“Leave a Beautiful Hologram” Alone

I’ve been away for a few days at a conference, so haven’t written muhc. This bit by Nicholas Carr at Rough Type (Live fast, die young and leave a beautiful hologram) disturbed me enough to get me back to the keyboard. Sounds like the estate of quite a few deceased entertainers are arranging to have their loved ones appear in front of new crowds using digital hologram technology.

Tupac Shakur’s recent leap from grave to stage was just the first act of what promises to be an orgy of cultural necrophilia. Billboard reports that holographic second comings are in the works not just for Jimi Hendrix but for Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Peter Tosh, and even Rick James. Superfreaky! What could be more authentically correct than an image of an image?

I’m really looking forward to seeing the Doors with Jim Morrison back out in front – that guy from the Cult never did it for me – but I admit it may be kind of discomforting to see the rest of the band looking semi-elderly while the Lizard King appears as his perfect, leather-clad 24-year-old self.

The original story at Billboard notes:

Plans for a virtual Monroe concert is also in the works.Some concert promoters believe such virtual “live” performances from deceased acts could develop into a larger trend, but the concept would likely work best as cameos during a more contemporary show-much like Tupac’s “guest spot” at Coachella-instead of prerecorded full-length concerts.

In the grand scheme of things, this is probably not the biggest deal in the world. Fun, right? A couple of things about it seem notable, though.

First, it is fascinating that people can make decisions about using your likeness after you die. How, exactly, do we know that Jim Morisson would want his likeness used this way? Indeed, it probably wouldn’t have thrilled him. But the deceased are now instruments for the enrichment of the living, so why not, right?

Second, more importantly, how will this change what we know—or think we know—about these entertainers? My guess is that the more this is done, the more the actual lives will be forgotten, displaced by memories of what the estate wants us to remember. Here is revisionist biography delivered by the person him- or her-self. Why wouldn’t it be believable? Nostalgia is one thing. Using it as an engine for rewriting the past is another.

Finally, this helps us take another step away from live music as a location for authentic artist-audience interchange. Back in the day, people went to shows. Anymore, most people are content to listen to recordings and never see their favorite musicians live. When they do, the shows are often so scripted and choreographed, there is little actual relationship to experience. This takes another step down the line: even the physical appearance is recorded.

Why don’t we just leave the dead alone? Perhaps it will help us focus on the living, where it probably ought to be.

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