Ronald Reagan and the Case of the Missing Hologram

How a holographic Gipper almost -- almost -- appeared at the Republican National Convention

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Earlier this week, Fox News hinted that the "mystery guest" at this week's Republican National Convention would be not a piece of furniture, but a piece of history. Ronald Reagan, a party elder who is so elder that he's no longer technically alive, would shine down upon Tampa in the form of a hologram, intriguing and inspiring the assembled crowds with an appropriately godlike glow.

The rumors, it seemed at first, were just that. The Wall Street Journal spoke to John Textor, the CEO of Digital Domain Media -- the firm that created the seminal hologram, the optical Tupac that appeared at this year's Coachella music festival. And Textor firmly denied that Digital Domain was working on a Reagan project. The whole thing seemed to be nothing but a holographic hoax -- the product of wishful thinking on the part of Republicans who miss their leader and a public used to spectacles that are hollow and shiny at the same time.

But we were wrong, it turns out, about being wrong. The rumors were true! Well, sort of! A Reagan-o-gram was, indeed, in the works for this week's Tampa convention. It just wasn't going to be created by Digital Domain. And it wasn't going to be overseen by the GOP. Instead, Yahoo News reports, the hologram was the brainchild of Tony Reynolds, the founder of the crowdsourcing website A KickIn Crowd. Reynolds wanted to promote the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act -- and, given his own interests, to promote the role that crowdfunding could play in doing the jumpstarting. To effect that promotion, Reynolds obtained the rights to an old Reagan speech in which the Gipper discussed small businesses. And he planned to turn that speech into a hologram -- one that would leverage the attention being lavished on Tampa this week.

The hologram was initially slated to be revealed during the convention, but -- being not officially sanctioned, and all -- outside its walls. "It wasn't officially going to be part of the convention," Reynolds told Yahoo News's Eric Pfeiffer. "It was going to be outside of the convention at the Lakeland Center."

But as Reynolds began talking to members of the media about his plans -- which was likely the source of this week's rumors in the first place -- he also began talking to Republican activists. And they were, understandably, wary of the possibility that a hologram of their departed leader would detract attention from the images of their current ones. "At the time [Romney] hadn't chosen Paul Ryan," Reynolds noted, "so I think they were a little worried about his energy." Because "even in a hologram form I think Reagan's going to beat a lot of people in terms of communicating."

Though there's a chair that might say otherwise, Reynolds conceded the point, agreeing to delay the hologram's unveiling until next year or, at least, later in this one. Which means that there was no Gipper-gram gracing the RNC this week. But also that, for better or for worse, one is still on its way.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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