Raising the Dead

Recently, when footage of a Whitney Houston hologram rocking out with Christina Aguilera on The Voice leaked online, the response was almost universally negative. “It’s not right and it’s not OK,” was the nearly-unanimous reaction.

For those of you who innocently believed that Houston’s performing days were over (given that she died in 2012), let us enlighten you about the latest Lazarus-like efforts by the entertainment industry (and dead celebrities’ families) to profit off of dead people: The Hologram!

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The company Hologram USA, which produced the subpar pixelated Whitney Houston, lists dozens of dead celebrities as available “Talent” on its website. Singers such as Judy Garland, Roy Orbison, and Patsy Cline and comedians like Bernie Mac and Andy Kaufman are all available for performances and commercial endorsements—because nothing says love and respect for a person’s artistic legacy like selling their image to hawk Dirt Devil vacuums (RIP Fred Astaire).

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But the public’s appetite for crass commercial exploitation of the celebrity dead might (thankfully) be waning. Thanks to Internet wrath over the Houston/Aguilera “duet,” which was supposed to air next week during The Voice’s season finale, the spot has been axed. Pat Houston, the executor of Whitney Houston’s estate (and Whitney’s sister-in-law and former manager), who had originally approved the cash grab—oops! I mean the “performance”—quickly tried to spin it as a quality control issue:

“Holograms are new technology that take time to perfect, and we believe with artists of this iconic caliber, it must be perfect. Whitney’s legacy and her devoted fans deserve perfection. After closely viewing the performance, we decided the hologram was not ready to air,” she said in a statement.

Right. The real problem here isn’t cravenly trying to profit off a dead celebrity; it’s that the dead celebrity didn’t look alive enough during her posthumous performance. As The Atlantic correctly noted, shouldn’t we be discussing whether or not this kind of thing is seemly? Before we’re overrun with dead celebrity holograms?  “Watching the scrapped Voice video that may or may not be circulating online, it’s hard not to feel deep dread about the day when this method is ‘perfected,’” the writer noted.

If you want to write a biography of a dead celebrity, go for it. Want to honor their talent? Buy their old records or movies. But don’t condemn them to a posthumous purgatory of shilling for corporations or reality TV shows.

As for Houston’s relatives, they should be made to watch this on an endless loop until they come to the realization that exploiting Whitney’s legacy via hologram isn’t the way to show their love and respect for her talent:

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