By: Antonio A. Casilli (Centre Edgar-Morin, EHESS, Paris) 
By now you all must have a pretty clear opinion of James Cameron’s Avatar. Is it the new Star Wars? Or is it just another CGI-ridden crapbuster movie? You are entitled to your own opinion. As I am not a film critic, my job is not to change it. What this movie represents to me, and to many a colleague of mine, is a chance to resuscitate some forgotten pieces of cultural analysis written in the last 15 years – approximatively the time this movie has been in the making. As a concept, the avatar has a long history.
Visual genealogy: left The Lawnmower Man (1992); right Avatar (2009)
And a long history also means a lot of bibliographic references. And some of them still come handy to understand what the hell Cameron’s film is about. It’ like a garage sale, where I give away those old records I used to cherish a lot, so that some freshman neighbour with deejaying penchants can make a mashup mp3 out of them.
A few years ago, for example, the French journal Communications published an article of mine whose title, quite self-explanatorily, would read something like: Blue Avatars, about three strategies of cultural borrowing at the heart of computer culture.
Antonio A. Casilli (2005). Les avatars bleus, Autour de trois stratégies d’emprunt culturel au cœur de la cyberculture. Communications, 7 (1), 183-209
Yeah, well… maybe not that self-explanatorily, after all. Anyhow, in this article I gave form to a socio-visual genealogy of the avatar, as one of the main archetypes of contemporary culture.
Now I assume some of you don’t speak French. Also, some simply can’t be bothered to go through 30 pages of socio-babbling. So here I provide a summary of the main results of the article.