The disturbing rise of the hologram politician

By Kitty Knowles 19 April 2017
Jean-Luc Melenchon Hologram rally (Photo by Nicolas Kovarik/IP3/Getty Images)

First Tupac - next Theresa May.

Few are better trained in public speaking than politicians.

But even nation-rousing speakers like Winston Churchill and JFK were limited by technology.

In the early days you had to have a ‘wireless’, then you needed a TV. Yesterday you probably watched Theresa May’s election announcement on your smartphone.

But none of these ways of ‘tuning in’ completely captures the essence of a real person, delivering their speech to the hungry press, or an eagerly-awaiting crowd.

Where pop left off

It was the music industry that embraced the power of the ‘hologram‘ to break down these walls. With CGI, 3D technology and a wafer-thin screen, you didn’t need an artist to be present to deliver a rousing performance that live audiences felt moved by.

The first landmark hologram performance came at Coachella 2012 – when the late rapper Tupac Shakur was revived on stage to perform alongside Snoop Dogg and Dr.Dre, and later everyone from Michael Jackson (who moonwalked at the Billboard Music Awards) to Elvis Presley (who could perform hour-long concerts) have been brought back from the dead.

More recently, the Asian music market realised you don’t have to be dead to capitalise on the captivating power of the hologram. K-pop hologram concerts take place daily in Seoul, and one of the world’s biggest pop stars, is Japan’s Hatsune Miku – a hologram herself.

Now politicians have started to join the craze: Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, and President Erdogan of Turkey, have both used holograms to address crowds.

This week, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left French presidential candidate, appeared at seven rallies simultaneously. The move prompted Antonin André, political correspondent for Europe 1 radio, to name Mélenchon the “Tom Cruise of the web”.

It made his younger rivals look old-fashioned, said André.

With this kind of response, you can bet that other world leaders will soon follow suit.

Power and responsibility

The benefits of politicians embracing the hologram are great. As representatives of the people, it’s right that as many people can engage with politicians as possible.

Those who previously couldn’t attend political rallies because of work, money, or disability, could soon feel the same power of the crowd in their local square.

But just as some have been wary about seeing dead pop stars revived, the public should be wary of the political hologram.

As individuals we choose to tune into our TVs, radios, and smartphones. But if campaign billboards feel intrusive, imagine the impact of Theresa May’s talking head on every street corner.

In the decades ahead (and as all the kit becomes more affordable) political messages could be projected anywhere, anytime.

Already, giant pop-up ads that stand to ruin our cities with vast unavoidable brand messages. The hologram could do this for advertisers and politicians too.

Holograms many look brilliant, and for now, seem wonderfully engaging. But once the novelty wears off, it’s a propaganda tool many of you won’t welcome.

Donald Trump is bad enough on Twitter, after all.