Sunday, June 6, 2010

when three-fold applications of doubt surround my fate

I want to talk a bit today about the Black and Blue Fair.

Now--as with all fairs--it's limited, so it well may be ending the day I get around to going and seeing what's there. (An act for which I'm sure the surrounding tenants are deeply grateful.) But this one has built up more controversy than most, and part of it is over the Fair itself--is it a themed fair only? Is it an event sponsored to support a charity? Was it planned as an exercise to defraud the public? Lots of touchy questions.

Black & Blue Fair,Second Life,shopping,fashion

All right, so how did people get the idea that it was for a charitable cause? When I went there, there was a drop-down announcing that the event was not for charity, that all funds went to the designers participating. But that tells me that at some point, people--including some of the designers--thought that it was a charitable event, with most, if not all, proceeds going towards charities supporting mental health.

How did this idea come about?

Black & Blue Fair,Second Life,shopping,fashion

Part of it was in the pitch itself. Above, the relevant phrase from the posters advertising the Fair: "Your favorite designers coming together with limited edition items to raise awareness about mental health issues."

And then there were the statements found around the single skybox that the entire Fair was crowded inside:

Black & Blue Fair,shopping,Second Life,fashion(On the runway.)

Black & Blue Fair,shopping,Second Life,fashion(By the Earthstones section.)

Black & Blue Fair,shopping,Second Life,fashion(By Secrets.)

Black & Blue Fair,shopping,Second Life,fashion(On a side wall.)

Black & Blue Fair,shopping,Second Life,fashion(Near to Dilly Dolls' boxes.)

Okay, that's still raising awareness, though. Is that a bad thing?

Well, maybe it comes down to how the entire thing was handled. First, the organizers put out a tip jar for donations, to offset the cost of running the event--but that seemed to contribute to the idea that some--or all--of the funds raised were going to charity. (Not sure how, mind, and the tip jar, at any rate, was gone by Sunday.)

Secondly, there was tremendous strife, because apparently, no one in the Purgatory sim was consulted, or even informed, that a sim-lagging event of even single-skybox proportion was going to be taking place. Some people--and we're not talking casual shoppers, we're talking residents and business owners who live and work on Purgatory--got extraordinarily vicious, literally screaming at people to get off their land and away from their sim. For the past couple days, club owners on that sim have been unable to run events; people have been unable to go home; and a lot of people who managed to get in to shop at other stores couldn't get back out again--there was enough lag it caused port failures.

Thirdly, none of the designers were told in advance that all their wares would be shoved into one single--and surprisingly small!--location. The lag for special fashion events is always a problem--as Hair Fair attendees know well, Hair Fair (among other large charity events) actually sets out special themed avatars for the time, designed to be low-lag.

At least a few designers have dropped out of the Fair due to issues of lag and overcrowding, which makes the sponsor wall interesting:

Second Life,shopping,fashion,Black & Blue Fair

When people drop out in most fairs, specialty events or hunts, their names are removed from the advertising. Apparently, not in this case.

Mabb Dilweg said on the SLUniverse forum thread on the topic:
"Nowhere is there a mention of an organisation receiving money raised, so it seems it is an event to raise awareness. Nothing wrong with that. Apparently there is lots of information on the walls and amongst the product vendors. That would be lovely if the lag would allow them to rez."
Mabb's not kidding. Either you get the sign, and not the products:

Second Life,shopping,fashion,Black & Blue Fair

or you don't get anything at all:

Second Life,shopping,fashion,Black & Blue Fair

And let me be very honest, here, it took me over half an hour of standing in place, turning around occasionally, to even rez in as much as I managed to--these last two pics? Taken at the end of the forty-odd span of time I waited. They were blurrier before, with a whole bunch of grey vendor tiles I couldn't rez in or purchase from.

Kind of defeats the whole purpose behind any variety of fashion fair...for charity or not.

Well, okay, fine, but that doesn't say things are going to any charity. They're just trying to raise awareness, not raise funds...right?

Well, this is where things start to skew. For one, is pimping the event on their Destinations page:
"Many of the top fashion designers in Second Life have joined forces for the Black & Blue Fair, a unique event designed to raise awareness of mental health issues. Event held through July 4."
If I knew nothing about the event, I would immediately think two things: "charity event" and "running the whole month". Which does mean it's going to last longer than this weekend, but more importantly, it's going to ruin sim performance for three more weeks at least. Aren't those residents lucky...

