And I thought the Steamlands had DRAMA

Not. Even. Close.

I have a sekrit alt who dips into SL fashion/freebies/hunts from time to time, and so I occasionally add a fashion blog to my RSS reader. (I use Google reader, by the way. If you’re not familiar with RSS feeds, a reader can allow you to be aware of any new posts on the blogs you follow by going to one central webpage or application.)

So, I came across Penned Down, by Pennelope Thiessam. It was a small, new, snarky fashion blog meant for a few friends until the behemoth Shopping Cart Disco mentioned it. (Just to be clear: I don’t want anyone to get the mistaken idea that I follow Shopping Cart Disco. The ensuing brouhaha was tweeted about by someone I follow.) Tenshi Vielle called Pennelope classless and not worthy of a link back. Needless to say, traffic to Penned Down went through the roof.

Penned Down is certainly not for everyone. The self-description?

Self Appointed SL Quality Control Coordinator

Welcome to my blog. Beware, entrance is not for the feint of heart. My language is crude, my honesty is blunt, it is almost guaranteed you will be offended. Please proceed.

Something I didn’t know is that there’s a large contingent of SL fashion bloggers who believe strongly that if you don’t have something nice to say you should say nothing at all. Pennelope chose not to play by those rules, and the comments on her posts have been mind-blowing. She also says she’s been banned from several sims. This post asking whether she should post a list of the sims from which she has been banned has an amazing 134 comments as of this writing. Reading only a few comments will give you an idea of the vitriol.

Several sentiments have been repeated and repeated by the commenters on Penned Down and on other blogs that got drawn into the fray (and apparently a lot of drama has been going down on Plurk as well). Some of them just really get my goat, and so I thought I’d reply.

But these designers whose clothing you say negative things about are really nice.
I don’t buy things because the business owner is “nice.” I buy things because I like them or they meet a need.
“This is a lie and you are crazy.” —Ivey Deschanel
I will, however, choose not to patronize a business if the owner is rude, annoying, bigoted, or any number of other things I don’t want to support. I can always do without or find someone else to buy from.
But these designers worked so hard on these things.
And your point? People work far harder on businesses that fail every day. If people (read: potential customers) say something negative about your work, you have two choices: you can decide you don’t care about their business, or you can work harder or create something different in order to attract their business. It’s more pleasant when they give only constructive criticism and do it only privately, but that’s really nothing you can control or should expect.
But I’m selling this for pennies/giving it away!
I consider 50L Fridays (and other group theme events) and hunts advertising, not favors to me. Hunts, especially, are a LOT of work and annoyance for the hunters, with very, very little payoff. If designers put crap in a hunt or make the object extremely difficult to find, they should expect to get a negative reaction. Even if you think of these items and events as loss leaders, they need to have some virtue beyond being free, or you won’t actually be attracting a paying customer. And that is what you want, right?
It’s my sim, and I can ban anyone I want, for any reason.
Are you running a business or not?

And finally. Sn@tch? Really? Really? Someone thought Sn@tch was a good name for a business?

Second Life reading material

Enough to last two or three lifetimes, in fact! Second Effects has refined the list of Active Second Life Blogs, 2009:

After last week’s update, we received so much feedback and so many suggestions that we have prepared yet another even more extensive list of Second Life blogs. But this will be the last time.

Kudos to all involved. What a lot of work went into this task.

Fashion in Second Life

Fashion in Second Life: Can We Run Out of Ideas
A Mix & Match Blog Post
by Dusan Writer

There are a few things I know nothing about. I can never find the Big Dipper. I can’t get my dog to bring the ball back. And my entire wardrobe consists of blue shirts.

Beautiful blue shirts, mind you. Expensive blue shirts, blue shirts with dark blue buttons and others with white ivory ones, and blue shirts made of cotton and blue shirts made of some kind of semi-stretchy thing that’s obviously intended for someone who doesn’t weigh next to nothing, just call it toned, sounds better than skinny, but that’s not the point: the point is that even though I can look OK, spruce up all right for a business meeting say or a night out for dinner with friends, whatever, I’m still blue, that’s still the extent of my sense of fashion. I didn’t realize there was an Hommes Vogues (or is it Vogues Hommes) until I was asked to camp out on Tenth Life here and ponder whether, in Second Life, fashion will run out of ideas. Or more specifically:

“Can fashion run out of ideas in Second Life? Fashion in Real Life seems to have gone off on tangents in order to find new ideas. This may not work in SL. What are your thoughts on this?”

For me, fashion ran out of ideas for me when I hit, hmmm, 14 probably – that horrible experiment with parachute pants is what did me in, from that moment on it was jeans and blue shirts.

So I knew I would have trouble from the start: not knowing anything about fashion in real life, I’d hardly be able to comment on it in a virtual one. The only thing I knew for sure was my unwavering belief in the power of prim hair, from which I could extrapolate that how we look, and how we feel about how we look in a virtual world is, in some ways, even more important than how we look in the real one, because in the real world we might think we look like a movie star but that doesn’t mean we do, it just means we’re prone to wishful thinking maybe. But in the virtual world, we all really DO look like movie stars, even if it’s a period thing with feathered fans and languid glances.

