A little over a year ago, I was horrified to browse through my son’s MySpace page. The false and almost pornographic sophistication of his middle school friends was a huge eye opener, and his account was shortly thereafter deleted. But, in perusing that labyrinthine virtual landscape of MySpace that I had theretofore completely and unabashedly ignored and dismissed as pedestrian and aesthetically and intellectually void, irrelevant, posthuman plastic drivel, I noticed unmistakable patterns within the style and superficial aesthetics of the endless avatars, visual ‘comments’, and ‘pics.’ I then began pondering the very nature of the avatar.
The traditional meaning of ‘avatar’ refers to the terrestrial bodily persona (usually chosen) of an evolved, non-terrestrial-based, godly being. It’s a necessary human body-costume inhabited by a sublime visitor, in order to partake of and experience the earth plane. The writer Neil Stephenson famously first appropriated the term ‘avatar’ in his cyberpunk novel Snowcrash, for its now common usage-signifying personal bodily representation within cyberspace. This religious or sacred terminology cannot be dismissed. Note too, the word ‘icon’-traditionally signifying religious portraiture-is also commonly used to signify cyber representations.
Why the sacred language? It may be a way to carry something long-established as meaningful into a brand new, cold, largely unexplored and definitely inhuman landscape. It’s fairly easy to ascribe a sense of whimsical narcissism to the usages, but that may be shortsighted. It’s only easily dismissed because we are currently quite steeped in it, and therefore any pertinent oddities and ironies are cancelled out by ubiquity and constant reference. Meaning is gathered best with a bit of cultural distance.
I watched the entire OJ Simpson trial-and by entire, I mean all of it. I was transfixed and somewhat devastated. It’s clear to me now I was using the trial as some type of pathetic catharsis for an existential-postpartum-crisis. In 1994, OJ Simpson was on my connecting flight from Kansas City to Dallas. I was returning alone to Salt Lake hugely with child , after visiting my relatives for Easter in Kansas. As we were deplaning, standing in the aisles and getting our luggage from the overhead bins and whatnot, OJ Simpson–then a novel and minor celebrity–seemed kind and fatherly. He touched my huge tummy and made a comment like “looks like you’re ready to do that any day now,” or something.
Then, literally, as I am delivering my baby, the Bronco Chase ensued, and the drama was surreal. I made some strange emotional connection, and in the weeks and months of the crazy, sleepless newborn daze, I watched that trial obsessively. My mind state was kind of detached from reality, and I never thought I would be able to be normal again, make pumpkin bread or leisurely watch Star Trek re-runs. This is my life now, this beautiful and constantly suckling Buddha-bodied child to keep alive, and this perverse and evil tragedy with a cast of eccentrics, jealousies, deception, violence.
At one point in the trial, Marcia Clark, a prosecuting attorney and single mother, had just learned of some change in scheduling plans, and stated she could not attend because she had no child care. Visibly a bit upset, she told Judge Ito how she could be reached on her ‘cell.’ Obviously now, that is a very common reference to a cellular phone, but I believe it was the first time I had heard it referenced exactly that way. I was no stranger to cell phones in 1994, but in hearing that exact slang term broadcast in that way, and mingled with my hyperaware and altered state of mind, it struck me as apt. A ‘cell’ is also prison of sorts, and when taken out of an everyday context, can be quite interesting and appropriate, as it was in Ms. Clark’s circumstance of apparent isolation and social/work trappings.
If you imagine of a group of extreme-future anthropologists finding bits of pieces from our current culture, with little contextual reference, the ironies become more clear. They might find evidence of people running around grocery stores, madly driving, but absorbed only physically in such, while being primarily emotionally, mindfully, spiritually and intellectually engaged within a tiny gadget held to their heads, which they call their ‘cell.’ Indeed, it is an appropriate term with full layers of meaning all ripe ‘n ready for decoding. Those same hypothetical anthropologists may have a field day with this manifestation of the internet and its accompanying culture and terminologies.
Looking at the imposition of language and symbolism into Things I Find Annoying helps me to see the overall picture, and gives me at least a hint of the absolute reality of the Collective Unconscious, and the meaning and wisdom contained therein. Ironically, all those trite, sparkly unicorns and gaudy fairy and angel avatars and icons can point to something perhaps higher-a sense of collective self awareness and place in the Universe.