Who Owns My Ghost? or, Behold the Pixels Incarnate

By disposition, I’m more of a Whovian and a Trekie than a Warsie. But, I still do love me my Star Wars. And so, with three generations in tow, we had a guys night out, and watched Rogue One (the wife already beat me to that punch doing girls night for the premier). It did everything I wanted it to do; to quote one of my friends, all plot holes are stories waiting to happen, and this movie was precisely that: a story that wanted to tell itself, a gap in a mythic narrative that was worth expanding.

The tradition of building narratives runs through many of the world’s religious systems. While certain groups of Christians treat the Old Testament as a literal text, like a classical musician reading sheet music, Judaic traditions are closer to jazz; it’s all about riffing. That’s where an enormous body of literature, called Midrash, comes from. The notion that the Bible is a fixed text, with no new stories to be told, was alien to the very people who created the first cannon, the Tanakh, which is the original form of the Old Testament. This is how later traditions, including Kabbalah, the Tree of Life, and the story of Lilith (coming soon!) were given the creative space to emerge.

The use of a religious texts as a framing narrative has allowed for the creation of multiple new narratives, stories that the original composers could never have dreamed of.

Is all fan fiction good? No. But should it be allowed, and encouraged?  – I strongly believe so.

That’s a shout out to anyone who liked Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar. Or, as much as I recoil at the thought, a nod to those of you who prefer 50 Shades of Gray. But either way, the idea that we are free as artists and art lovers to allow story telling to grow through frameworks built by others is profoundly liberating.

And so now, back to the Star Wars.

Watching a digital version of the late, great Peter Cushing going about business on the Death Star was cool. It filled a narrative gap, and I was glad to see it.

But would Peter Cushing have actually taken the role?

This isn’t a new issue. It’s come up before, especially with video game licensing and college athletes in America.

In a sense, it’s the devil’s bargain in Mephistopheles. How much is your soul worth?  There are several indigenous traditions where having a picture taken is akin to signing over one’s soul. Maybe there’s more to that than we considered, now that we live in this brave, new, digital age.

Maybe we should consider if Brandon Lee would have completed The Crow.

Would Peter Cushing approve of his pixelated re-incarnation?

At what point does a person go from having rights over their appearances to becoming a digital asset? Does Disney own Grand Moff Tarkin?

Have we collectively selfied away our souls?

Yeah, it’s easy to laugh at the “primitives”, those silly people who thought their souls were jeopardized by cameras…until you realize that every picture we take, every video we upload, every moment we share, is no longer ours. And it doesn’t just belong to our family and friends.

Today the events of our lives are digital commodities. Our thoughts, words, deeds and images are no longer private, or protected. We collectively signed away our rights.

One EULA at a time.

All that being said, I am looking forward to watching Grand Moff Tarkin berating an equally youthful, digitized princess Leia a second time.

I just hope Peter Cushing’s ghost doesn’t show up and ask for his pixels back…

 

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