You see? This is what I'm talking about.
Freddie Mercury died in 1991. Then he was in the Olympics Closing Ceremony this week. Depending on which account you read, this is presented variously from, "A video played," or "The segment started with old footage," to "Freddie Mercury's hologram 'duets' with Jessie J." Some people expressed relief Mercury didn't go the Tupac hologram route (which, regular readers will recall, wasn't really a hologram either). Others offered seemingly unquestioningly and unproblematically that Mercury fronted for his band Queen at the Olympics this week and led the crowd in song.
Here, so long as Youtube doesn't take it down, is the video:
I have questions. And, as good luck would have it, answers.
Q: What is the difference between this (or Tupac) and going to a movie?
A: Audience participation. He called; they responded.
Q: Okay then, what's the difference between this (or Tupac) and a singalong screening of The Sound of Music or The Rocky Horror Picture Show?
A: In those movies, actors are playing parts. Here, Freddie is really Freddie.
Q: So it's a film but of something real. Like during Shark Week?
A: No because it's live.
Q: No it isn't. Freddie's dead.
A: Yes, but the audience is both alive and live. Living, sure, but more importantly present. Witnessing the event, live. Participating in it.
Q: So, like a play?
A: No, because in that case we have actors playing roles again. And also, probably, those actors are alive.
Q: Okay, then let me ask this question: what, practically speaking, is the difference between an alive-Freddie Mercury performing at the Olympics and a dead-Freddie Mercury performing at the Olympics?
A: You see a projection rather than a person.
Q: Not really. Either way, aren't you watching him on the jumbotron?
A: Yes, but you see a little tiny mini him down front, depending on how good your seats are.
Q: Yeah, but you still see that little tiny mini him down front. It's just not really him. You'd have to know to know though.
Yeah, hmm. My question is less: isn't Freddie Mercury just archive footage at that point? And more: isn't Freddie Mercury just as real as alive at that point? Why do we need to be present/alive to exist, perform, and even interact with the living?
I hope that doesn't sound bleak for I mean it exuberantly. My point is simply this: so very much of us does exist in electronic archive, far far more of us than of poor pre-tech-boom, pre-social-media Freddie. The difference between actual us and that archive is, I suspect, stranger and weaker than we imagine.
Maybe I will repost this after the book is out so that the overlaps here will blow your mind as much as they blow mine (i.e. after you have -- I hope I hope -- read the book), but this just happened, so now seems a good time to write about it. As you maybe heard, last week at the Coachella music festival, rapper Tupac Shakur made a surprise onstage appearance and gave a stirring, provocative performance. This was especially stunning since he was shot to death fifteen years ago.
The ways in which this blows my mind are numerous. For starters, it wasn't, as you'd at first assume, archived footage -- that is, the audience was not just watching a cleverly projected film of a previous performance. Digital Domain, the company responsible for the image, promises, "This is not found footage. This is not archival footage. This is an illusion." Note the boast here: it's not real; it's an illusion. It seems more and more like what impresses us as a society is not what's real but what isn't real.
The projection technology, meanwhile, the technology that makes this look so real and so believable, is decidedly low tech, shockingly low tech in fact. The Tupac appearance was quickly dubbed a hologram which just as quickly caused a zillion people to post online about how in fact it was 2-D whereas a hologram is in fact 3-D. This turns out to be smoke and mirrors, well, mostly mirrors actually. It's projected on mylar so one can both see it and seethrough it so that Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg can appear live and rap with Tupac, and you see all of them. I was thinking of Disney's Mary Poppins (1964) where Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke interact with animated animals. I was off. By a hundred years. In 1862, this same essential technology was used to dramatize a Dickens novella.Charles Dickens. 1862.
Now they're talking about a tour. My question is this: is that a technological miracle, a resurrection, the chance for a whole new generation of fans to see a performer there was seemingly no chance they ever would? Or is it going to the movies?
1) This technology: so unfathomably impressive and advanced, it seems the stuff of science fiction
2) This technology: so old, it was first used by the Victorians
3) This technology: so mundane, it's essentially a movie
Charles Dickens: Dead. But real.
About The Author
Laurie Frankel writes novels (reads novels, teaches other people to write novels, raises a small person who reads and would like someday to write novels) in Seattle, Washington where she lives on a nearly vertical hill from which she can watch three different bridges while she's staring out her windows between words. She's originally from Maryland and makes good soup.