The perils of smoke-and-mirrors illusion in the 21st century

[From; details regarding the WA|HH Quantum Sensations ‘drunk’ spray are available at Gizmodo; see LBBOnline for more on the Mariah Carey holographic appearances]

Chitra Ramaswamy: Virtual reality, but not quite

Published on Sunday 24 June 2012

Life, eh? Just when you think things can’t get any sillier than a £16 spray that simulates the feeling of being drunk when sprayed down one’s gullible gullet (note: this is not a joke), you discover that being dead is no longer an obstacle to, well, living.

Or at least making money. I’m talking about holograms, people. Not the kind you find on a credit card, in Star Wars or in one of those creepy pictures that make the Queen’s eyes open and close. No, those are the mere Kardashians of holography compared to the souped-up, sexy, swaggering, superstar holograms that I’m talking about.

This lot can sing to you, strut for you, throw furniture from hotel bedroom windows for you. They could probably even mix a drink for you, if you hadn’t already traded in alcohol for a small gadget that blows the happiness from life with each sanitised spray.

You may remember that, back in April, a surprise guest took to the stage at Coachella music festival to perform with Snoop Dogg. Surprise as in it was Tupac, who was shot dead in 1996. Yet, here he was, raised from the dead for one night only, thanks to some incomprehensible combination of new and Victorian technology. The same thing happened with Mariah Carey, who cunningly managed to appear in four cities simultaneously for a Christmas concert. Since, like a zombie pastiche directed by Simon Pegg, the rock stars just keep on resurrecting, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Jim Morrison, Marilyn Monroe… all of them could apparently be coming to a stadium near you – once the pesky small print surrounding matters of life and death has been sorted.

So this is what smoke-and-mirrors in the 21st century looks like. It’s like going behind the curtain in Oz and seeing the wizard is actually a wizened old tyke called Simon Cowell. After all those years of bullied kids with crazed looks in their eyes belting out ballads on telly and celebrities with crazed looks in their eyes eating bugs in the jungle, we have decided to respond, not by a return to the real, but by dispatching with reality altogether.

I, for one, find this disturbing. After all, not being able to tell the difference between appearance and reality is the first sign of madness. Don’t get me wrong. I regret not seeing Judy Garland do Carnegie Hall as much as the next person. But I’m not sure seeing a £250,000 hologram of Judy surrounded by a mass of hysterical fans brandishing lighter apps on their phones and posting images online is going to scratch that particular itch. Because, you know, she’s not really there.

And think where it could go next? Holograms of politicians? (Yes, I hear you – would we even be able to tell?) Holograms of extinct animals? Holograms of mourned relatives and missed pets? Holograms of Jane Austen in Charlotte Square, and Dickens at the Assembly Rooms? A hologram of Madonna’s proud nipple at Murrayfield?

I get it. We live in hi-tech times. We’ve got sophisticated minds. We can tell the difference between Angry Birds and an actual bird. And I know the music industry needs to find new ways to make millions from its stars, dead and alive. But is anyone else out there getting the feeling that someone is having a laugh (and making a packet) at our expense here? Whatever happened to just pressing play on the stereo, closing your eyes, and using your imagination? There’s no hologram for that.


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