Celebrities and an Upcoming Funeral?

In 2009 the publishers of Variety Magazine assembled an impressive line-up of 120 US celebrities reporting about “the movie that changed my life.” The celebrities were grouped in interesting categories for instance “the romantics,” featuring among others Reese Witherspoon and Hugh Hefner, “the dreammak- ers,” including Nicole Kidman and Jack Nicholson, and “the bloodhounds” showcasing for instance James Patterson and Michael Connelly (Hofler, 2009). The book included a section for “the historians” presenting the movie picks of such luminaries as Tom Brokaw, Gore Vidal, and Doris Kearns Goodwin but failing to consider the movie reminiscences of any real life, bona fide academic historians. The Movie that Changed My Life thus inadvertently attests to the limited prestige and star power potential of the historical profession while purposefully highlighting the exceptional importance of visual media for autobiographical and collective memory.

For some people, books can also play a crucial role in their lives. There are numerous publications dedicated to the theme “the book that changed my life” although they primarily seem to serve the purposes of giving writers a chance to talk about their favorite reading experiences or affording devote Christians an opportunity for Bible exegesis (e.g. Coady & Johannessen, 2007). In the meantime, we are still waiting for the Cambridge University Press compilation bestsellers The Dissertation that Changed My Life, The Scholarly Article that Changed My Life, and, especially eagerly awaited, The Textbook that Changed My Life. Until the emergence of an unlikely cultural setting in which history monographs, scholarly articles, and textbooks elicit the same kind of passions as films and fiction, and as long as we want people to care passionately about the past, we need to communicate to general audiences by way of immersive visual culture. The formerly widely successful formats of the prime-time documentary and the general release feature film are already anachronisms in this regard. Consumers will increasingly roam, remember, and care about the past as a result of their immersive and potentially counter-factual video game experiences (Kappell & Elliott, 2013). I suspect for instance that there is now a generation at the game consoles that will primarily remember Karl Marx as a controversial, pathetic, and killable figure in the 2015 Assassins’ Creed: Syndicate video game which is set in the expansive and impressively interactive history-scape of Victorian London.

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