Issue 5: Should there be more cultural diversity in Second Life?

One of the things I notice about Second Life is that it is a largely white, western experience with an emphasis (obviously reflected in user numbers) on American and European culture and society. Our SL experience therefore becomes one of city life, purchasing, an obsession with possession, all the things that we experience in RL.

Abdoulkarim. Occasionally lives his SL as a Masai tribesman, showing that there can be some cultural diversity in SL.

Black avatars are relatively few and far between, Asian avatars even fewer. In fact, I would suggest that there may be as many Na’vi avatars, or furries, as there may be avatars of Oriental appearance. I’ve run into quite a few RL Indians in SL, but almost without exception they seem to have adopted a western style of dress (there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that, as it is largely a replication of their RL day to day existence) and appearance. This, however, is wrong. I want avatars to be accurate reflections of their real life selves and for our second world to be a reflection of the rich diversity of peoples around the globe.

More importantly, I would like their building to reflect their own world, so that we can all immerse ourselves, virtually, in an alternate social and cultural experience.

I should be able to teleport into a sim and buy items of alternate fashion. Of course, I can up to a point, in that I can buy an Indian sari, or a tie-dye Grateful Dead styled T shirt form the 1960s. However, I would like the opportunity to visit a bazaar, and maybe even haggle with a vendor regarding the cost (if they’re manning their stall at that moment), like I might in RL.

But we all seem to indulge, more often than not, in a society and culture that is largely Anglo-American in styling. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it would be nice to be able to participate in alternatives.

With this in mind I went exploring. South America seems to be non-existent, except to be replications of its city-shopping experience (ho hum!). Chile and Peru didn’t exist, Brazil was a western shopping experience, as was Colombia. Africa (or at least the central and southern parts of it) are represented by one sim, beautiful though it is, and north Africa is better represented, with an excellent bazaar at the Morocco sim where you can pick up (free) Moroccan clothes or wander the tightly-packed streets to look at stalls selling…nothing! These may ‘offer’ spices or halal meat, but they can’t be bought, so the experience is enriching in that you tend to educate yourself a little as to the Moroccan experience. It becomes an aimless, yet enlightening, meander through virtual Morocco. Excellent, all told!

The experience was largely the same no matter what RL city or country I typed into search (although I was picking up some nice freebies wherever I went!).

What has this to do with SL naturism? Little, apart from the fact that some cultures are less uptight about ‘showing some skin’, so in that respect could, if they existed, be considered ‘naturist friendly’.

We do have access to, for example, a Minoan sim, a culture in which women were routinely ‘topless’. and it’s a sim which also does a fair bit of the ‘educational’ side, orientating us to Minoan/Cretan culture. But do we have a Brazilian rainforest sim doing the same? Any advice on how primitive tribes might live or dress? Unfortunately not.

We also have a rainforest sim, which is certainly educational, but probably lacks the size to house anyone who wishes to live as an indigenous Indian and all that might entail.

The point? These and other locations lend themselves to partial or full nudity as part of the culture. So their existence is valuable to us as naturists. They’re also valuable in terms of education, and valuable too in terms of reinforcing the notion that the naked body is not ‘dirty’ or something to be ashamed or embarrassed about. And that, I think, instils a healthier mind regarding how we observe the naked body.

Of course, tribal life does not necessarily equate with nudity, but it often does. I am not advocating cultural diversity just for the nudity’s sake, of course, I’m rather more focused on the diversity side and tacking nudity (of sorts) onto it for the purposes of this blog. More Minoans firing our interest in ancient cultures? Yes please. More rainforest news so that we can learn of these peoples’ plight in trying to stem the tide of modernity being thrust upon them? Yes please. More African sims? Yes please.

(Yes, I know, I’m really using a jemmy-bar to squeeze in the ‘naturist’, aren’t I?)

It seems that what’s holding these back, particularly in cash-strapped times, is that the Linden economic model is that Euro-American dream again, and developing such sims by people who might know is financially difficult. I once saw a blogger write ‘who can’t afford a L$300 dress?’, as I replied ‘most of the world, dearie’ -which managed to get me banned from commenting on the blog 🙂 (that reminds me, I did promise some time ago I’d write up my SL life story of activism and sim bans!)  but it’s true. L$300 in a developed world is a markedly different value than L$300 in the developing world.

Maybe what we need is for LL to consider freeing up abandoned land, or re-assessing their tier costs, for the developing world. Why not get a server in India or wherever, for less cost, and permitting Indian based (or developing world) builders loose on the project to show us their world, rather than more and more and more replications of one we already know (and often hate. How empty is the shopping mall experience?). Let us examine how we can stimulate SL growth by pitching sims at prices Brazilian, Russian or Indian or Chinese builders can afford and sustain. Only then might we see replications of the Steppes, the plains of Mongolia, the Brazilian forests or Indian village life laid out for us to enjoy virtually.



The ‘older’ experience.

