Avatar activism and the "survival of the mediated" hypothesis

By now, you’re all way too familiar with the Egyptian Facebook activism. And everybody and his sister has spent the last year-and-a-half discussing how wrong was Malcolm Gladwell in dismissing Moldovan Twitter activism. And millions of you have smiled at Gaddafi’s crazy rant against Tunisian Wikileaks activism. But I’m sure the notion of Avatar activism appeals to a more restricted audience.

In an attempt to fill this gap in your general knowledge, let me point you to a recent article by Mark Deuze.

Mark Deuze (2010). Survival of the mediated Journal of Cultural Science, 3 (2)

One interesting part of the essay deals with protestors around the world appropriating the aesthetic codes and themes of James Cameron’s film Avatar. In the Palestinian village of  Bil’in, for instance, activists disguised as blue-skinned Na’vi fight “Israeli imperialism”. The same goes with other community initiatives around the world, such as the Dongria Kondh tribe in eastern India and the Kayapo Indians in the Amazon rainforest.

Of course, if you remember this article of mine, you know I would incline to interpret these occurrences as expressions of the social imaginary of purity and empowerment which is associated to the notion of Avatar in contemporary technological cultures.

I also respect Deuze’s analysis: using Henry Jenkins theories of participatory culture (“people around the world are mobilising icons and myths from popular culture as resources for political speech”.) he goes on to conclude that these political strategies are oriented to survival of human groups in a media-intensive social environment.

The interesting point here is that Deuze is pushing the envelope of interpretation a little, and comes out with a definition of survival which is not only cultural or symbolic but physical and material. Avatar activism in this sense, has to be considered as a strategy human groups put in place to perpetuate their existence and increase their material comfort, physical fitness, and overall well-being.

“In all modern societies the functioning of social communication is a part of well-being […]. Acquiring or using media must to some extent be seen as indices to that effect […]. It must be clear, then, that a media orientation is much more than maintaining an online social network profile or have a professional PR firm represent your point of view. It tends to be seen as essential to one’s quality of life, a sense of well-being and belonging, to one’s success in being recognized and achieving one’s goals. In short: by mediating ourselves we apparently enhance our fitness with our environment.”
(Mark Deuze, 2010 Survival of the mediated)

Admittedly, that’s a long shot, but not unworthy of our consideration – at least as far as, historically,  this kind of provocations intellectuelles have often helped rethink some of our analytical categories.

I’m waiting for Deuze to develop this point (and others) in his upcoming book Media Life, to be published next year by Polity Press.