First Bob Monkhouse came back from the afterlife to discuss prostate cancer – the cruel disease that robbed us of a comedy genius in 2003.
Now ex-Beatle and more recently ex-alive John Lennon has been digitally resurrected for a new TV ad.
Lennon, who was shot dead by Mark Chapman in 1980, can be heard and seen in a 30-second ad on behalf of the One Laptop Per Child initiative.
The charity, founded in 2005, has the aim of delivering solar-powered computers to the world’s poorest children. Lennon apparently thought the cause strong enough to warrant returning from beyond the grave and give his support.
“Imagine every child, no matter where in the world they were, could access a universe of knowledge,” says Lennon, or a slightly high-pitched sound-alike.
“They would have a chance to learn, to dream, to achieve anything they want. I tried to do it through my music, but now you can do it in a very different way.”
It’s all very clever and delivers an important plea, but it makes me wonder where we are heading with dead celebrity endorsements.
At the moment they are restricted to charitable causes, but what if the corporate world follows suit. Like they do with anything else that is innovative, arresting and pure.
Then we might end up seeing icons of the past re-animating to solicit our favours towards such products as Sky, PlayStation, Daily Mail and Pot Noodles. Being the talents they were, they could do this effortlessly while at the same time spinning violently in their graves.
In fact it’s already happened. Ford put the late Steve McQueen into a Ford Puma years ago in a pastiche of Bullet.
The key difference is in the relationship between sentiment and message. Those embarking upon media necromancy should pause to consider their intentions and the likelihood that the actor, singer or whatever, would have willingly lent his support had they been alive today.
Yoko must think her husband would have approved of the One Laptop Per Child initiative to sanction the use of his memory in such a way. He was, again, trying to help the world.
But I don’t reckon McQueen would have liked to have had his reputation for cool sullied by driving a common old thing like a Ford. The irony is, he WOULD be seen dead in one of their cars.
Ford were cynically exploiting a legend for commercial gain. Nothing more, nothing less. A lot of stars do adverts for goods they’ed never touch in a million years, but we know it’s just work and a means of ptting bread on the antique dining table.
But when the flesh has departed and all you are left with is an icon holding together lots of ideas, it’s harder to seperate the man from message. New connections form and McQueen doesn’t get a say. His character – or at least the one he wished to present to the world – becomes slightly debased.
So you should really have the star’s probable empathy before commencing.
If you have that, then the message doesn’t really matter. If you don’t have that, it can lead to the most offensive kitsch.
Imagine Elvis with a Whopper in his hand. ‘In life I was the King, but even I bow down to to Burger King’. Takes bite of burger. ‘Mmmm-mmm, better than squirrel pie. The King is dead, long live Burger King. Thank-you very much.’
Or Marilyn Monroe with her dress being blown up by the breeze from a New York subway in The Seven Year Itch. ‘Thanks to Bodyform I have the confidence to go out and live my life,’ she coos, before the wailing yet sassy jingle kicks in. ‘Whooooaaaa BODYFORM…’
You could even end up with the opposite. Nefarious characters from history redeeming their former indiscretions with the right endorsements.
‘Just two pounds a week will give this child the gift of life. A gift I never really appreciated until now. Seeing the hardhips families face on a daily basis in a land ravaged by war and famine makes me realise that being a cruel dictator wasn’t really the right way to be
‘If I can defy death to speak to you, you can dig deep and give generously. After all, you don’t want to be so poorly remembered as Idi Amin.’
Extreme example I know, but we must always be vigilent how people choose to use footage of others – be they stars in Hollywood or stars in the sky.
Otherwise, the old fear that a camera might capture your soul as well as your likeness may have more truth to it than we ever expected.
(Click on the pic to see the One Laptop Per Child advert)