Maybe it’s because I’m naturist, but I’ve managed to acquire, if that’s the right word, several ‘older avatar friends’. Naturism is, in RL, often seen as more of an older person’s chosen lifestyle, particularly of those 50+, but in the time I’ve spent in SL I’ve certainly experienced some of my older friends, who merrily acknowledge their years in chat, shift away from having that Peter Pan/Dorian Grey look and adopting an older avi. This is enriching too, because it offers a more accurate reflection of RL experience. And because of my RL interests, and capacity for hanging around specific sims (non naturist) from time to time, I’ve also acquired avi-friends of non-white appearance. All, I think, live in a western environment, so their approach to clothes, to culture, to the life experience, is not too dissimilar from mine. Other than the limitations of good, affordable black skins, it would seem their experience is quite close to mine in terms of what they do, what they aspire to, how they occupy their SL time. All of them make SL a better place to exist, purely because of their uniqueness and no ‘out of the box blonde bimbo’ appearance.

Pops and Gladys at the Eden airstrip, taking their dog for an early morning stroll. The dog’s been run over three times, limps, is blind in one eye and has worms. They call him ‘Lucky’ 🙂

I met ‘Pops’ while wandering at Eden a while back. In SL he’s living with Gladys, another older avi. Both British, both widowed, and both people who opted to join SL following the deaths of their respective spouses. Pops, just turned 70 in RL, says ‘SL opened up a little world I can enjoy daily. I’m not that mobile on my feet, although I can still ride a bicycle, so I can enjoy some social contact every day with SL friends while the RL equivalent isn’t always possible. SL probably gives me something to get up for. I can make it to the shops of the post office, after which I’ll go home, make a cup of tea and get settled down with SL for a couple of hours or more. My avatar is probably a pretty accurate reflection of the real me. I’ve got some young friends, and I keep getting adopted by some of them who seem to enjoy my company in SL. What’s more, I’m kept young by them, and sharing what motivates them. Hopefully we both benefit from a shared friendship’.

Gladys, in her late 70s, concurs. ‘I ran about looking like a teenager for months when I joined SL, but I decided I had to own an avatar that was more like me. I think I look a little younger in RL than I do in SL, but I can grow into the avatar in the coming years. Like ‘Pops’, I think SL keeps me thinking young and engaged with technology too. Only through SL did I come to terms with electronic banking, buying Linden dollars, and since then I’ve started shopping online which saves me having to trek into the town centre. SL kind of opened up a new world for me.’

And you live together?

Pops smiles. ‘Our friend lets us use his apartment as our home. It’s that adoption thing again. We’re respected within a circle of SL friends I think. I hope so anyway. Gladys and I both tend to be online in similar hours, so we talk in SL most days. I hadn’t really considered naturism before, but the home happens to be on a naturist sim. I think we were both nervous getting naked with each other the first time, even as cartoon characters. Now we’re very comfortable with it. And before you ask, yes we do have a sexual relationship’.

Gladys blushes. ‘I was married at the beginning of the 1950s. I was a virgin and I only had sex with my late husband. I’ve got five children, a dozen grandchildren and one great grandchild. And while your body gets old, your spirit doesn’t. Inside I’m still about 20 years old. We cybered for the same reason young people initially cyber, curiosity. And I think we enjoyed the idea of virtual sex as a replacement for something that doesn’t happen in RL any more. We tend to simply chat a lot, but we do occasionally cuddle up, hahaha’.

I guess many users, maybe not as old as Pops or Gladys, also use SL with much younger avatars. What’s the biggest downside of working an older avatar? ‘Oh, that’s easy’, said Gladys. ‘It’s the lack of clothes that reflect this avatar’s look. Pops can manage a pair of denim jeans, like he could in RL, but I can’t manage a mini skirt, hahaha’.

The ‘black’ experience.

‘I started SL white’, laughs Cindy, who has Jamaican roots. ‘I got a decent black skin and decided I’d have my SL reflect my RL. I then became a pole dancer. I got some tips, and didn’t have to sleep with anyone for them, but I suddenly thought I was reinforcing a stereotype. Black woman as a hooker, or involved in some sort of sex industry work. I slept with one guy in SL and it felt like it was a notch on his bedpost, because I was black. I might have been white in RL for all he knew, but I think it was a case of him saying ‘right, that’s another one ticked off the list’, so I stopped cybering after that. I’m not a naturist in RL, but I’ve become sucked into that because I met people who were naturists in SL and so I’d join them at sims. I was aware of being the only black avi around, yes. I don’t do naturism all the time, but I still have SL naturist friends and have no worries about joining them in a sim and being a minority. I don’t think about it anymore. I’m a black avi, end of conversation. And no, I’ve never encountered racism in SL, while it’s systemic in RL. I am who I am, I’m proud of that, and I enjoy the SL experience. But yes, I would like to see more cultural diversity. Jamaica is pretty much synonymous with ganja, as far as SL is concerned 🙂 ‘.

The Asian/Far Eastern Experience

to be investigated in issue 6 (Hallowe’en, 2012)…

Dr. Eva Pookes.

Pookes, or should we call her ‘the doc’ now?, isn’t entirely happy with this piece, partially rewritten from the cancelled Politics Issue, claiming it looks ‘bolted together’ and I can see what she means in terms of us applying naturism to a different topic entirely to make it work here. Because it doesn’t quite work. But we’re agreed it’s ‘an issue’, particularly in a clothes free environment, that brings it under our remit. Pookes -the Doc- says she will revisit this theme in Issue 6. Ella.

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