Wednesday, January 6, 2010

and I thank you for those items that you sent me, the monkey and the plywood violin

The Pixels and Policy blog covers dual sets of behavior expectations, for virtual worlds and real ones.

To step aside briefly from matters online, I want to know when it became de rigueur to extrapolate fashion choices into "slut" behavior. I'm serious, I'm not talking about the "she asked for it" stories that circulate after certain rapes (though that's not okay either). I mean, high school girl shows up in a slightly-above-knee-length skirt, she's now labeled "slut". Meghan McCain posts a Twitter pic of herself in a tank top (cleavage, yes, but otherwise? Completely covered up) and she's suddenly a "slut". If it were just from the so-called "older generation", I could maybe go out far enough on the limb to understand this, but at least one girl has died over this.

It goes beyond "she dresses trashy" and "man, that's a slutty look" into social shaming. When did social shaming come back into vogue? While I don't agree with the St. Petersburg Times' definition of "sexting" (for one, though it can involve photographs or audio files, it started out, and in the main remains, based around text-based sexual messages), I do know their numbers are way low. Beyond that, I know that the next big thing to sending pics of your breasts (or elsewhere), if you're a young girl (or certain extensions if you're a boy) is sending pics of yourself tied to things, or gagged, or in a collar. Master-and-slave games? Hugely popular among high schoolers right now. But the double standard is, if you don't send out sexy pics and/or sexy text, you're a loser; and if you do, you're a slut and hounded to death. Sometimes literally.

(And no, not kidding--single most popular game is to own someone, or be owned, because that means, somehow--obscurely--you're okay, you're popular, you're "in".)

What kind of culture are we creating, here? We might as well start sending out big cloth A's for dresses and put up punishment stocks in the city parks again.

PC Pro's Barry Collins asks, whatever happened to Second Life? The article seems curiously tilted; for all that he's calling it a wasteland and abandoned by all the cool kids, he's also noting that Second Life keeps making money--and lots of it. You can't make money off an abandoned property; people are still interested in SL, and all the bleating otherwise won't change things.

But I will say I agree with his assumptions in general: the Labs pissed a lot of people off, so now, yes, the mainland's pretty empty. It's rare I port to most stores and see more than one avatar standing around. It's equally rare that if I go to Zindra, I don't find it packed--at least by my definition of "packed" (which is still sixteen to thirty avatars visible).

I did admire how he ended the piece, though:

"It’s like the nouvelle cuisine of the 1980s: pretty, fascinating but ultimately unfulfilling. “What’s the point of Second Life?” I asked one of the “greeters” on the Second Life Help Island, desperate to find something that could make this vast, billion-dollar empire seem worthwhile.

“I’ve had a real life for 28 years and I haven’t worked out what the point of that is yet,” came his unexpectedly philosophical reply. “Second Life’s only been going six years. Give it a chance.”

Sorry, I’m afraid I’ve got a proper life to be getting on with."

Though I admit the original reason I was fascinated with that statement stands (I read it as "griefer", and wau, when griefers speak up for SL, the world really has changed), even reading it in context is fascinating. SL's been around slightly longer than six years, but they've only celebrated six years of being officially open to the public, not closed off in alpha or beta forms. Perhaps all the turmoil of the last three years has just been growing pains? The evolving multiverse figuring itself out?

Maybe, maybe not; but it's still intriguing.

Meanwhile, the A-rez Info blog talks about copybotting as "intentional human error", to wit: if the base avatars were more attractive, and outfits made with the base layer system more interesting, people wouldn't infringe content on SL. I don't think that's entirely accurate, but it's a point to consider. I'd want to take it farther, though:

* What if the base avatar had more attachment points?
* What if the base avatar had a better, more flexible mesh?
* What if the base avatar had tattoo layers separate from clothing layers--so that, in essence, one could have a back tattoo and an undershirt, an arm tattoo and gloves, a leg tattoo and pants...

Still, though, would these things stop people from copybotting? Not hardly.

"The last year was characterized by a certain lack of leadership, reflected in what seemed to be happening around the middle of 2009 with lower level Lindens responding to the lack of direction by “going feral,” while the ones in the middle apparently started eating their young."

A more apt phrase to describe 2009 on the grid has not been written. Period. (Go read the rest of the essay, too--Miss Dio's on the ball again, and she also takes on the Barry Collins op-ed piece.)

There's a new Literal Video out--the creator takes on Beck's Loser. It makes about as much sense as the original, really. Though I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Did I already mention the third part of the Portal series? If not, there it is; you should read that to tie everything up (if you've been reading the first two).

