In case you're not as hip to the cutting edge of pop culture like us deal-a-day website copywriters, you might not have heard that Tupac Shakur, one of the most famous rappers of all time, made his grand return to the stage at last weekend's Coachella festival. It was his first appearance since 1996.
Because that's when he died.
But that didn't stop someone from constructing a pretty-realistic-looking hologram and trotting it out on the stage, marionette style, to rap alongside Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Here's the video, but in case you live under a rock, any video with Tupac, Dre, and/or Snoop is certainly NSFW:
People have reacted, overall, pretty positively. Despite the weird Neo/Messiah disappearing trick at the end, and the fact that they basically marched out a dead man to make him dance on command for their own entertainment. So why is this so gross to me?
"Hey, what about his albums and videos and whatnot?" you might say, "is it wrong to enjoy those now that he's gone? Is it morbid to pop in a Beatles CD since half of them are dead and unable to defend themselves?" Well, no. See, those things were made for the specific purpose of mass consumption. John Lennon meant for as many people as possible to hear that music when he made it; ditto for Tupac. But is it as acceptable to take a dead person's music and use it to sell shoes, cars, clothes, or electronics? It happens all the time, but it's still kind of skeezy to me.
The issue at heart, I think, is consent. Albums, music videos, posters, books, whatever someone creates and releases to the public was obviously meant to be discovered and enjoyed. Obviously we shouldn't put away our Elvis records in solemn memorial; Elvis would probably be thrilled to learn he's still a cultural icon. And the "songs in commercials" bit is icky to me, but one could make the argument that some tracks just transcend to a level of permanent relevance. They become part of the zeitgeist; they're part of the shared culture because they're so widespread that everyone knows the tune. And again, if everything's above board then someone - the artist, the artist's estate, or whoever now holds the rights - had to give permission and judge the use to be worth it.
But making a dead man sing and dance on stage 16 years after he's gone? That's gross to me.
Maybe Tupac was extremely ahead of his time and anticipated not only this technology but his tragic, untimely death. Maybe somewhere there's a contract with his signature that states, "make me a hologram." But I doubt it. And I'll give the people who did this the benefit of the doubt and assume they did this to honor a talented artist and friend and it's totally not a money-making scheme, but it raises some interesting points. Now that he's on a hard drive, how hard would it be do procure my own Tupac and take him on tour? What's to stop any act with the money from renting out digital Tupac and making him collaborate on their latest funk/folk/ska project? This isn't exactly Natalie Cole singing with her dad; this is approaching some Revelation Space Alpha Level Simulation stuff.
What do you think? Would you pay money to go see hologram Jimi Hendrix or take in a set from hologram Bill Hicks? Or is this too far over the line?