I pitched this paper in 2019 for a conference in the UK that was scheduled for June 2020. Obviously that couldn’t happen (thanks, COVID-19), so I’d given up and let this one go. As it happens, the organisers are looking at moving forward in an online format for 2021, and it looks like I’ve been accepted!
There is no death in the online world, only varying forms of existence. By curating online personas throughout our lifetime, we are preparing for how we will be remembered in cyberspace for eternity. Thought difficult to negotiate at times, this is a luxury. For those already dead however, digital curation is a locus of moral ambiguity. Nowhere is this more evident than among the celebrity dead. This paper examines the uses and abuses of dead celebrities in Real Person Fanfiction (RPF) and celluloid simulation, interrogating the ethical implications associated with these particular forms of online afterlife.
Questions I address in my discussion are;
- who do audiences imagine deceased celebrity figures to have been?
- what is conveyed in their respective posthumous resurrections?
- why do audiences want to view deceased celebrities in these ways?
The first example I use is Kurt Cobain, who appears in a variety or morbidly violent RPF narratives, written and shared among fans in online communities such as Archive of Our Own. These will be discussed in relation to ideas of fan ownership or entitlement, and their troubling intersection with para-social relationship building.
In contrast, I consider the recent announcement that James Dean’s resurrected image will be cast in an upcoming film. In addition to the moral and ethical concerns that arise alongside the reconstruction of his image, this event demands attention in relation to how the curated celebrity persona continues to permeate popular culture after death.
I suggest that both examples necessitate renewed discussion around the right to die and be forgotten, and that the implementation of these trouble specters is a warning about the dangers of confusing online personas with the real-life people.