A movie plot ripped from the headlines about a movie plot

A writer seeking profound pronouncements for a year-end column is likely instead to find herself awash in punchlines.

Life isn’t a comedy. It’s a joke.

Hey, did you hear the one about North Korea hacking Sony and threatening to blow up movie theaters that showed the film? Joke, right?

No, wait. It wasn’t North Korea, it was the Russians! No, wait, it wasn’t the Russians, it was a disaffected former staffer. No, wait, it was … Lizard Squad.

And that’s no joke.

So goes the latest chapter in a whodunit saga of comic proportions. Life isn’t a comedy after all. It’s a comic book.

And the whole Sony episode is a perfect metaphor for 2014. We may finally have fulfilled Neil Postman’s 1985 prediction in his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” — that, as the title suggests, we may end up dumb but at least we’re amused.

What is more entertaining than prompting world powers to flex their muscles over a hacker’s expose of the inner gossip of an entertainment giant?

That “The Interview,” the movie at the crux of the controversy, is stupendously dumb is mere perfection — l’dumb pour l’dumb.

Which brings me to the following revision. In a previous column, I speculated about what I might draw about the Sony attack if I were a cartoonist. I see now that this story is better suited to a movie. That is, a movie about the movie that brought North Korea, Japan (Sony is a Japanese company), China and the U.S. to a precipice of history. Some analysts even mentioned Iran and Russia, briefly.

In my film, the president of the United States threatens to impose “proportional” consequences on North Korea even as Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un denies any involvement in the affair. Meanwhile, moviegoers applaud the movie’s stars, who grandstand in the aura of free speech, brandishing their rights with expletives that must be bleeped because, you know, we have standards.

Off in Russia, Vladimir Putin rips off his shirt and wrestles a giant squid, while China mass produces T-shirts bearing the slogan, “Hey, ‘Sony A Movie.” Japan archly intones that it will wait for the movie while Iran, mistaking “stoner movie” for “stoning movie,” demands an apology.

You have to laugh.

All of the preceding is, alas, not fictional but substantively true — except maybe for the squid-wrestling (I guess) and the T-shirts. And the apology.

Lizard Squad is, in fact, a self-proclaimed cyberterrorist group that took credit for ruining Christmas by bringing down Sony’s PlayStation Network. President Obama did, indeed, threaten proportional consequences against North Korea.

Then, on Monday a cyberintelligence company, Norse, told the FBI that the hacker probably was not North Korea but a combination of a laid-off staffer and a piracy group. Ah, the disgruntled, laid-off staffer. We know that cliche well.

It is plausible, but the FBI is sticking to its story. Meanwhile, alert conspiracy theorists consider the possibility that Sony planned the whole thing. Or, perhaps there is yet a third arch-rival — the mystery nemesis-narcissist who steps forward to reveal himself as the really bad guy. No problem.

Meet “Ryan Cleary,” a self-identified Lizard Squad administrator who recently told The Washington Post that his group actually provided the Guardians of Peace with the Sony logins used in the attack. Just to be clear, Cleary isn’t “the” Ryan Cleary, who was convicted of hacking into the CIA as part of the group LulzSec.

We’re not sure who this so-called Cleary really is, but, well, he’s some one. Attempting to prove his identity, Cleary tweeted a confirmation from an account that is associated with the group @LizardMafia. As these things go, the tweet has vanished.

Hacking obviously is serious, and future ramifications could be dire. But the way this story has unfolded feels mostly embarrassing. Never mind the Looney Tune names — Lizard Squad, LulzSec, Guardians of the Peace — or the image of Kim Jong-un’s exploding face as backdrop to an international incident. Into this arena our president has placed himself, acting on intelligence that may or may not have been reliable.

What we’ve learned as the year wraps is that civilization is as fragile as ever, that the world could go up in an explosion of shattered stars — or fizzle like a damp firecracker — with the keystroke of a nerd on a revenge mission.

What is needed, obviously, is a superhero to restore truth, justice and the American Way — a comic-book hero for our comic-book times. One can only hope that scriptwriters are working feverishly somewhere in an undisclosed location, preferably with pen and paper.

Almost amused, we wait.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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