"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 18 February 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Dead Can Dance



Wired recently pronounced ad

banners dead (while trying

to play Dr. Kevorkian to the

browser), and Packet recently tried

to put the toe tags on a number of

irrelevant websites; but

bemoaning the evolutionary

missteps of technology's forward

crawl misses the point. What

these wastes of cyberspace lack

isn't so much life as it is an

appropriate marketing angle.

After all, we live in a society

obsessed with dead things, and

nothing makes its mark on the

market better than a propped-up

corpse. Just look at

Keanu Reeves.



Many a career has been

resuscitated by some shameless

grave-robbing; just look at

Natalie Cole and Hank Williams

Jr., who both had hits by

singing with their respective

(and long-buried) sires. But for

the fact that his father still

lives (a technicality), Frank

Sinatra Jr. might yet accomplish

the same task. The Beatles

Anthologies promoted the life

out of the fact that they

contained new songs by the most

talented, and arguably the most

dead, member of the group. But

then the Beatles were never a

group to avoid exploiting the

appeal of the dead; in many

people's minds, Paul has been

dead for years.


William Shakespeare and Jane

Austen have recently reached a

wider audience; the deader they

become, it seems, the more

popular they are. And being dead

certainly never hurt James Dean,

Jim Morrison, or a score of

other popular figures that have

proven to be cash crops after

being planted six feet under.

Even the recent demise of Tupac

Shakur appears to have provided

him with another shot at a film



[ J Dean]

These days, an overused quote of

F. Scott Fitzgerald's only proves

how wrong a hack he was: America

is nothing if not a stage for second

acts. From the Pilgrims to the

latest TV programs, we have

always been suckers for

repackaging and resurrections. The

ranks of the undead who roam our

culture have swelled; advertisers

have become the most prominent

necrophiliacs. The deceased Fred

Astaire dutifully dances for

Dirt Devil, Jack Webb's stiff

shtick shills for Lotus,

John Wayne becomes a laconic

Lazurus for Coors. Rigor

mortis makes them easier talent

to manage, but they add further

weight to the argument that we

are no longer a populace of

forward-looking folk. The future

is in the rearview mirror, an

exquisite corpse all dolled up

in new clothes but still

smelling of death.


Perhaps that's the problem with

new media; it shouldn't be

promoted as the latest and

greatest thing, but marketed as

what it truly is: a dumping

ground for everything that

defines our selves. The Internet

is nothing if not a beautiful

boneyard, a Potter's Field of

pop culture, populated with all

the flotsam and jetsam from the

ridiculous to the sublime. Kubler-Ross

might have pegged five stages of

death, but there is certainly a

sixth: promotion. We can see a

time when an antiquated "Last

Updated" tag on a site will no

longer be viewed like some foul,

forgotten carton of milk, but

rather pushed as a priceless

fossil from the early days of

the medium, like finding an

Edison phono disc, or an early

Superman comic. Websites as

relics - it makes a lot of

sense, but could it make real




Web designers will try to capture

the heartwarming glow of the

"good old days"; retrofitting

will overtake future splash, and

a site's rudimentary and

unwieldy workings will no longer

be seen as inferior workmanship,

but promoted as a recapturing of

the web's original pioneering

spirit. It's a spin that can put

new shelf life on decomposing

data that never had a life to

begin with. It may not be

instant karma, but it might be

instant nostalgia - which seems

to be selling these days. Headed

into the new century as a

jerry-rigged society, a quilt -

or shroud - sewn of artifacts

and false memories, the web

provides a model of how such a

culture can be cobbled together.

Of course, net culture was

pronounced dead long ago. What

better praise could it receive?

courtesy of The Hanging Judge