The Black and Blue Fair does have an official blog, or at least some of the organizers do, and there they're pretty clear that it's just to raise awareness that many people in SL are depressed, lonely, disabled, or otherwise impaired.

I don't know how to break this to everyone, but...hang around in SL more than three months, we all learn this, because we have met some of those people, are some of those people, or we marry some of those people. I'll even go one farther and say there's a higher than average amount of people on the net, let alone the grid, that are depressed, lonely, disabled, et cetera.

And why is this? Because right now, with everything that's going on, there are a large number of people anywhere who are disabled; mentally ill; physically compromised; on prescription drugs; on street drugs; lonely and issue-laden; living with inadequate physical, mental, or emotional support systems; with inadequate medical and psychological care. It's where we are as a planet, currently. Does this surprise anyone?

Beyond that, though, there's been a lot of blogging on this one already. The Crazy in SL blog has an entire dedicated section now on Black and Blue Fair entries; and, in spite of the lag and the controversy and the associated drama, there's a LOT of items available there, that very well may end up actually being limited editions, in that most of the people involved may not want to put them up anywhere else, after all the controversy associated. This includes hair, skin, furnishings, poses, shapes, clothing, you name it. All generally in shades of blue, black, grey and occasionally purple; though some makers did make things in all shades because...well, that's what they do.

Nicci Chau is hard to understand at times (it's very definitely an ESL issue, not RL-mind-on-crack issue), but she did mention something I thought was worth repeating:
"Clothing for most part was very predictable mix of things that look like slx templates and very heavy on slutwears, and more than one item I already get as they were recycled from freebie grid hunts in the past. So perhaps are some with manic or hypersexual disorder in the mix and heavy on slutwear and cfm shoes is maybe not in good taste, and like shirt with slogans that poke fun at behaviors are similar."
Man, she has a good point. The one thing you will see, over and over again, is how much the cleavage layers have caught on in SL. I mean, SL already had a tendency towards the topheavy, but the Fair offerings make it seem like we can't exist at all if we don't have double-J breasts with !!INTENSE CLEAVAGE!! to take advantage of their gargantuan size. I realize there are times and places for such togs--I used to own more 'slutwear' outfits myself, and I still have a folder of attire marked slutwear for ease of finding.

Still, even with that, it seemed like 75% of the outfits pictured used the same shape, almost the same skins--busty hippy cleavage-enhanced tanned, oiled damsels with heavy makeup and pouty lips.

(While you're at that blog, struggling to translate fractured English into more understandable sentence structures, you might want to read her post on the upcoming script limits as well. Miss Chau is a very rational woman. No RL storefront would bother offering free replacements if there was suddenly a radical shoe heel advance in the industry, say. They'd just say "Come down and buy these! They're NEW!")

So...what's the upshot? Don't go? Despise the designers who pulled out? Support the makers you like in spite of the controversy? Yell at the event organizers for bad planning?

Honestly, I don't know. I do know there are good things to be had, some for amazing prices, like the Alienated Soul skin and avatar combo--I know I wanted to see for myself what all the buzz worked out to, and for the most part, I think it really comes down to several small points:

* A really great group of designers, both known and up-and-coming;
* Too small a space to fit them all in;
* Not realizing that having a pre-event screening for the blogging community would mean that EVERYONE AND THEIR DOG who came WOULD blog this thing to death;
* Not realizing that the publicity garnered would mean insane amounts of avatars COMING to the Fair;
* Public perception that it's a scam event, when in reality, it's more the Good Intentions Paving Company;
* Lots of people screaming at each other who didn't bother to read notecards sent out with the event;
* And worse than that, lots of people screaming at the DESIGNERS of the items, not the ORGANIZERS of the event, to get out of their sim because of the lag issues.

As I've said, some designers have left over this; not because it's a bad idea, but because it was so staggeringly ill-planned. I've heard (I'd love confirmation of this) that this is the first big event of any kind that the organizers have attempted. If that's true, then cut them some slack, guys; the first Hair Fair was two sims and people would literally crash crossing between the two sims--including the runway models for the big publicity event, because the original runway path ran straight down the dividing line between the two sims!

