Frisky Rant: Cosplaying David Bowie Isn’t Research, For Pete’s Sake

Will Brooker, a cultural studies professor at Kingston University in London, is living as David Bowie at various points in Bowie’s life and career for the next year as a way of doing sort of method research for a biography on the subject. I feel conflicted about this, because on the one hand, BIG EYE ROLL. On the other, all I want in my life is to be a liberal arts professor so that I can do shit like this for money. My jealousy may be informing my skepticism.

Brooker describes the project thusly:

“The idea is to inhabit Bowie’s head space at points in his life and career to understand his work from an original angle, while retaining a critical and objective perspective at the same time – a kind of split persona perhaps.”

I call bullshit, though. Brooker’s listening to the same music, watching the same movies, reading the same books, living in the same places, and dressing the same way Bowie would have during various artistic periods. But Brooker’s about to head to Berlin, where Bowie detoxed from cocaine and created Low, Heroes, and Lodger. Does that mean Brooker is doing massive amounts of cocaine right now? I hope so, because addiction and detox absolutely informed Bowie’s “head space” at the time. (I don’t actually hope so, that would be terrible.)

And beyond that, is Brooker writing songs and performing them for massive audiences? Is he paying incredibly close attention to what’s culturally relevant and courageously stepping ahead of the cultural curve? Does Brooker have a time machine, and will he be traveling not only to Berlin but back in time to Berlin while the Wall was up? No, of course not. Brooker is doing nothing to transgress his own culture, he’s just putting on a costume. Can we note the anachronism of dressing like David Bowie, taking a picture of it with your iPhone, and posting it on Twitter if we’re operating on the assumption that this is a real attempt at method research? And I mean, you really think that cosplaying (basically) in 2015 will give you insight into what it was like to publicly gender-cross in 1967? Bye, sir. Bye.

This project is a news-grabbing vanity. Dress, location, and cultural artifacts can only give you a fraction of insight into who someone is, and you can write a book about Bowie and get insights into his thought process without Instagramming your Bowie makeup. And yes, David Bowie is a personal hero, that’s probably obvious, but my frustration lies more in the fact that Brooker is getting paid to play dress-up because he was commissioned by publisher I.B. Tauris to write a monograph called Forever Stardust. It’s research done on a bad premise, and it seems more like viral marketing than an earnest attempt at good academics. If you really want to get to know the subject of your book, interview him. David Bowie isn’t dead, for Pete’s sake.

If this is what social media and virality is doing to academics, god help academics. Excuse me while I go listen to “Warszawa” and pray for this news story to die.

[The Guardian]

[Image via Twitter]

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