The recent performance by a “resurrected” holographic Tupac Shakur at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California has spurred mostly to be expected responses. From astonishment and adulation at the believability of “holographic” technology (which turned out to be non-holographic), to the glorification and evolution of the Tupac Shakur image into a cult of personality, to those who questioned the morality or ethical nature of using the representation of a dead person to endorse the festival. Even Afeni Shakur (according to TMZ), reportedly was thrilled with her son’s performance. I feel like there is some misquoting here, because as we all know that was not her “son.”
All of these reactions are to be expected of our first experience of spectacle. However, since I am always on the lookout for examples of how the Black body is represented through speculative images, stories and technologies, my first reaction was a little different. Immediately I was reminded of George Lucas’ first feature film, THX 1138, wherein in this future, humanity lives underground in a drugged dulled, monotonously worked, sexually repressed state while being constantly watched and disciplined by human manufactured, robotic policemen. This dystopian society is also void of non-white people and this point is accentuated by the fact that the only representations of Black people, for example, are through various television images that serve only as sexual images, monotonous information prognosticators and comedic relief – in the style of Amos ‘n Andy. The other almost lifelike image of Black life is a being who thinks he is part of the society but in actuality is a hologram run awry.
In this light, I am more critical of Tupac’s “holographic” resurrection performance and what it says about representations of the Black body in America. Our bodies were brought here under control and through violence, customs and the law, have been kept constantly under control, and now even in death, are still under control by those with the money and power.
Maybe Mr. Chuck D of Public Enemy said it best, “When black people are Alive they are considered a threat, when dead you can direct them like puppets. We know PAC would’ve raised heLL…”