David Bowie's death last Sunday seems to have captivated the internet in a way the passing of few celebrities has before. The number of online articles with "David Bowie" in the headline has even outnumbered those of pop-legend Michael Jackson, whose sudden death in 2009 produced a similar deluge.
In Italy, one man has even started a petition to bring Bowie back to life. Andrea Natella is an artist from Rome who has set up a page on change.org with the grand title, "Say NO to David Bowie dead."
Addressed to "God or whom it may concern," the petition is an effort to resurrect the White Duke, simply via the power of public demand. As of Monday, more than 10,000 supporters have signed the petition, with some even leaving comments.
Death can not continue. Pablo Renzi, Italy.
God, I humbly offer a year of my life so you can give it to David Bowie. Karin Requena, Venezuela.
You already have Beethoven. Haras Deavall, London.
The obvious question is: Is this guy serious? I sent Natella, who is also a sociologist and former journalist, an email asking him what he was trying to achieve. He replied with a complicated thesis on the illusion of our relationships with celebrities. "Social networks are crowded with people crying for [Bowie's] death," he wrote. "But in these people's real lives he is just a character of fiction."
He went on to describe the petition as critique of disingenuous clicktivist culture and other forms of online inauthenticity. According to Natella, Bowie's death has become a "simulacrum that impacts reality."
The artist isn't the only one to criticise the outpouring of online grief over a figure very few have met in person. The Guardian's First Dog on the Moon cartoonist crafted a similarly tongue-in-cheek comic tribute to his "good friend," the actor Alan Rickman, who also died this week.
"What a sad week," laments First Dog in the comic. "I loved Alan for years—the way you love someone famous who you think it would be good to be friends with because they just seem like that sort of person."
Yet in Catholic Italy Natella's petition seems to have been taken seriously. It's been reported by The Evening Standard and L'Huffington Post among others. A simple Google search of Natella reveals he's the same prankster behind the "Ever Dream This Man" hoax. You might recall the story which claimed thousands of people were seeing the same creepy man's face in their dreams. Yes, VICE was also fooled.
Natella has a long history of public pranks. In 1995, he partook in a collaborative art project in which hundreds of activists adopted the subversive identity "Luther Blisset." He also founded a fake advertising agency named Guerriglia and is behind statues of the mafia in Rome and a spoof campaign, calling for Ghana's Cardinal Turkson to become the next pope.
So Natella doesn't believe God will really bring Bowie back, but people are still signing his petition in the thousands. The question is what will happen if Natella reaches his goal of 15,000 signatures?
"It's a test to check whether God is really there," he explained. "If David Bowie does not come back we are left with just two non mutually-exclusive possibilities: either God does not exist, or online petitions don't work, or both."
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