Dear PX, I feel you are the one
What's your name? Where are you from?
I'm in love, though we never met
Looking for clues, I search the net...

It's not just geek rock that takes on online love--symphonic metal does it too.

And finally, there are advantages to adoring a Disney fetishist--he sends me things like this (all the while griping that my blog name is too long. Gosh, I'll try and work on that.)


Dio said...

Hey Hon thanks for the plug, you know I always appreciate it.

As for Mr. Collins' parting shot about the comparison between Nouvelle Cuisine and SL, I think his half-assed little attempt at an Oscar Wilde-ish bon mot there pretty much illustrates precisely why witless lumps like that don't do well in Second life.

He's comparing an essentially passive activity--going to a restaurant and consuming something that was prepared by someone else--to an activity that, at its best, is an empowering tool for self-expression and creating one's own entertainment and social activities.

SL is NOT like nouvelle cusisine, because when you order a meal in a restaurant, you can't go in the kitchen, take the cooking process out of the hands of the chef, then look through all his storage shelves and coolers and find what you want in order to make something that's completely different and probably much more interesting than his artful arrangement of green beans and chicken bits.

And it is not just the technical side of being able to build a better environment or artifact or work of art--it's the ability to build your own social structures, your own communities of like-minded goofballs (or differently-minded goofballs for that matter).

In short, as we all know and he obviously missed--the point to SL is what we choose to impose on it. As much as the Lindens may seem to fight that reality, or look for other ways of their own to make it profitable (something I'm cool with as long as it doesn't interfere with what the rest of us are doing), the "point" of SL is whatever its users choose for it to be. Consequently, it has as many potential "points" as there are of us who use it.

After all, what's the "point" of a rock? It's just a rock until you pick it up and use it to pound a tent stake into the ground, and then it's a hammer. Or you use it to slug some feckless tosser upside o' his punkin' head, and then it's a behavior modification device.

I don't know Mr.Collins' background or what he actually does in meatspace. And I really don't give a hairy green shit, to be honest. But the fact that he has some connection to PC Pro suggests that he comes from some kind of wanky-techie occupation. If that's true, I wouldn't be at all surprised, as I suspect one of the common problems that the professional techies have with Second Life (including, it seems some of the ones at LL) is that despite the dreaded "learning curve" that people keep whining about, SL is something that almost anyone can use to construct and maintain their own entertainment, education, and/or social activities. They don't have to be mere consumers unless they choose to be. And I think some people on the professional side of the equation find that frightening.

They'd rather be the chef, arranging the couple of string beans on the plate with the cute little chicken blobs themselves.

Rhianon Jameson said...

I didn't bother to read the entire Collins piece - why give the site another click? - but the most telling word in the excerpts you ladies have provided was "unexpectedly," as in "unexpectedly philosophical reply." Why would it be so unexpected (especially from a greeter)?

One of the things that surprised me about SL was the fairly high average age. (Of course, I have no idea where that figure came from, nor can I remember what it was exactly. And the requirement to be at least 18 eliminates the mean-reducing minor population.) I had expected to be uncomfortable surrounded by much younger people, but that's not the case. In the Steamlands (and, no doubt, in Deadwood as well), it's hard to find anyone under 40. (A slight exaggeration, but only slight.) People, particularly those who stay for a long time, are of an age to have given the whole thing some thought.

Emilly Orr said...

Miss Dio,

I agree, and I also read your follow-up to this post, and I think you're spot-on there, as well. Just about everyone, with few exceptions, follows the route of dancing-events-clubbing, at first. Some folks stay with it; but by and large, the rest of SL moves on. They may develop favorite clubs/favorite places to dance, or listen to music, but then the wandering kicks in.

The whole "entertain me!" vibe is prevalent throughout Collins' article, and worse, it's prevalent throughout the first article. As if he was determined not to put in a finger's-worth of effort in any way--if it didn't engage him utterly, why then, it was SL's fault.

That, and he seems to equate virtual sex, and those who work in the industry, with the same disdain as people in welcome areas, which is just bizarre. While granted, it's not unusual at all to find a newb in a welcome area with his bits exposed, it's also not the expected norm. And especially with the advent of Zindra, things *have* gotten (very slightly) better in places like Help Island.

