Bring out your dead

bring out deadOkay, now that you’re through viewing the link, let’s get to what spurs this sideways reference to the great Monty Python movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (probably my second favorite comedy of all time).

My publisher posted a link recently about Scarlett Johansson bringing suit against an author (and publisher) for a fictional book in which the female lead character looks like and is mistaken for Ms. Johansson.  The article said this confusion exists for about the first 60 pages of the book.  Not having read it, I can’t offer any opinion on the work or the employment of this concept.  As for the lawsuit, I do have an opinion…or more accurately a bewilderment.

I get that celebrities have to chafe and grind at the proliferation of bizarre and unflattering stories that appear constantly in those papers you see as you’re waiting to pay for your groceries.  Apparently, little of that is “actionable” because they are public figures.  I think that’s a bit unfair, but I’m not a legal expert on free speech or libel law (if that’s what those stories fall under).

I suppose that if those little stories are considered fictions then a novel is just an extended fiction.  How a mistaken identity within a fictional work impairs the earnings power or image of a celebrity (outside of downright sleaze) puzzles me.  It seems over-sensitive and reactionary.  Again, I don’t know the context of the story, but it apparently does not imply anything biographical about the actress.

I suppose we should be thankful that we can still reference the dead.  Think of the loss of such enjoyable fare as “Play it Again, Sam” if Bogie was around to slap some legal action.  Would speculative books and movies on historical figures (JFK, Lincoln, to name just two) never get created out of fear of reprisal?  Granted, those are less likely to be issues due to the circumstances (and I feel eerie having randomly picked two Presidents who suffered similar fates).

Still, whatever bloodline remains for the hundreds of real people written or filmed about over the years, those people have not taken umbrage with the fictional depictions — or those depictions have been protected by the over-arching law involved.

I’m not sure what harm there is in referencing a similarly public figure of current times.  It would seem somewhat unrealistic to ignore the very existence of these people if you’re trying to create a “real” world.  Perhaps the use of a likeness as a central theme of the book is the issue, suggesting an “unauthorized” use of the actress’ fame to help market the book.

In any case, until the smoke clears, I guess when it comes to including public figures in your fiction, it’s better to just bring out your dead.

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