Thursday, March 29, 2007

Popcorn and Necrophilia

Okay, I admit it: I'm behind the curve on stuff. But I couldn't let the Orville Zombiebacher commercial go by me without at least some comment on how disturbing it was.

This is the state of the art for marketing in 2007: we can digitally recreate an advertising icon in necrophilic homage, but we can’t give him anything interesting to say. The recreation itself is entirely creepy: Orville’s head is too big, his fellow actors have the familiar “I have no idea what’s going on in the blue screen” look so common to CGI effects, and his skin color is not the proper tone for a living human.

It reminded me of the campy drawings from Monty Python in the 70s, where a cutout image of a Queen Victoria eats someone at the end of a sketch because they couldn’t think of any other way to end it. Quite frankly, the technology hasn’t advanced so much further, either.

Orville’s son (apparently) has no problem with this, saying that his dad would have thought it was cool. Orville was apparently on the cutting edge of corpse re-animation.

But is it really a good idea for us to allow digital recreations of people to stand in for their once-living counterparts? As digital recreations become better and better, it is entirely possible that one day we could recreate on film any person, in both voice and image, doing anything we please. This opens up whole new avenues of mischief.

Imagine Anna Nicole Smith and her son advertising for Bermuda: “it’s to die for!” Or OJ Simpson slashing mattress prices. Or Mahatma Ghandi for PETA saying that if you eat animals, your soul will rot in hell for all eternity. We could expect to see Ronald Reagan pushing Alzheimer’s drugs and Bill Clinton selling condoms.

To go one step further, why not remake Casablanca with the original cast? Or better yet, pair up Humphrey Bogart and a hot new starlet for a remake? Or, if you wish, remake Casablance with the original cast, but throw in the nudity and bloodletting that the story (according to modern standards) truly demands? The day is not far off when this will be technically possible. And when the digitally-produced porno “Cockablanca” comes out, with Humphrey’s Bogart in a full-frontal shot, it’ll probably be too late to protest.

Tasteless? No more so than an episode of Fear Factor or Survivor. And this would appeal to the lowest common denominator, with the bonus of having an edgy “buzz” that Holywood just can’t resist.

Perhaps some of them would have even approved. But the point is this: without them to say yes or no, we cannot definitively judge. And what about those for whom no relevant estate can be found? Or those whose heirs disagree about the proper treatment of their legacy? If one heir of Martin Luther King wants to sell his likeness for the new “I have a dream of Pepsi” commercial, and the other doesn’t, then who is to say which is correct? What about foreigners, or those who have been dead for more than 100 years?

It would be best, of course, if filmmakers could refrain from such foolishness and truly be creative without having to resurrect the dead. But this would require risk, which most of them stridently avoid, and runs counter to the current tide of sequels and remakes. So we can expect to see a flood of deceased icons pushing this or that product, and starring in new roles and remakes. Some uses will be funny, and others will be inappropriate, and still others simply bizarre and disturbing like Orville in this commercial.

Don't think this could ever happen? Compare the album production of Tupac Shakur and Biggy Smalls pre- and post-mortem. Tupac's been dead a decade, but he's still cranking out albums. Why not do the same thing with dead celebrities as well?

Perhaps it’s time to make a blanket rule: no digitally creating the deceased and putting words in their mouths. If that strikes you as too restrictive, then perhaps all such use must require a big on-screen disclaimer: “DECEASED PERSON PORTRAYED DID NOT GIVE PESONAL CONSENT”, except in cases where the deceased did, in fact, give specific consent. It might not stop the tide, but it should at least put a damper on popcorn sales from a corpse.

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