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Day 05.16.2012, 7:07am

Manufactured Reality : The New Reality?

Tupac Shakur came back from the dead for the first Coachella Valley Music & Arts festival to the joy and amazement of the festival-goers – and the wider public by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.

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This digital resurrection was actually brought to festival-goers by sophisticated CGI and projection technology of the Digital Domain Media Group. The intent of bringing back Tupac seemed to be driven by many motivations : to use the brand equity of an extreme rap figure, to set a certain tone and association for the festival, and to provide an amazing spectacle that would generate buzz and value to the endeavor.

The media’s reaction intensified the meaning of the event, by asking is this ethical on one hand to how did they do that? on the other. Public events and controversy is nothing new. When we go to an event, there is what we think we will experience and what actually happens. Think about the game show investigations in the 1950s that highlighted contestants being fed answers. Think about in more recent times when milli-vanilli were caught lip syncing on stage at their concerts and their 1990 Grammy was taken back. Events are a type of contract : ticket holders expect an authentic event, and when this authenticity is put in question, then the contract is broken.

In the case of the Tupac resurrection, this was a surprise and delighted ticket holders. Inadvertently, this act raised serious questions of authenticity, use of manufactured celebrity, and what defines reality. In a culture being more and more defined by media and mediums, society is facing sincere questions of authenticity and reality when the medium becomes the driving force for engagement.

Already, Snoop and Dre are reportedly thinking about taking the Tupac hologram out on tour. James Montgomery from the Digital Domain Media Group weighed in by saying Once this becomes a little less cost prohibitive, given the wild popularity of deceased stars like Elvis or Michael Jackson, I can see Las Vegas shelling out a lot of money to have these sort of ‘live reviews.’ This means that any historical documentation of dead celebrities can be repurposed to create a seamless experience for contemporary consumption.

Simon Coronel, a magician discussed the art of deception through illusion and the power it has in affecting the mind to both struggle and be pleased with experiencing the impossible. The combination of sleight of hand through dexterity & misdirection by using distraction for critical moments create the impossible. No matter how perceptive you are, you still fall for the illusion in front of you.

In the case of Tupac, the sleight of hand was the use of holographic technology and the distraction was the seamless speech Tupac gave inserting the name of the festival and talking directly to Snoop and Dr. Dre. Everyone knew this was impossible, but bought into the experience.

With the Tupac resurrection, will media personalities have to put in their wills that their moving images cannot be manufactured – or have to be done with the approval of the estate? For example, Fred Astaire’s movie clips were repurposed to seamlessly integrate a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner. His widow, Robyn Astaire, the guardian of her husband’s image licensed Astaire’s image for Dirt Devil and defended herself, saying she was doing only what Fred would have wanted. I’ve had to deplete much of my financial security over the years to prosecute infringers she has said. I just feel Fred would have wanted me to do these commercials.

But what about for live events? It is not deceptive advertising to publicize a concert with Johnny Cash, as everyone knows he is dead. As long as the estate sanctions it, these events will not be breaking the law. However, if James Montgomery is right and the technology to reanimate dead celebrities becomes commoditized, then what will be the meaning and value of these manufactured realities?

Society today is much more accepting of manufactured reality because for the very reason that the amount of media we are consuming on a daily basis is already manufactured to varying degrees. From people pretending to be something they are not, to using digital aviators as equivalents to themselves, to images being photo manipulated and presented as authentic, to reality TV which is continually remanufactured depending on the response from the audience. These trends are redefining the ingredients and definitions of reality.

Interestingly, the craving for authentic is on the rise – possibly out of a reaction to these trends. Many are using the term authentic to imply trustworthy, real, genuine – not processed. There are parallels to food and food production where certain markets want to have food as unaltered as possible. When characters on Star Trek use the holideck to go to places they crave for, this synthetic reality is a way to use character’s experience as a time of reflection, or to provide them with experiences they never could draw from. Maybe in the future there will be two tiers of transaction for the public. Authentic experiences that have not been processed, and manufactured experiences that have been art directed and are synthetic.

Bette Davis, had it right when in the movie All About Eve, Margo Channing said “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”