or may not have been inspired by real life or who otherwise could cause offense.

Well, that’s so old-school, hide-bound and literary. It certainly satisfies publishing company lawyers, if not always writers, but it gives cover when cover is needed.

The swaggering world of Hollywood movie making operates in a somewhat different world apparently. Anything goes, right? And everything is so much more important, given that big movies tend to play out on a bigger, global stage.

This is a lesson available for the learning by the makers of “The Interview,” the comedy that Sony Pictures pulled from planned distribution on Christmas Day. The movie depicts a team of unlikely assassins — actors James Franco (left) and Seth Rogen — hired to take out Kim Jong Un, the baby-faced potentate of North Korea.

Without running the risk of criticizing something I haven’t seen — don’t you hate it when that happens? — it’s still possible to criticize the concept. If only someone in Sony’s food chain had considered the alternatives to insulting a sitting world leader (or more properly, a pariah) who already has proven to be kind of a nut.

This is not to defend the cyber attacks that have beset the movie behemoth, a campaign of destruction and disclosure that has been very possibly conducted by North Korea, according to some accounts. Sony and the rest of us would all be much better off, of course, if the young North Korean dictator had a sense of humor and could laugh along with the high jinks of a silly Hollywood movie. Make my day, he might exclaim. Or: Young bureaucrat, get Dennis Rodman on the line. We need to talk.

But it’s hard to stand up for a free expression of ideas when the idea is blatantly provocative toward a living, unstable person and thus improperly fictional. It’s quite possible that if “The Interview” were at all funny, it still might be funny if the target dictator’s resemblance to a real person were only “coincidental.”

As it is, this real-life Hollywood tragedy seems like a comedy of errors that might have been avoided.

Steve Paul, editorial page editor: 816-234-4762,; on Twitter: @sbpaul.