Can we let Tupac Shakur rest in peace again now?
Dr. Dre’s non-denial denial yesterday that the Tupac Shakur hologram (or 2D image) was created solely for Coachella and not for a tour continues to bring lingering thoughts on what technology means when it comes to raising the dead.
As you know, the legendary rapper, who died in 1996, made projected appearances at both Snoop Dogg/Dr. Dre shows at the festival--on April 15 and April 22. The April 15 appearance, which started with Tupac greeting the Coachella attendees, was the resounding water cooler moment at the fest this year.
I wasn’t at the shows, but the videos I’ve seen are rather gruesome to me. As thrilled and excited as many people seemed to be to be “seeing” Tupac in concert, I wonder if they realized that the creative image, as technologically innovative and brilliant as it was, represents Tupac’s spirit as much as if I hold up a Tupac mask to my face and pretend to be him. It’s a hollow representation (though an incredible looking one).
What happens next? Dr. Dre said in a video “This was not done for a tour,” but then later added “it a tour happens, we’ll see.” That certainly leaves the door open for a tour if they are can figure out all the legal details.
And those can be considerable. As entertainment attorney Don Passman said in an interview with Billboard last week, the image is copyrighted by whomever owns Tupac’s likeness (which I believe is his mother). If you bring in his music and sound recordings, his label may still own those rights. Passman also brings up the point that the Coachella usage is different from past examples because Tupac’s likeness was manipulated into something new.
So what happens next? And is it morally and ethically okay to use someone’s image in a way that they may have never thought of and signed off on after they are gone?
As the Billboard piece points out, Will.I.Am appeared on CNN during election night as a hologram, but he is still very much alive. The bigger question, whether it is a hologram or some other manipulation of a celebrity’s image, is where do you draw the line? As pundits have theorized ever since Tupac came back from the dead last week, would it be possible to take him on tour as this creation?
I have no doubt that it is possible, but the whole idea is chilling and creepy. There is no shortage of Tupac material that has come out after his death: in fact, way more albums have come out posthumously than when he was alive...but they were created, at least in part, by him. Are we so desperate for entertainment from our beloved past heroes that we will accept them in any way? Like 2D clones?
If you’re an artist/celebrity and you want to remain dead once you are truly gone, what now? Do you have to stipulate in your will that whomever controls your estate cannot use your likeness in ways that we can’t even think of yet? We have no idea if Tupac wanted to be exploited in this way. I doubt he cares, but where do you draw the line?
Should the Beach Boys, who are heading out on their 50th anniversary tour, add holograms of Carl and Dennis Wilson into the act? As if they are there on stage with Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine, who are still flesh and blood? Will the Doors be touring with Jim Morrison soon?
The ramifications go far beyond touring, of course. Years ago, footage of Fred Astaire was manipulated for a Dirt Devil commercial that featured the dancing legend twirling with a vacuum. Just as advertisers know that a familiar song sells product, so will a seeming “endorsement” by the image of a celebrity who may not have even been around when the product was created.
We’re all spirits in the material world, but this seems to be taking it all too far. At what point do we let the dead rest in peace?
What do you think of Tupac’s resurrection?