No, it’s not an obscure form of kung fu – it’s something that’s crept into my consciousness, almost without me realising until a conversation with a friend last night set the old grey matter pulsating.
My friend mentioned that a drunken mesh gentleman had taken up residence in our local pub, in part to strike a semblance of balance with the club across the road, where a number of mesh ladies can be found, passed out in strategic locations and much the worse for wear. You’ve no doubt seen them around – in fact, it seems de rigueur these days for every slightly edgy, urban or grungy store and any club worth its salt to have its complementary scattering of inebriated mesh inhabitants… you can even get them in the classic ‘calling on the porcelain telephone’ pose – a must-have for all the best washrooms across the Grid!
Personally, i like these little touches, and the realism that mesh creates just adds to their charm. However, the thing that interests me most about these seemingly innocuous accoutrements is that they represent an underlying cultural signature that is possibly unique to the sl community.
The internet has successfully hijacked the term ‘meme’ and bastardised it into something it was never meant to be. In its original context, a meme was the cultural equivalent of a gene – a societal marker that exhibited specific traits and trends – in many ways, memes were an almost unconscious, natural response to the cultural environment in which they arose, and their origins – although they might appear straightforward from a cursory glance, were often complex.
Take the punk movement of the 70’s: a genre that had a wide-ranging impact upon everything from fashion and music to social and political activism. Was it the music and the bands that inspired the spiky hair, tartan and safety pins, or was the music itself a symptom of a growing disquiet with the status quo. Did punk rock incite rebellion or did rebellion incite punk rock? Whatever you might conclude for its origins, the meme itself was pretty clear. Today’s internet ‘memes’ lack the substance and sophistication of such things and tell us far less about society and culture, other than (1) Cute kittens will take over the world, (but The Goodies already knew that, over 40 years ago!); and, (2) Creativity has become limited to putting a new slant on an existing concept.
True mimetic behaviours have a spontaneity about them and are more than just copycatting, and they are often exclusive to particular elements of a society or culture. This is where our drunken meshies come in: they are somewhat of a niche market; they aren’t the result of an intensive marketing campaign or hype; you could say they are ‘fashionable’ or ‘trendy’, but not in the traditional sense; they make a statement – their presence at any location says something about that place and the people you might find there… although, don’t ask me what the message is – i’m still trying to work that one out!
There are other underlying social memes to be found inworld too. Again, these aren’t the copycat, high fashion and easily-explainable trends, they’re more the sneak-in-at-the-backdoor-and-make-themselves-comfortable sort of trends that you only notice when they’re suddenly everywhere around you.
Here’s a few of my favourites:
You know the look – miserable, downturned mouth, button nose, thin gangly legs and hips like flying buttresses. The sort of avatar that looks as if it has a missing horse between its legs, and makes John Wayne look positively knock-kneed. Nobody, but nobody, thinks this look is attractive or appealing, yet its prevalence throughout sl is almost universal – it’s completely baffling, more so because anyone else who ever has anything to say about it also seems completely baffled by the trend. Perhaps this is a kickback against the ‘normal’ sl look – 7 foot tall, perfect skin, long legs and ample boobs – and the extreme cartoon-like over-emphasis of those very things that many sl avatars are at pains to display in perfect form is a commentary on the absurdity of vanity in a virtual world? Or perhaps, these people just like looking weird?
♣∞~~ξ ℬ℮ṧτε﹩☂ ℱωї℮η∂ṧ ℉øґε√℮ґ ξ~~∞♣
Perhaps it’s the lack of context and inflection from which text-based communication suffers that taps into a latent insecurity to love, and be loved, that prompts us to create personalised greeting gestures to fire off to friends when we see them. It was some time after i first arrived in sl that i came across this social convention and, as soon as i did i desperately wanted to be special enough in the eyes of my own friends to merit my own ♥♥§ ϟεґεη∂☤℘ḯḓ⑂‼ §♥♥, pronounced in a funny voice, whenever i entered the room! Oddly, this is at odds with the rest of the internet, where it seems the fashion is to embiggen one’s own name and status, rather than those of whom you interact with. Perhaps this is indicative that sl really is a social network, unlike other contenders, like Facebook, which are very much social networks.
My conversation is not your conversation
Profiles are intended to be the place where we show ourselves off to the virtual world. Yet they are frequently inward-looking, introverted and exclusive. The way in which we employ our profiles probably says more about us than was ever intended, and many of them contain memes within memes, that only have meaning within a very tight social circle. There is a sense in which profiles can become the antithesis of their intended purpose – there’s a whole subculture of Second Lifers who use them to assert their individuality, limit social interaction and alienate the casual enquirer. ‘About me’, becomes a place to lay down the rules… ‘I’m taken’; ‘No random friend requests’; ‘No drama’. Profile picks are less about fun places to be and more about special friends and excerpts from chat that make no sense unless you’re in on the joke. As for the ‘first life’ tab – well, that’s nobody’s business at all.
Whether this is more of a fashion statement than a meme, i don’t know – what i do know is that it leaves me completely bemused and isn’t endemic to any social group elsewhere on the .net or in rl. Yes, i know having a strand of hair, cupcake, frog or slice of toast stuffed in your mouth is supposed to look cute – and maybe it does, for all of three seconds – but please remove it once the moment has passed, and certainly before you engage in conversation. Apart from the hair thing, you never see people wandering around anywhere outside sl with slices of cake wedged in their gobs or keychains dangling from their lips, so what on earth is this about? Frankly i don’t know, but it does tell me that the way we think when we’re inworld is very different from when we’re not.
There are plenty of other sl-exclusive memes in addition to those i’ve mentioned, but the big question has to be, what do they say about us? The answer to that is complex and not one i particularly fancy tackling, but perhaps you have your own ideas?
I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood
The Animals – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood