Corporate video games still suck

Two years ago, the Internet was abuzz with anger and indignation at the posthumous indignity facing Kurt Cobain. The grunge rock icon was to be the centrepiece of a string of ads for Dr. Martens shoes — a series that would also include late rockers Joe Strummer of The Clash, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and Joey Ramone of The Ramones. Somehow, though, those other three rockers didn’t inspire quite the same amount of backlash. People screamed about the besmirching of Cobain’s legacy. Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, called it “outrageous,” saying it was done without her knowledge and that she never would have approved such a “despicable use” of Cobain’s image.

If you thought that was bad, though, wait till you see Guitar Hero 5. A YouTube clip that’s already garnered almost 200,000 hits shows Cobain’s in-game avatar dancing to Billy Idol, singing along to Bush and Bon Jovi and showing off his best gangsta swagger. Seeing the notoriously self-conscious rocker (who killed himself largely because of concerns over his fame) wearing a sweater and Daniel Johnston T-shirt and singing vacuous pop tunes just feels, well, wrong. And this time, no one can say that it was done without Cobain’s estate’s approval.

Not that Cobain is the only dead celebrity in the game. Johnny Cash has been added to the series. Jimmy Hendrix has been a part of it for some time. But there’s something about Cobain — the circumstances of his death, maybe, or his well-known distaste for most popular music — that has people riled up over his inclusion.

Handling the image of dead celebrities is always tricky business. A decade ago, Dirt Devil faced widespread criticism for a trio of commercials featuring Fred Astaire dancing with a vacuum — doubly offensive for the fact that Astaire’s longtime dance partner, Ginger Rogers, was turned into an appliance. A 2006 Gap commercial starring Audrey Hepburn went over a little better, but there’s still something sketchy about posthumous endorsements. Maybe Astaire would’ve been more of a Hoover man. Then again, maybe Cobain would’ve found his Guitar Hero appearance hilarious — it’s hard to say.

Appropriately enough, Guitar Hero’s rival Rock Band series has just released their tribute to The Beatles, which has been widely regarded as an exceedingly tasteful handling of the band’s legacy. It just shows, with enough care, the inevitable backlash isn’t quite so inevitable.

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