This past weekend, the entertainment industry sunk to a new low, and was met with thunderous applause.
In the drug-induced haze of the Coachella Music Festival, long-dead rapper Tupac Shakur made a surprise appearance, thanks to the good folks at Digital Domain and AV Concepts, who projected the man onto a transparent screen. Seemingly three-dimensional, and fully articulate, Tupac performed some of his greatest hits, much to the pleasure of concert-goers in Indio, California.
Had the performance been a projection of one of Tupac's past concerts, all would have been well. That, after all, would be no different than watching a video, albeit in a more refined, advanced form. But it was not. In fact, the entire performance was created, generated artificially, from the clothes Tupac was wearing, to his movements, right down to that shout-out "What the fuck is up, Coachella."
This is the 21st-century equivalent of going into a grave, unearthing a corpse, attaching bits of string to its limbs, and manipulating it like a marionette in front of a rabid audience, one frothing at the mouth too much to notice the sheer indecency of the spectacle.
But maybe the worst aspect of Dr Dre's latest raven-like search for money, was having his dead friend call out to those attending the concert. Tupac, shot dead in 1996, never saw the first incarnation of Coachella, which was in 1999, and as such, it is highly unlikely the rapper would ever have said those words.
But thanks to the marvels of modern technology, he has. And in an ethical blindness brought on by man's amazement at his own innovations, and the self-gratification at having been one of those, yes, those people who were there to witness the Second Coming, it seems to have been overlooked that words were put into someone's mouth. And of course, in the name of profit.
Dr. Dre claims this is not a one-off, that such technology will continue to be used. One can already imagine future concert tours, starring some of history's most loved and most missed artists. And there is nothing wrong with this, provided that we do not put words in their mouths. Of course, there could be no greater pleasure in hearing John Lennon say, "It's great to be back in Toronto," or for Beethoven to make a joke about how he would have loved to have Braille back in the day -- but these sorts of audience-pleasing tricks, beyond being slanderous from a legal perspective, would in fact sully the performer, his dignity, and his lingering legacy.
This type of technology, if used completely at the discretion of its manipulator, completely absolves the dead artist of his own voice. If putting words in someone's mouth is criminal, then what can be said about the individual not being able to remove them? What may very well come from this type of advancement is yet another way to turn, not only an artist's music, but his own self and voice, into a thankless cash-cow.
When we speak of the dead, we often use expressions such as "he would have wanted this," "she would have said this," but as a sign of respect and decency, we never assert such claims. We never, effectively, lie and say they did, merely because we, the living, think they would be likely to.
When one takes an assumption as a certainty, say, in the case of what a dead friend would have to say about a certain topic, he or she is effectively stripping the deceased of all independence and self-determination. And when such a thing is done in the name of "tribute," or what "he would have wanted," one is opening the floodgates to something far more disturbing than a mere concert performance.
If Tupac's mother giving the go-ahead to put words into her dead son's mouth is all it took, imagine what can be done with such technology, and such ethical blindness, in the future. From a marketing perspective, this is ingenious; using the dead to promote a message, or to say something, is not only an appeal to authority (we always assume those who preceded us to be wiser), but an appeal to emotion as well. What could prevent, say, anti-gun activists in the United States from using a hologram of Trayvon Martin in a TV spot -- urging viewers not to let what happened to him, happen to others? After all, one can assume that's what Martin would have wanted, so why not forgo doubt in favour of spreading an important message, even if the messenger never carried it to begin with?
When Tupac goes on tour with his beneficiaries, Dre and Snoop Dogg, members of the audience won't be watching the legendary rapper perform on stage; they'll be watching a marionette, a great man robbed of his voice, and his own decisions. Isn't such a manipulation something someone like Tupac would have fought against? Maybe, maybe not; but when there's even an inch of doubt when it comes to what the dead would have said about a particular issue, it is better to let them rest in peace, as opposed to sticking a hand up their backside, and playing ventriloquist.