B'sides, I think ultimately he's the worst sort of tourist. He went to Zindra--he went to places I won't go in Zindra--just to act shocked and to sneer disdainfully. Yeah, Barry, if you don't like extreme humiliation and sex combined, then don't go there. Trouble is, you went there. And I'd be willing to bet he had to search to find those places; there's a lot of sexual content still in PG/Mature search, but at least one of the places he describes visiting? Won't show up unless you employ some very targeted search terms.

Emilly Orr said...

Miss Jameson,

Yeah, that got me too. As if Mr. Collins expected everyone to be knuckle-dragging troglodytes, unable to spell three words correctly in a row. Which, to be honest, would be irksome in anyone, but is far more irritating in a journalist who seems committed to the concept that SL is full of stupid people, and stupid Americans in specific.

It may well have changed, but in 2006, the stats said that the average user's age was 32, across the grid. While I didn't find specific quotes for Caledon and the Steamlands, the assumption (and I don't think it's a false one) is five to ten years older than the average user age in the rest of SL. This is not a project that appeals to most 18-25 year olds; this is Twitter, not Facebook, to use the social media references.

Especially with the land use structure--most people who own sims are not in their twenties, they're holding down middle- to upper-level executive positions, if they aren't using SL for their income, entirely. Because that hundred-odd to rent a whole sim per month? Many people could manage to come up with.

Having a grand (or more overseas) available to sink into a game, to start out with? That's far less affordable for most.

Dio said...

Hey Emilly,
That is a really interesting--your observation that the things he found to look at were things that required some serious searching to locate. I would seem that the most effort he put into the piece was his effort to find something especially salacious in Zindra. I really hadn't caught that as I pretty much skipped over a great deal of his reportage on naughty bits. Which was most of the thing after all.

Emilly Orr said...

Something that many people forget about my life on the grid: I used to be part of the sex industry. I'm not saying sex has to be everywhere, and perfectly tolerated--there's a lot of fetishes even I think really need to be kept as private as possible. But at least one of the rp sims he visited--and not a fetish store, not just a sim with adult content, but specifically a roleplay sim--is one the average player on the grid really has to dig for.

So, okay, fine, he was searching for titillating content for the article. Why didn't he mention how many sex malls there are on the mainland, even now, since that's been covered by at least 2nd Sex and myself, and a few others consistently? Or how the grid has adapted to having a separate adult grid with adult content? That would have been an amazing story.

No. He hunted down CumDumpsters, a squalid little backwater sim with a deservedly evil reputation. And sure, they're not arcane search terms, per se, but really--you have to use "rough sex", "rape", "bukkake" or "gangbang" to have a good chance of seeing it show up in the top ten.

Dunno about you, but someone searching for "rape" or "cum drinking"? Isn't at all an innocent bystander.

Peter Stindberg said...

Maybe it is just wishful thinking on my behalf, but I have the feeling the world gets more liberal each year. Never before was the LGTB community as "socially accepted" (still a way to go though). The Minister of Foreign Affairs of my country is openly gay, so is the mayor of our capital. What was called minorities 5 years ago, goes now mainstream.

The world is changing fast, and old patterns don't match anymore in many aspects. And only by embracing diversity we can win.

It is sad that someone gets called "slutty" just by the fact what they wear. I have a friend in SL who enjoys looking and dealing slutty, while at the other side she is a member of Mensa and outsmarts me anytime.

Apperance is still overvalued in this world, and "don't judge a book by its cover" still not a lesson learned.

More hideous crimes have been commited by people in business suits in 2009, than by people who look like thugs.

Emilly Orr said...

Mr. Stindberg,

I have a lot of really trashy clothes. Some by happenstance, some deliberately sought out. My first year on the grid, my favorite outfit was a miniskirt that very nearly qualified as a belt (or a pair of buckles-over-buckles wine leather pants) and a fishnet top. With leather straps that criss-crossed, but somehow managed to completely miss covering my avatar's nipples.

I still do not, per se, see anything wrong with dressing however we want and claiming it. If we're sexy, if we're slutty, if we're trashy, whatever--it's ours, damn it, we walked out of the house knowing what we looked like.

But that's me, an adult in either world, and what really bugs me about these sorts of stories (especially the ones that are true) is that pre-teens and teens don't have the defenses adults have developed. Everything is raw and new and tender and untried and 100% worse than anything anyone before them has ever gone through--it's the nature of the beast to be paranoid, oversensitive, wildly emotional, and scared to death you'll look off or out of place or just wrong, wearing anything.

Yeah, we have a long way to go. We've come far, we need to go farther. But we need to realize the social changes we as adults celebrate filter down to the young, and usually in the worst way possible.