Matson on Music
Hologram Tupac: not a good sign for humanity
Perhaps you heard about the Tupac hologram — the extremely lifelike 3-D animation of the slain-too-soon rapper, movie star and son of a Black Panther, shot in 1996 at age 25. The hologram performed at the Coachella music festival over the weekend in California with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg as if it were a real person. Recorded on YouTube you can see it was an interactive scene, with shouts from pre-programmed Tupac to hundreds of thousands of people in the audience who cheered back, crazy about seeing all three rappers together again, as they once were. It worked just like real life, not at all like those joke answering machine messages where the recording pretends to talk to you and you respond back like an idiot. It was a mindblowing thing to pull on the public because Tupac is rap's Elvis. Both artists have cult followings who swear they never died.
Now there is talk of a tour, and rumblings about Hologram Tupac foretelling a trend in live music performance in general: "back from the dead." Entertainment media is atwitter about what it all means.
And loathe as I am to jump on this buzzy music story with a Very Important Opinion, I have a few.
First, I agree with my friend Larry Mizell, Jr., who points out (in these blog comments) Tupac wasn't on good terms with Dre and Snoop when he died and called the hologram "disgusting." The existence of Hologram Tupac shows utter lack of respect for the concept "rest in peace," which I believe people should be allowed to do. I grew up when all three rappers had West Coast gangsta rap hits on the radio, and defined a big chunk of that era's pop culture. Mainstream crossover gangsta rap partially raised me. And so I know all too well what Larry is saying, how it started out lovely with the rappers appearing on each others' songs and hanging out at the same pool parties and eventually got ugly, as they fell to dissing each other for various reasons. Has the rest of the world forgotten?
Then there are two other levels.
First, the business of this hologram as a revolutionary technology in live music performance. I'm not buying it. There have been very few new audio/visual platforms created in history that really mattered. The most recent game-changer is the digital audio file, transmitted wirelessly. It is a real revolution. Look at the music industry collapse due to downloading. Other than that, we haven't created any new way to deliver music since the CD, though we have engineered sideways shifts across platforms that feel revolutionary — the opera at the movie theater, for instance — but in fact are not. They repurpose old technology in new ways. Which can be great. That's what Hologram Tupac is, to me. In this case, it is in poor taste. But in general the technology is amoral and exciting or not depending on usage.
But the real reason I'm writing this post: Hologram Tupac terrifyingly signals the end of time. It is technology killing time. We had already lost space to cell phones and social media and geotagging — the whole grid we are never off, always on. And now we know what the end of the world is like, for sure.
Our surely coming sci-fi dystopia is the end of physical transience and the beginning of a world of images, everlasting so long as there is a power source and at least one programmer — and at some point that programmer will not be needed.
Think about it.