So if you haven’t heard [I hadn't until yesterday], there was a hologram of Tupac that performed at Coachella.
And yeah, yeah, we know it wasn’t actually a hologram now, that it was some mirror-projection-onto-glass-thing-that-the-Wall-Street-Journal-explains-better-than-I-could. And we know that there are rumors of a tour of this faux-Tupac, and people are alternately asking when Kurt Cobain will show up and decrying the monstrous zombie-raising performance.
The thing is, you could argue that the hologram/projection isn’t much different from showing videos and voice recordings of the dead. When that technology was new, I imagine people thought it pretty eerie that they could see their loved ones move and breathe and speak on a screen.
But the thing about the performance that makes it different from just a new way of looking at recordings of dead people is the new content. The animation of Tupac, at the beginning of his act, shouted “What’s the f*** up, Coachella?”. The choreography of his performance wasn’t just a recording – the people who animated him studied the way he moved, but they controlled his body and created something new. In a sense, Tupac was performing new material.
The Illusion of Interaction
And this is the real issue – not just the commemoration of the dead. We’ve been recalling the dead, through art and technology, as accurately as we can for as long as humans have been dying. But the faux-Tupac isn’t just a 21st century version of an Egyptian sarcophagus mask. What they wanted to create with the Tupac animation – which is why the fact that it was in front of a live audience was such a big deal – was the sense that Tupac was interacting with Snoop Dogg and the audience, just as a real live performer would.
This is about creating an illusion of interaction, and while a scripted interaction with an animation might be actually quite close to the way concerts can be formalized and scripted (like pro wrestling), it’s still just an illusion.
One of the weirder things though, for me, was the age discrepancy between Snoop Dogg and Animated Tupac. Snoop Dogg is 40, and has grey hair. When Tupac died in 1996, Snoop Dogg was like 25. Tupac, who was shown as a young, shirtless 20-something, would be turning 41 this year if he were still alive, and might not look as good as his hologram did in white sweatpants.
The juxtaposition of digitally-embalmed washboard-ab Tupac and 40-year-old greying Snoop Dogg was probably the most eerie element of the whole performance.
If this trend continues, I think the problem is the illusion of interaction. The essence of human existence is interaction – it’s why we still feel a little weird hearing about guys dating digital AIs, and why the most popular games are the ones that allow you to play on the internet with others. Interaction with humans, illogical and annoying as we are, can’t quite be simulated. And judging from Snoop Dogg’s awkward performance with faux-Tupac, our interactions with the digitally animated dead will always fall a little short of the real thing.