By Mark Jefferson (Ph.D. Student, Emory University)
From a Christian perspective, death, in a grammatical sense, is not a period but a comma. It is not the culmination of one’s life but a transitory event. Pop culture, conversely, wrestles with the notion of death, particularly its finality, especially when considering the death of one of its heroes. Mortals always seek to transcend and transgress the certain and permanent grip of death.
At the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog resurrected slain pop culture and hip hop legend, Tupac Shakur, to perform live onstage (as a hologram or something like it) for a surprised and captivated audience (see the performance here). Tupac is a hero whose death caused millions to think about death and the traumatic interruption of creative genius. I, like many others, often think about the limitless possibilities Tupac had yet to explore. After his murder fifteen years ago, there were (and still are) people who did not believe he had died. Now, technology allows people to frame their own history and contemporary interpretation of the legendary hip hop artist. The popularity of this supposedly singular event, coupled with plans for a similar “resurrection” of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Pressley, only further enhance this issue.
The use of holograms to re-imagine and canonize our dead heroes demonstrates our desire to frame history. We are able to remember the figure in ways that are suitable and profitable to the marketplace. This frozen projection of a figure may help some connect to a figure with whom they were unfamiliar, but it may also truncate the figure’s complex legacy or decontextualize that person, potentially leading to an artistic misinterpretation.
Our desire to redefine the powers of death and use technology to equalize the natural attrition of cultural memory places us in interesting territory. Humans have always longed for immortality, whether it be in this life or the next. Perhaps we can conceive of the creation of these incorporeal holograms as an attempt to condense the past and present into an eternal now in which our favorite artists provide soundtracks and live performances for our embodied struggles.