Shaidle Unchained

No Peace in the Uncanny Valley

January 10, 2017

One need only look up at the ceiling of the Capitol Rotunda, and recoil at the sight of George Washington being assumed into heaven like the Virgin Mary in drag, to realize that America’s febrile relationship with the “great” has long required twisting certain men and women, without their consent, into self-indulgent talismans and salable souvenirs.

(As a matter of fact, the Founding Fathers devoted considerable attention to the subject, indeed to the “problem,” of Fame, but the first president, of all people—that would-be Cincinnatus—surely would have been appalled by Brumidi’s popish confection.)

We’re told that we can judge a society by how it treats its animals, and its prisoners, but what if we can judge it, too, by how it treats its celebrities (who are, in some respects, a hybrid of both)? The modern famous are, paradoxically, rare and ubiquitous. There has only been and ever will be one Sinatra, one Marilyn—and yet there they are, too, over on that shower curtain, and this cookie jar, revered banalities.

To staunch this eventuality, some celebrities have wisely arranged their estates to prevent posthumous commodification and “cyberslavery”; Robin Williams thought to block “anyone from digitally inserting him into a movie or TV scene or using a hologram, as was done with rapper Tupac Shakur at Southern California’s Coachella music festival in 2012—16 years after his murder.”

Would that others had done likewise. (I’m looking at you, Joe Strummer—but note: A mere 10 years ago, this sick campaign cost Saatchi its Doc Martens account, and they weren’t even legally in the wrong. Would the same happen today?)

But it’s disconcerting that human beings have to undertake such rearguard measures at all.

And I fear that, when it comes to those dueling outer-space sagas, Star Trek will let me down in this regard. Leonard Nimoy was, arguably, even more iconic and beloved than Fisher, and his Spock character (as “Spock Prime”—don’t ask) featured prominently in the reboots that I like to call Star Trek Babies. When Nimoy died in 2015, so did his character. (Yes, again. I know.)

I regretfully suspect that, in the alleged interest of “fan service,” the actor might be digitally revived in the future. The same profound affection Trekkers feel for Spock/Nimoy, that will make them initially recoil at the very idea, might also render their yearning to see him one last time hard to resist.

Then there is poor Anton Yelchin. The impish 27-year-old actor who portrayed young Chekov in the reboot died in a heartbreakingly stupid accident after shooting the third film in the series. And like the other “crew” members, he did sign a five-picture deal…

There is it, then: the billions of box office and merchandise dollars at stake, spanning both legacy properties. Exhibit A: Disney—being Disney—had taken out an insurance policy on Carrie Fisher through Lloyd’s of London, triggered to pay out in the event that she was “unable to fulfill her three-film [Star Wars] contract.” That awful eventuality having occurred, Disney will be collecting a check for $50 million.

So, much faster than this very peculiar metamorphosis normally takes, Fisher joined that elite league of celebrities, like Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, and James Dean, who turned out to be worth exponentially more dead than alive.

And we wonder why they all take drugs.

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