Yahoo! Avatars

No, not THAT one.

Though we did see the movie the other night and I get why everyone is raving. The story is stirring as any great fable should be. But the visual imagery is what gets you, sweeps you up and rolls you over. All night phosphorescent blue giants strode through my dreams and I find myself with a slight jones to see them again.

Pandora seduced us all.

I think I’m spoiling nothing here, but if you’re one who wants to know nothing about a movie before you see it, stop reading now. The reason why it’s called “Avatar” is because humans have their consciousness downloaded to an empty alien body, so they can move around on the alien planet and mingle with them as nearly the same creature.

I remember the first time I encountered this particular use of the word “avatar.” It was when Yahoo Instant Messenger first came on big. I use Yahoo IM extensively. My work team is scattered all over the country. We use Yahoo IM as a way of shouting over the cubicle wall, as it were. I also use it to communicate with friends family. From early on, Yahoo allowed you to design an “avatar,” an online representation of yourself, which you could make accurate or not, as you chose.

Okay, okay — for all you gamers out there. I know the usage came from that first. I just had no experience with it.

The thing is, “avatar” is a Sanskrit word that specifically refers to the descent of a deity to earth in an incarnate form. It’s from Hindu mythology, but really every mythology and religion has a form of this concept. Even Jesus Christ is an example of this: god made into man.

So, you can see why this makes me squirm a bit.

Sure, the analogy is a good one. A human from a spaceship descends into an alien body and uses it like a puppet. A gamer manipulates her online character, controls her destiny.

Godlike, indeed.

People make fun of the Mormons for this kind of thinking. That they, okay, the men, get a whole planet to be god of when they die. To populate with their wives and children. Sounds like a little much to some.

There’s an idea that when god “made man in his image” that this is a way of conveying that we all have a piece of divinity in us. Christ, Prana, what have you. This is what raises us up from the animal. That this is what we must strive to nuture and bring to full flower. Some think of it as trying to reach Enlightenment, Nirvana, to become one with god.

Of course, what no one can agree on is how to get there.

I’m thinking though, that taking on godlike qualities can get one in trouble. With great power comes great responsibility, and all that.

So even as I fantasize about walking a world like Pandora, with a beautiful blue Amazonian body, I can help thinking about the thoughtful sequel. In which we discover we’re not gods, after all.

Which is a good thing.

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