From Whitney Houston’s hologram to political comebacks

There’s a question of copyrights and rights and wrongs: Who gets to decide how to use the image of a long-gone artist? Clearly, it’s not the late, lamented performer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrates at the Likud victory rally on March 3, 2020.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrates at the Likud victory rally on March 3, 2020.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Whitney Houston just gave what could have been the performance of her life – if she hadn’t been dead. “An Evening With Whitney: The Whitney Houston Hologram Tour” began its European leg last week, eight years after she was found dead in her bathtub.
Houston’s posthumous comeback is part of a trend. Forever-young James Dean, killed in a car crash in 1955, is also returning to the silver screen. It was recently reported that Dean would be appearing in a Vietnam-era action movie, Finding Jack, using his digital likeness, created especially for the film. And the list of immortal celebrities does not stop there.
While I can see the point in using today’s technology to complete a movie which its stars failed to finish in real life – both Peter Cushing, who played Imperial Grand Moff Tarkin, and Carrie Fisher, the eternal Princess Leia, had their images digitally resurrected for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – I wonder where this is taking us.
There’s a question of copyrights and rights and wrongs: Who gets to decide how to use the image of a long-gone artist? Clearly, it’s not the late, lamented performer. The stars who should now be resting in peace, shining in Heaven, are being revived without their knowledge or consent. In some cases, it seems those who were rich, famous and exploited in life continue to be exploited and abused after their demise. It gives the term “ghostwriting” a new, otherworldly dimension.
Twenty years after Ofra Haza tragically died – of AIDS or of embarrassment that prevented her seeking treatment, depending on whom you ask – I hope no one is planning on her making a magical tour.
Of course, there could be worse things than watching Houston belt out “I will always love you,” with no idea of what the word “always” really means.
Consider this: The Jerusalem Post’s Tovah Lazaroff noted in January that famous futurist Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, told the World Economic Forum at Davos that technology could soon enable certain corporations and governments to hack human beings.
The Hebrew University professor said: “If you have enough data about me and enough computer power and biological knowledge, you can hack my body, my brain, my life... You can reach a point where you know me better than I know myself.
“A system that understands us better than we understand ourselves can predict our feelings and decisions, can manipulate our feelings and decisions, and can ultimately make decisions for us.”
Imagine what could happen if the person who was hacked was the president of a country or the head of a supreme court, Harari said.
In the spirit of a week in which Israel just went to the polls for the third time in a year, and ahead of a week in which we celebrate the topsy-turvy Jewish holiday of Purim, Harari’s dismal view of the future jumped back into my mind. (And I’m assuming my mind remains unhacked.)
Harari’s warning might be literally ahead of its time. I don’t lose sleep over dystopian visions of the future. What worries me is just who is pulling the strings now.
THIS WEEK’S election in Israel will go down in history for several reasons: The very fact that it was part of a triple act; that quarantined citizens suspected of possibly having been in contact with coronovirus carriers had their own separate polling stations – giving the term “election fever” a twist; the election of the first hijab-wearing woman to become an MK; and Benjamin Netanyahu’s incredible sticking power.
Although the final results are not known as I write these lines, it’s clear that Netanyahu has once again earned his moniker “King Bibi” or “The Magician.” Despite facing a trial for corruption; having not one but three former chiefs of staff leading the rival Blue and White Party; and being eulogized by most of the Left and a few on the Right, Netanyahu lived to see another day of coalition building as the head of the biggest list – some 36 seats compared to Blue and White’s 33. His bloc received some 58 seats, three short of the necessary 61-MK majority.
Rumors of his political death were – to paraphrase the inimitable Mark Twain – grossly exaggerated. (I hope Twain’s wit remains his alone and there’s not someone on a computer somewhere right now trying to create a copy.)
How did Netanyahu do it? Neither by hologram nor by hacking. The 70-year-old consummate campaigner hit the road with a passion and reminded his supporters and potential voters of what he wants.
While Netanyahu seemed to be in control of his own campaign and the country, Gantz seemed to be guided by campaign strategists. The leak late last week of a conversation in which his chief strategist, Israel Bachar, said that Gantz would not have the courage to attack Iran if necessary and is therefore a “danger to the people of Israel” definitely caused him harm.
The Blue and White message was – almost exclusively – “Just not Bibi.” When Netanyahu withdrew his request for immunity from the Knesset and redirected the campaign away from his legal woes to the Trump peace plan and the question of extending sovereignty over Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley, he left Gantz gasping and grasping. Finally, Gantz mumbled something about agreeing to sovereignty – with international cooperation. That was exactly what much of the Center and certainly those Right of Center most feared: Instead of a strong leader who said – whether truthfully or not – that under him, the country would take its own decisions regarding its borders, Gantz put the ball back into the international court.
And talking of courts, the fact is that some 1,341,000 voters, 29.46% of the overall count, decided to put a ballot slip marked “Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister” into the ballot box. This indicates that a great many Israelis are willing to consider him innocent until proven guilty – the right of every citizen in the land – or believe that to some extent or another Netanyahu is being unfairly hounded by his enemies in the press, politics, police and judiciary. Or they are willing to overlook his flaws because of his achievements. The Blue and White message that anybody would be better than Netanyahu only strengthened this feeling that he was being singled out and perhaps helped his campaign.
One of Netanyahu’s faults is that he doesn’t consult with others. Gantz’s problem is almost the opposite. His campaign speeches and style made it seem that someone else was dispassionately writing the lines for him. Netanyahu came alive; Gantz could have been a hologram.
With a certain grudging admiration, several observers on the Left said Democrats should look at Netanyahu’s campaign to see how Trump could beat them (again) in November.
Writing in The New York Times under the headline “The Indefatigable, Unbeatable Benjamin Netanyahu,” Israeli journalist Shmuel Rosner – no fan of Netanyahu – dissed the prime minister’s divisiveness but nonetheless managed to find something positive to say after the voting.
“And yet there’s good news in the election result, apart from the fact that a fourth election seems less likely: We learned that to win against a political opponent one has to have a message more profound than ‘everyone but him.’ In other words, the highly personal victory of Mr. Netanyahu, somewhat ironically, is also the triumph of substance – worldview, experience, philosophy – over, well, less substance.”
It’s possible that Netanyahu’s victory speech in the early hours of Tuesday morning, after the exit polls predicted the Likud’s significant lead over Blue and White, was an impressive – albeit arrogant – performance that came too soon. Nobody knows better than the prime minister that the true test will be forming a government. In other words, it ain’t over until the proverbial fat lady sings. The question is: Does she really exist or is she an illusion?