Objectification and Anthropomorphism Of The Self: Self As Brand, Self As Avatar

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 12:30 PM
Room: 419
Oral Presentation
Russell BELK , Marketing, York University, SSB, Toronto, ON, Canada
Two opposite ways of regarding the self in a digital world are as a branded object and as an anthropomorphized subject.  When Marx condemned tendencies toward the objectification of people and the personification of objects, he was certainly not envisioning either the self-objectification that takes place when we treat ourselves as a brand or the reanimation of self that takes place when we breathe life into computer animations representing us.  Rather than being pawns of capitalism, we see ourselves as becoming agents empowered through both of these processes.  But just as Marx cautioned, there is still a dark side to objectifying people and personifying objects. 

With expanding Internet possibilities, it is not surprising that we are being urged to manage our online “brand” identities.  We are urged to attend to our packaging and product, our unique selling proposition, and self-promotions, co-branding, brand positioning, market segmentation, and our social media portfolio.  Target audiences include our employers, friends, family, potential dating partners, professional colleagues, and institutions.  Self branding takes place in online dating, but is also evident in personal web pages, blogs, social media, and photo and video uploading sites.  The problems entailed in these presentations of self in everyday life are detailed and discussed.

Secondly, the paper examines the anthropomorphism of self that takes place when we create, use, and embrace avatars in online games, virtual worlds, and other venues. The human-avatar link is not just a projection from human to avatar. We create our avatars and our avatars create us. Our avatar's characteristics and behavior online carryover to the "real” world.  Like the commodification of relations in self-branding, avatar selves often reduce human relations to prejudicial stereotypes from the real world.

The paper concludes with an appraisal of these new phenomena and reflections on future issues.