To use the words of Penelope Thiessam:
"So I suppose the Black & Blue fair means a bit to me, because I think inspiration and creativity are key to life. When you lose hold of those, I think you lose hold of your mind. "
Yeah. And maybe that's the biggest reason to go. Because in spite of everything, they're trying to do good. And get the message out. Tell people that they're not alone and friendless and crazy, even if they are, because hey, other people feel that way, too. Gut it out and keep going and maybe things will improve.

At the least, there's a lot of the designers who've struggled with these issues, themselves, and a lot of consumers who know what that's like. So, all in all, I'd say--go if you want to, but don't think it's a charity event. And maybe, the next time this comes around--if it comes around again--the organizers will be just a bit more seasoned on what crowds in SL do, and what sim performance issues they can expect.

(Also, while we're talking about it, and because I suspect that this blog post deals a bit with the Black & Blue fallout, I just want to say I adore the photos taken for that entry. They're amazing.)


[Late entry from the Editrix: I'd add one more thing from that SLUniverse forum thread:
"The purpose of this fair is, and always has been, to raise awareness and de-stigmatise mental illness. Knowing there are others who are currently experiencing or have experienced the same things is a good motivational tool in getting help and huge help in the recovery process. One of the goals of the fair is to make people realise that having a mental health issue is not something to be ashamed of. We just hoped that if one person would seek help because of the fair, or one person was a little more informed and wouldn't look down on someone else because of their mental illness, or was willing to offer their help or support, that the fair would be a success. And that was the goal.

If anyone has any more questions or concerns, you are welcome to contact me in-world.

Melisande Metaluna"
Well, then. Now we know?]


Lalo Telling said...

Don't ask me why, but I found myself reading the SLU discussion of the Black & Blue Fair late last night... I think, probably, for the same reason people watch auto racing: for the wrecks. I'm a stereotypical male who gives not a rodent's posterior about Fashion, but a juicy controversy... I'm all over it.

The lead organizer, Keira Seerose, did eventually appear in the thread and, best I could tell, did yeoman (yeowoman?) work to try to explain, apologize and smooth troubled waters. Along the way, she did confirm that this was her group's first event (which seemed painfully obvious to me from the get-go).

Somewhere in the back of my head, I'm seeing Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland saying "Let's put on a show!" Is there anyone not familiar with the phenomenon of "clubs" constantly appearing in SL because someone thinks it will be both cool and easy to do -- and those same clubs disappearing by the time the next rent/tier payment is due? I guess, among the fashion-conscious, the same bug will bite about "fairs".

The point, no less in SL than in RL, is: before beginning any venture, do your homework! And start with the realization that there is no such thing as "so easy, anyone can do it."

Rhianon Jameson said...

I dislike the attitude that one sees all too often, that we should excuse most anything if the cause is right. Mental illness is bad, greater awareness of mental illness is good - all else equal. But if I tell you I'm running a dolcett sim to destigmatize mental illness, does that really do the job? Clearly, this fair is a long way from associating good mental health with roasting and eating people, but it's starting to stroll down the same road.

Emilly Orr said...

Mr. Telling,

As you'll note from the occasional appearances (towards the end of the thread) of my avatar, I was reading along too. And I found Keira's responses to be open, understanding, and hopeful--she seems actually to be learning from the mistakes made during this fair, and she's working already to apply those lessons to her next event, to be held sometime around July, I believe.

What I didn't appreciate, unfortunately, were the responses of her friends, which ranged from vague and dodgy (the best responses) to outright hostile and aggressive (everything else). And while I do appreciate fear for a friend, and loyalty to a friend, makes more than a few people behave badly in public (and/or on the net), it still galls to have the impression that things are being asked, and answered, and worked out, only to fall back to the beginning when one of her friends circled into the thread to call us all vipers, spiteful, and stupid. That still doesn't set well, when the majority of the thread-respondents were doing their best to be even-tempered and rational in their questions and responses.

Emilly Orr said...

Miss Jameson,

I think it has a long way to go before it becomes actively damaging to its own cause; and I do think things have improved slightly (the acquisition of a second sim to up the parcel's prim count; the removal of the tip jars; the editing of the drop-down menu to state clearly it's not a charity event; the removal of the cocaine mirror "prop") since the start of the Fair.

Of course, now my brain's amused at your analogy instead--and is wondering what the response would be if a Dolcett sim threw an event to publicize the struggle for womens' rights. :D

Fogwoman Gray said...