And it’s in this range of possibilities that I got stumped: not so much about the problem of where the next fashion trend will come from, how to keep it fresh and alive for all the movie stars and Glamor Queens of the Grid – but rather, in a world of endless possibility, where our identity is an extension or a separation of us, where our environments can create a symbiosis between how we project ourselves and how the world responds….how can you POSSIBLY run out of ideas?

The Endless Tangent of the Self and Strange Loops
One of the strange and disconcerting powers of virtual worlds is what I call the strange loop, the odd interplay between the real and the virtual, each embedded in the other, like Escher’s painting of hands:

And the strange loop is important, because I believe it arrives, in part, from boundless possibility. Virtual worlds give us options: to be ourselves or to be someone completely different. To live in a beach house, or in a Victorian steampunk village. This exploration of possibilities is, at first, a way to stretch our imaginations. To explore what we might never be, or to act in ways we’d otherwise fear being seen.

But the strange loop also says that no matter how far from ourselves we travel, eventually we arrive right where we started, and need to reconcile this odd character with the rest of us: our avatars are not, we discover, separate from us, they ARE us, and as such need to be brought home. There are theories of recursiveness that touch on this, and as Tom Boellstorff pointed out, virtual worlds are recursive by nature: they are techne within techne, the tools of our production are contained WITHIN a tool of production, and thus of sociality and culture.

And so with fashion, I suppose, because if fashion is anything like the other strange dislocations that people experience in virtual worlds, we discover eventually that we’re back where we started: we try to escape “real life fashion”. We’re faced with nearly limitless possibilities. We don’t only have the tools to create a dress, we can also create the shoes, the hair, the skin, and while we’re at it the whole city in which it will fit right in.

But eventually we face that strange loop: the need to reconcile what we’ve discovered in the virtual world with our actual ones: identity, fashion, social hierarchies, love, or the creative muse.

A New Renaissance

An earlier me in, um, a blue shirt

I’ve written that virtual worlds might herald a new renaissance, or at least be early indicators. What we learn in Second Life about collaboration, say, or the nature of work. What we learn about new forms of sociality – the emergence of a tribal morality, for example, have implications beyond virtuality into the actual.

If this is true, then virtual worlds presage the emergence of craft and art again, in counterpoint to mass production:

“On the one hand, technology enables rapid, low-cost, and mass production. And anyone who’s ever rezzed a prim just for the pure love of it stands on the other.

What stands between them is mastery of craft versus mastery of production. Ten years ago you needed specialized equipment to mash up music. To alter images. To make your own movie. Heirloom vegetables were almost extinct but now they sit beside their organic “100 mile” cousins at a chain grocery store. Value is being created by smaller and smaller producers – right down to the unit of one. And in virtual worlds, this movement is writ large in almost every sim and build.”

A crisis in fashion may not be a crisis of ideas: but rather the awareness that all bets are off anyways, that the way that ideas are created, and shared, and sold, and spread doesn’t follow the old models. All bets are off, and in the pursuit of markets and competition over freebies and the latest designs, we’re also aware that none of that matters really – it’s not the lack of ideas that’s the problem, it’s that in virtual worlds we’re discovering that our notions of work and craft were built on loose foundations, and what we’re looking for isn’t a new skirt design, but a new way instead of integrating our creative spirits into the wider world.

The Courage to Create

Eshi’s Rez Day, Photo by Jean-Ricard Broek, clothes her own

Rollo May says that the courage to create is the greatest courage of them all. It is the wellspring of new forms, and new forms are what nurtures society, gives it a view of itself, lets it craft a new way forward.

And he distinguishes two types of creativity: escapist and genuine. Escapist creativity “lacks encounter” he says. It’s not that the creativity isn’t “real”, it’s that the process of creation isn’t engaged:

“The essential point is not the presence or absence of voluntary effort, but the degree of absorption, the degree of intensity,” he says. “There must be a specific quality of engagement….It is not irrational, it is, rather, suprarational. It brings intellectual, volitional, and emotional functions into play all together.”

I’d propose that if Rollo May were around to see Second Life, he’d discover the supreme site for creativity in the world today. In a virtual world, the experience creates a cross-over between emotion and mind, between our sense of self and sense of engagement with others…the ideal melting pot for creative courage.

Your World, Your Imagination
Creative courage is, in the end, both a challenge to orthodox and a reaching out to spirit. Fashion – a visual language, is not about being trendy, or even about being fashionable. It is a visual form derived purely from imagination.

The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote that “man lives by images, for only images can set verbs in motion again….Images challenge us. Indeed, images are more challenging than ideas.”

It is through images, through the imagination, that we can feed hope, for there is “an innate optimism in all works of imagination.” Through the imagination we become transported:

“…outside the immediate world to a world that bears the mark of infinity. Isn’t imagination alone able to enlarge indefinitely the images of immensity? It takes us to the space of elsewhere.”

Ideas will never run out, because ideas, the imagination, is not constrained by either reality or virtuality, it is held instead in the cupped hand of possibility, in the endless space of elsewhere which is both our own spirit and another.

“There is a river of creativity running through all things, all relationships, all beings, all corners and centers of the universe. We are here to join it, to get wet, to jump in, to ride these rapids, wild and sacred as they be.” (M. Fox)