Did You Fall For Kurt/Biggie?
If you’re Facebook friends with a certain type of picture-sharer or follow Cara Delevingne on Instagram then you’ve probably seen the recently “unearthed” snapshot of Kurt Cobain and Biggie Smalls riding together in the back of a van. It’s an amazing photo, not only because it’s historically important (as a record that these two once met) but also because of the fantasy it suggests: two 90’s pop-giants looking super-cool, presumably riding off to get high and talk about genius things together before parting with a nod of respect and wandering off into the night…and their respective doomed fates. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of for romantic music fans, bohemian daydreamers, and the people who really liked “New Americana”.
Of course, as any reasonably skeptical person will have guessed by now, this picture is fake. Not only does it actually look extremely photoshopped upon close inspection, but the photo of Cobain is relatively well-known, at least within the grunge-y realms of Pinterest. If you know the truth, the whole phenomenon immediately gets infuriating, especially when every regram comes with an inevitable caption expressing awe and excitement, “how haven’t I seen this?!?”-style.
The internet is full of fake shit, obviously, and some of it actually is cool. A cousin of the Kurt/Biggie pic is that old photo of Michael Jackson in a Joy Division t-shirt, which is pulled off well enough that it functions more as an interesting piece of art than as an annoying hoax. The conceit is clever, weird, and exciting enough that even though it’s not real, it still possesses a certain subversive charm. It also makes you think about something fascinating: what if Michael Jackson had been a post-punk fan? The music would probably have been amazing (or terrible, but interesting)-and the impossible whisper of it exists solely in this enchanted image.
The Kurt/Biggie pic is a little different. The idea behind it is still cool, but it’s a lot more basic, mostly because it’s a lot more probable. The Michael Jackson/Joy Division pic probably fooled a bunch of people but it doesn’t feel like it’s intended to seem real, it’s more of a “what-if” exercise in culture-jamming. The Kurt/Biggie photo is way more hoax-y, at least in the way it’s been received by the masses of dumb people who believe everything that they passively scroll by on the internet.
OK, I have to acknowledge some bias: I’m a big Nirvana fan and a big Biggie fan. And for Nirvana, I mean big. I know how obviously gross that sounds and I know that’s probably what a lot of people say (so doubt me if you’d like), but when I was in high school, I was the kind of possessive, obsessive follower that had a zero tolerance policy for any layperson’s casual inaccuracies on the group. If you’re a real Nirvana follower, and you are truly committed to the (admittedly semi-pathetic) pastime of scrolling endlessly through photos of Kurt Cobain, you should have immediately known that the Kurt/Biggie thing was bullshit. So the fact that Cara Delevingne thinks this picture is real and regrammed it shamelessly to promote the idea that she’s really into either artist is not exactly endearing to the bitter super-fan inside me. Sharing this photo is the worst way to reveal a bunch of things about yourself: 1.) you’re not very skeptical, 2.) you are not that big of a fan of either artist, 3.) despite this, you still want these artists to be a part of your little brand.
And I know I shouldn’t be knee-jerk aggravated; I’m probably not above falling for some other fake photo and, even though I’m kind of immediately contradicting myself here, I do concede that it’s possible Cara Delevingne is a massive Nirvana/Biggie fan and just made an honest mistake. But I mean, in all likelihood, a Kurt/Biggie reshare is a damning personal emblem of faddish fandom, and a pretty bad argument for being a critical consumer. So step up.
Moving outside of my probably grating tirade, I do think that this picture raises some interesting questions. Kurt/Biggie is really shitty looking but what if it weren’t? What if somehow, someone were able to manufacture an image out of previously unreleased celebrity photos and trompe le monde totally and completely? If the internet is going to be the source of all historical artifacts in the future, and these artifacts are highly susceptible to manipulation, isn’t it possible that the fantastical reality in which Kurt and Biggie smoked weed together somehow could become willed into factuality?
There are instances where this is kind of already happening. Misattributed quotes make up a big segment of the fake-celebrity-Tumblr-fodder genre, and with time, some of these quotes have become almost fully accepted. The John Lennon quote below, for instance, is now one of the most popular quotes attributed to the musician, despite the fact that nobody knows where it came from and almost every forum that discusses it claims it’s a fake.
At the end of the day, I suppose it might not matter whether or not Lennon said this anymore than it doesn’t matter that Paul Revere only finished half his ride or whatever. History is just as much about myth-making as it is myth-shattering I suppose, and I don’t see why modern icons will be immune to this.
Still, as long as people like me care and as long as the hoax attempts look shitty, I do kind of hope that there are party-poopers out there popping all these imaginary balloons. Why? I suppose if I had to justify it, I would say that, first, the “truth” in any situation is always important enough on merit of simply being true to warrant telling, and second, the twisting of famous musicians into cutesy quote machines is indicative of a certain kind of gross wishful thinking that makes us less able to accept celebrities as real people. No, the Kurt/Biggie picture isn’t harmful in this way, but every time a Tumblr user forces Kurt Cobain to say, “never forget that you’re beautiful and deserve the world” or predict Trump’s election, it makes him into a puppet for a selfish individual’s personalized version of reality. It’s a lot better, in my opinion, to learn about these people in whatever real way you can rather than commodify them for your own identity’s sake. And, though I’m just guessing, I think I know who might agree with me on that.