I am with Rhianon here. I do not really see the connection between a fashion fair and mental illness. If you want to raise awareness of mental illness, do something educational about mental illness - or something controversial. Hold an art exhibit themed to mental illness, do a reading of works by writers who are/were mentally ill.
This rather reminds me of years ago during an African famine, when one of the televangelists on TV and his wife were raising money in a mascara dripping telethon to buy teddy bears for the starving children. Someone seems to be missing the point...

Emilly Orr said...

Lady Fogwoman,

Near as I can ascertain, having spoken with the Fair's organizers since posting this, they honestly intended to do good work. Where they get the link between fashion and mental illness is two-fold--first, they are firmly in the Fashion Good! camp, and second, they were thinking, get folks together, get them creating, get them inspired, and carry that inspiration out into the world from there.

Miss Seerose is carrying the bulk of the costs of this event herself, and she's up to 3/4 of the sim she's on, to try to ensure that people can access the sim. She and her staff also have notecard givers stashed around and about (which, well, mostly don't work with the lag), as well as giving the designers opportunities to insert notecards of personal stories and helpful advice in with their products.

Is there a direct connection? No. And it's not a charitable event. But what she's trying to do, while flawed in execution, is nonetheless earnestly meant--support those who have mental illness; convince them they're not alone; and convince them they can still create, they can still put themselves and their works out there, be seen, be appreciated.

But I grant you, it's an awfully wide and heavy load for the slendere shoulders of one skybox-bound Fair to carry.

Rhianon Jameson said...

"Hey guys, don't put down women! Women are great! And tasty!"


"Women's rights are important! Let 'em choose: roasted or broiled."

Umm, I guess not.

Emilly Orr said...

Probably not. Though now I'm also giggling over the firestorm of controversy surrounding adult breastfeeding in Islamic countries, and...wau. Just wau, there's a lot of different ways to take that.

(And to be fair, without considering the actual consumption angle, I'm sure there are men who would have no problem waving signs that said women were tasty. :D )

Anonymous said...

I just thought I'd leave a few thoughts here...

I thoroughly believe that fashion and the creativity behind sl's fashion world in particular can be used as a completely inspirational tool to support good causes.

I think that the lack of inspiration and creativity have everything to do with depression and other mental disorders.

That said, just because it is different and you don't catch the aim right off the bat, doesn't mean it is a terrible idea.

If they were to aim towards the traditional crowd of artsy fartsies and uppities that typically attend gallery openings or other artistic endeavors (not that these are bad people or events, by any means) that I believe would be missing the point. Their aim was never to raise money, but to raise awareness. The fashion crowd, and the average sl shopper... they're the ones that this sort of thing should be aimed at. In my opinion.

Also, as far as the sponsors being taken off the wall... they gave money at the beginning, that didn't change because they dropped out and removed their items. I doubt they were refunded money they freely gave? I dunno though.

Any who, in the end of it all, I'm generally the first to bitch and gripe about things, and I certainly wouldn't let a misguided "good cause" stand in the way of my streak. But, Keira and her team seem to me, to be inspired and setting their foot in a door where the territory is very undiscovered in sl. Their mistakes on this event have been a bit stupid, I agree, they should have through things through a bit more and asked around. But at the end of the day, it's not a bad idea, and they aren't intentionally trying to deceive folks. I'm all about rooting for the under dog, especially when it's so unique and inspired.

Emilly Orr said...

Pretty much.

Since I posted this, I've spoken more with Keira, the organizer, and Melisande and Prue Genira, her friends and assistant organizers; I've also spoken to Keira in world. And I do think they had a good idea, and wanted to do good by putting the Fair out there.

(I also know there's going to be a second Fair, likely to raise awareness on the same issues, and land has already been donated to them to use. So yay for that.)

Ultimately, I think many of us are jaded--so many of us grant so little leeway these days to people. Someone built something without shading it properly in PhotoShop; someone took too many lines to code a script; someone's still using a first-generation skirt-builder; someone's throwing some event that doesn't perfectly mesh with SL culture.

We don't automatically think these are signs of inexperience, we generally think these are signs of laziness.

I'm not saying this general perception is right, btw; I'm saying most of us have absorbed the standard way things look now, behave now, as opposed to 2006, 2007 (if some of us were even on the grid back then), and we expect subconsciously that that's just how things are.

Me, I think later events that they throw (and I get the definite idea that Keira wants to throw more events) will be much more polished, and I think that's more of a good thing than a bad thing.