Exercise 3: Avatar

Max Headroom

avatar, noun (New Oxford American Dictionary)

  1. chiefly Hinduism: a manifestation of a deity or released soul in bodily form on earth; an incarnate divine teacher

  2. Computing: an icon or figure representing a particular person in computer games, Internet forums, etc

First aired in 1985, the Max Headroom show featured investigated journalism in a future world where nations were replaced by corporations, people lived in office towers, and media was fed through a non-stop overload of addictive television. Sound familiar? The show's main character, Edison Carter, was thought dead and his brain was downloaded into a network-controlled AI: Max Headroom. Max escaped his electronic cage and joined his real-world alter ego in digging up the dirt on the powers-that-be.

... Max became a singular '80s pop culture phenomenon that represented everything wonderful and horrible about the decade. Max hosted music video shows; Max interviewed celebrities; Max hawked New Coke; Max Headroom became US network television's very first cyberpunk series. Max was inescapable — and then almost just as quickly as he had appeared, he was gone.

Max himself quickly became an icon of 80's post-modernism, media consumerism, and computer graphics1. He also became part of a real-world media takeover of Chicago broadcast TV in 1987. In this instance, Max became a criticism of himself and the media culture he simultaneously poked fun of and represented:

After a brief intrusion during the sports report on WGN's 9:00 news, a later broadcast on channel 11 - PBS affiliate: WTTW - of the Doctor Who episode "Horror of Fang Rock" was interrupted by a man wearing a Max Headroom mask. The crazed person uttered mostly gibberish, crudely slammed the Chicago Tribune and its subsidiaries (WGN being one of them), and finally dropped his pants and was spanked by what appears to be a child with a flyswatter. 90-seconds later, the program returned to normal. To this day, he has never been caught.


Flash forward 30 years to today. Who or what is our contemporary Max Headroom? As technology, media, & culture have progressed (or regressed), how do we now portray ourselves and how does media influence this portrayal?

Create a digital avatar that reflects a critique on contemporary culture and technology. Your avatar could be an actor in costume, a 2D animation, a 3D character in Second Life, etc and must be presented through video.

Develop an interview/discussion between a "real world" person and this "virtual world" avatar on an everyday subject which both highlights and blurs the boundaries between the "real" and the "virtual". For instance, a discussion on the best coffee place might compare friendliness of baristas or ease of 1-click ordering on Amazon; an interview with a virtual presidential candidate could run into difficulty over a real world name requirement for all online activity; and/or could cover the merits of unionizing professional MMORPGs grinders & Mechanical Turk workers.

The performance should last for 5-10 minutes. The "real" person can be in the room for the performance while the avatar must be presented virtually through the use of video projection. If you are using an actor in costume, you can prerecord the footage and/or use a live video camera feed from another room. If you are using a virtual environment (video game, etc), the second person can use a separate computer for the performance.

The performance will take place in the Shwayder 023 basement gallery space. We will have 2 projections on either side of the room with the audience sitting on the floor between. Each act will rotate from screen to screen, so the next act can set up.

Provide a single technical requirements document via email the night before the performance. This should cover your basic A/V set up and any special equipment or technical needs.


Read the following:

And watch:


Due dates

  1. The irony is that the Max Headroom character was played by actor Matt Frewer in costume who also played Max's alter-ego, Edison Carter. He was not computer generated.