MADONNA R.I.P ?
Some thoughts on mock-up obituaries in view of the New Media Research Seminar’s start.
A fatal car accident. Thousands of cameras capturing the scene. Millions of mourning fans. Breaking news: Madonna has passed away.
Fortunately, for those of us that haven’t still got over Michael Jackson’s death, this is not a true story. It’s the new project of an art collective named IOCOSE, who screened “In the Long Run”: a 20 minute film that describes the death of Madonna as if reported in a BBC News special edition. IOCOSE’s aim is to criticize the media’s handling of celebrities and narration of events and to state that “the future is reconstructed”. As they put it in the description of their project:
In reconstructing the future in the past tense, In the Long Run is a catalyst for endless narratives and interpretative developments. Likely or unlikely, inevitable or imminent, but existing in potential form, like the narration of an event that never took place.
No doubt, it’s shocking to realize that it’s a common practice among news networks the preparation of obituaries for still alive and kicking celebrities. The norm is to take into account every possible scenario, so that in case of an unexpected death, the obituary just needs some small refinements before being published. At first glance, it seems like another consequence of the non-stop race among the media to be the first to “get the scoop” of the news and not “being scooped” by others.
Further than that though, what if we overlooked the macabre side of mock-up obituaries and look at the possibility that they could be used as a source of cultural data? Think of that: Who gets a mock-up obituary and who doesn’t? Could such obituaries be used as a fame-meter? If yes, comparing recent and past mock-up obituaries, it could be studied whether women and men have the same possibilities to appear on an obituary. Who is gaining ground in the play of power and why?
Another intriguing part would be to study how people interact with obituaries. As Bruce Weber, an obituary writer and staff editor of the New York Times, said:
“…readers (some of them) try to figure out what we have judged to be the relative importance of obituary subjects by the length of the obituary and its placement on the page, but to reach conclusions based on those two elements is to operate on incomplete information. Other factors: How much space is available on the page that day? How much new information about the subject is revealed in the obituary? How interesting is it to read?”
What makes an obituary interesting for the audience? In what extent do the audience’s preferences influence the choice of the person that get an obituary?
Past “fake” deaths of famous people should also consist part of the study. The “oops… it was a mistake” publication of Steve Jobs’s health by Bloomberg is said to have caused a fall in the shares of Apple. In what extent does the public identify Apple with its CEO? Could mock-up obituaries affect the economic sphere?
To conclude, do the mock-up obituaries have to do anything with the digital methods? Probably not. It’s just that I find really interesting the idea of shifting focus from the content of the medium to the medium itself, turning it into an object of study that might give as a clue of the societal and cultural changes happening. Moreover, it’s really challenging to see if this idea can be applied in all kind of fields, even those outside the web. And if that is the case maybe we should try to study and understand better the present we are living in so that we get to reconstruct the future in our own terms.