It’s the second weekend of Coachella 2012. Since the Pixies reunion in 2004, Coachella’s big press opportunity each year has been a high profile band reunion. In 2012, I’m most disgustingly jealous of everyone who heads over to see Refused and At The Drive In.
Last weekend however, the spotlight was stolen by Tupac Shakur’s guest spot during Snoop Dogg’s set. I can’t even count the number of times the video showed up in my Facebook and Twitter feed with some sort of “AWESOME BRO!” comment.
The animation was incredible. Appearing perfectly three-dimensional, perfectly to scale and performing a perfect montage of his greatest hits, Tupac’s performance was the creepiest, most disrespectful musical performances I’ve ever seen.
What really bothers me is that Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg took it upon themselves to have a human being re-animated. And, what’s worse, they put words in his mouth! Tupac was killed 3 years before the first Coachella festival, and yet in 2012 he took the stage exclaiming, “What the fuck is up, Coachella!” The vocal line and animation was not a projection of a past performance. It was a complete fabrication.
Most disturbing to me, is that the general public is eating this up. Has anyone stopped to consider that Tupac isn’t a character? He was a human being with a consciousness of his own. The “Tupac” performance was such a hit, that it’s now been suggested that we’re going to see “Michael Jackson” go on tour.
If my grandmother is ever brought back from grave with someone else’s words coming out of her mouth, I’m going to be pissed. Does celebrity mean that one loses the right to rest in peace? What do you think?
One Reply to “Now Hear This: R.I.P. Or, You Know…Don’t.”
I don’t really see the difference between this and painted, printed, or glass-blown images depicting Jesus exiting his tomb (or doing anything else he probably didn’t do). I think the illusory notion that photography somehow captures the truth of our past (whereas painting is the factitious product of authorial imagination) is falling away in the age of digital photography and manipulation.
While it is true that Tupac was a conscious, individual person (a term that doesn’t have a universal, trans-historical meaning), it is also true that, in this, the age of the spectacle, he *was* a “character” as well…and, to be honest, in our times of social mediation (e.g Facebook), aren’t we all mediated characters to some extent? Sure, we can claim that we have control over our own image (to a degree) insofar as we exercise editorial control over the mediated expression of ourselves (and choose, also, our audience – i.e. “friends” – a term,like “person,” that clearly doesn’t have a stable meaning or referent). But once a person dies, all those photographs, status updates, bank statements, credit card bills, personal collections,etc. remain for the reconstruction of that person as it suits the needs of the living (and there will be many among them, all with different memories, agendas, etc.). Now, most of the departed won’t be turned into a hologram and used to sell products, but how they are remembered won’t be any truer than the way the dead person thought of him or herself. So, the argument that *this* Tupac isn’t the real Tupac isn’t very persuasive, and while I feel a really good discussion can be had over the idea of “ownership” of a “person’s image,” and that we should be sensitive to, and critical of, the “image” and its power, I don’t think the most pressing danger is in the fabrication of a false past – that danger (or privilege) has always been with us.
Rather, in a time where photographs are extremely cheap, open to immediate duplication and distribution, and more malleable than ever before, I think the danger is that our belief in their power has been destabilized enough that we are capable of choosing what to believe and what not to believe about them. It sounds fine, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s very nice to be aware that you’re being lied to and all of that. But the awareness of this truth has strong disadvantages as well. It gives us the power to “rationally” reject true events (e.g, traumatic events or acts of atrocity) and the recordings thereof by allowing us to claim that the images have been altered, transformed, or taken out of context to suit a particular agenda. It’s not the belief in the image that we need to fear. It’s the growing disbelief in the image that gives the image (or its handlers and detractors) a new and sinister power.
The problem of ownership of one’s image after one has died is made all the more problematic by the tricky nature of ownership over one’s image while one is alive. Do we actually believe we own our image? And what do we mean by image? Is it only a problem if that image is being used to sell something we don’t endorse and don’t profit from, or is it a problem of ethics (and perhaps even metaphysics)? It is worth remembering that, in the surveillance culture we live in, we are photographed all the time without even knowing it.
As a way of concluding: I was forced to “give” my fingerprint for scanning upon entering the USA, and I was forced by my own government (Canada) to give them a photograph and signature in order to get a passport, a document of my identity – proof of personhood and nationality. Given the realities of the current state of affairs, what kind of ownership do I have of my “image”? And what kind of “person” am I, if the foundation of my legal identity is determined by the state?