Death of the Aura in the Digital World

While thinking about celebrity and Walter Benjamin’s post-modern “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (which I read for my documentary film class this semester) and writing my final paper for this class, it occurred to me that his distaste of what he feels is a backwards, archaic attachment to “aura” in art may be quite at home in our digital world. Benjamin’s postmodern rejection of the adherence to historical context seems to be carried out quite frequently in our modern treatment of celebrity, with decontextualized representations of celebrities appearing in potentially post-modernly incongruent positions in relation to their actions or personality during life. The Tupac hologram and the aspects of it I wrote about in my final paper come to mind, but post-modern works such as Robert Altman’s The Player (1992) are also seminal in defining the nature of celebrity in our digitally revolutionary world. This Is The End (2013) also has the same style of decontextualization of real celebrity figures playing caricatures of themselves in a fictional world. Because most of the people in both these films are actors, directors, musicians, comedians and screenwriters, viewers might make an implicit association with their work when watching the film. When celebrity artists die they now know that their legacy and work will live on and representations or caricatures of them may be used in films, memes, and other forms of media that can completely turn the original context of their work on its head. This irreverent elimination of aura and context is especially present in memes, with Bob Ross’ show being a great example of a work of media that had the original intentions held by the auteur removed or altered after the creator’s death. It makes me wonder, though, if a new form of aura may develop in association with aspects of our newfound digital world. The culture of SoundCloud’s hip-hop community and its meme-saturated stereotypical connotations may provide their own context in a way that creates a new, somewhat more abstract form of aura than a the context a wall or room interior might provide a painting hung in that room.