All eyes were turned to the Coachella Music Festival this April. As fans cheered from the crowd, a figure rose from the darkness, someone who changed the face of rap music, even after his tragic death 16 years ago. Tupac Shakur took center stage, along with Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre in a miraculous reunion. And by miraculous, I mean assisted by technology. Tupac was digitally projected onto the stage for this performance. And what I cannot understand is of all his devoted fans, who claim to respect his ideals and message, why so few of them are pissed off.
Look, I understand it’s hard to lose a person who meant so much to a scene. Shakur’s writing was not the “bitches and hoes” sort of rap that’s so popular today. His work revolved heavily around inner city violence, oppression and social class. And he was shot down in his prime. It truly was a tragedy. But instead of grasping at any conceivable way to relive our time with this artist, what we really should be asking ourselves is, “Would he really have wanted this?”
The precedent for digital music and pop stars has already been set. Here in the States the Gorillaz are a totally animated group of characters, and they have been extremely successful. And inAsia, the Vocaloid trend has spread like wildfire. Completely digital pop stars like Hatsune Miku have reached the top of the charts, rivaling real artists in popularity. But the difference is these are original characters. The companies that create them own them outright, hence whatever they say, do, or endorse is up to that company. But it’s different- excuse me- it should be different when it comes to a human being.
It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement, but we all need to remember- this isn’t actually Tupac Shakur. It’s not his body, and more importantly, it’s not his mind. Whatever this projection is programmed to say is determined by the organization that owns the rights to his work. This isn’t the first time a celebrity has been dug up to dance for cameras either. Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, and James Cagney have all been wrenched from the grave to endorse causes and products.
So let’s cut the crap and call this what it really is: exploitation. You take an extremely popular product (Tupac) with the addition of scarcity (can’t get much scarcer than dead) and what you end up with is customer demand. But just because you can profit from something doesn’t mean you should. And as consumers, we need to remember that just because we want something doesn’t mean we should have it. Do I want to see Bruce Lee in a new Kung Fu movie? Hell yeah. Does that mean a corporation should dig up his corpse and parade him around like a marionette for the cameras? No, of course not. Because Bruce Lee is not alive to give his consent. And when consent can’t be given, things can get mighty unethical. What’s to stop record labels and businesses from using these digital zombies to sell their products? Does Tupac prefer Coke or Pepsi? The answer is neither, he’s dead damn it. Which presidential campaign would Aaliyah endorse? Or James Dean or Elvis Presley? You may think they wouldn’t go that far, but I honestly never thought a label could be so disrespectful as to digitally recreate an artist who had died. And yet here we are. We’ve taken a step into the future and are born anew into a world where this type of exploitation will become commonplace- if we allow it. So where does the newborn go from here?