Capitalism, Marketing, and the Insidious and Covert Co-optation of the Self
Subtitle: A Manifesto for Avatars
1. Introducing Avatars
AVATARA-Sanskrit.; ava-'down', tarati-'he goes, passes beyond' literally, 'a descent', a conception described in the Bhagavad gita, 4th Teaching, 1-8 where Krishna confides: "when goodness grows weak, when evil increases, I make myself a body." (OED)
Originally referring to the incarnation of Hindu deities, avatars in the computing realms have come to mean any of the various "strap-on" visual agents that represent the user in increasing numbers of 2 and 3D worlds. (Lonehead, ONLINE SOURCE, NO PAGE NUM)
This essay studies the covert, market driven forces at work in our choices of images for the avatars inhabiting cyberspace, in order to understand the dangers of the exchange of self-images for advertisements. To forge a set of alternative resistant and forceful conditions for imaging what Sherry Turkle has termed "the second self," tactics based in imaging, language, and psychology can be opposed to the insidious and covert co-optation of the self by commodities. This essay is an attempt to examine the construction of alternative figures as models of resistance. The Manifesto for Avatars offers a formal set of oppositional strategies for constructing unconsumable self-images.
The apparent freedom of identity and gender enjoyed by the participants in multi-user domains and the Internet in general (Langley, Stone) is a dangerous illusion, masking the corporate agendas dominating the nature and spirit of the construction of cyberspace and avatars. Imagine an internet chat room where we are all represented by the commodity of our choice. Much like the large, recognizable logos that corporeal jackets, sneakers, tee-shirts, and hats model, in this virtual environment our very representation, our self image, becomes an emblem of the production and accumulation of goods. The irony in the physical world is that we choose to wear these commodities and we willingly pay multi-national corporations for the privilege of advertising their products. Through this transaction we express personal fantasies, achieve a fleeting sense of democracy and individual expression, and fulfill various levels of desire.
2. Defining Avatars
The use of the term avatar to represent the self or user in the context of shared on-line Internet environments first occurs in the early 1980's with the development of LucasFilms's Habitat project (Farmer). The term came to popular consciousness with the success of the novel SnowCrash (Stephenson). Discussions of the nature of the avatar are often mixed with current cyborg theory. Although the avatar and the cyborg share numerous social constructions and identity politics, in the interest of developing an understanding of the avatar, it is necessary to distinguish it from its cousin, the cyborg.
2.1. The Human Enhanced
The term cyborg was coined in 1960 with the...