Toy Story

barbieIt’s been an interesting time in the toy industry just recently: Action Man has turned fifty, although he doesn’t look a day older to me, whilst Barbie has undergone – some would say well overdue – plastic surgery, and now comes in waif, tiny and chubby versions, along with a variety of skin tones and hairstyles. Then there’s everybody’s favourite, Lego, which has finally succumbed to increasing bullying pressure and released a wheelchair-bound minifig.

Now we can all sleep secure in our beds, knowing that the next generation’s imagination will be tempered from the outset with a healthy dose of political correctness, which of course will ensure that any latent stigmatism and non-inclusivity can be safely channelled against real people, rather than the inanimate playthings we poor souls had to get by with.

Thankfully, we also have SL – one of the last bastions of free thinking, common sense and the underlying understanding that a sense of humour, coupled with honest, open and frank discourse isn’t as evil as the morally righteous brigade would have us believe. And, if things do get a little fraught, we always have recourse to mute, eject and ban – everyone’s a winner!

Coming to think about it, there aren’t that many places left that are as blatantly un-PC as SL, although much of the time we tend to be pretty much oblivious to it. Indeed, we may even fool ourselves into the illusion that we are inclusive, unprejudiced and broad-minded, but unconsciously and completely without recognising it, the huge majority of us are blatantly and obviously advertising to the world in general that, in our heart of hearts, we’re actually pretty much indoctrinated into rather less ‘civilised’ cultural norms.

Take a look at the avatars around you, next time you’re inworld – you might even want to look critically at yourself. How many short, fat, ugly avatars do you see? How many avatars do you see with a physical disability? And, if you’re in the company of your usual compatriots, how many display features other than the majority ethnic group. Just how many of us, given the chance to create a pixel version of ourselves through the magic of SL elect for the Barbie Doll/Action Man look, without even thinking about it? And, of course, SL is practically overflowing with avatars that seek to emulate Michaelangelo’s David or Botticelli’s Venus, all without the slightest regard for realism or accurate representations of the normal human form, and – weirdly – almost all of us at some time have seen fit to bemoan the fact that SL residents are highly unrealistic, idealised and stylised versions of humanity, without even noting the irony that most of us complaining fall into exactly the same category.

'The Vitruvian Avatar' - The Gallery, Nowhere Land

‘The Vitruvian Avatar’ – The Gallery, Nowhere Land

Even those of us who try to approximate something resembling our real selves tend to gloss over the imperfections, and when we choose not to, or – shock, horror – make an active choice to present ourselves ‘warts and all’, it can be painfully obvious that we don’t quite fit in. In RL, for example, I’m 5’9″ and I’ve elected to have a 5’9″ avatar inworld: You’d think I’d committed some sort of heresy! I’ve lost count of the number of times people have told me I’d be better off being ‘normal’ SL height – it seems that my stunted condition can at times be considered objectionable, simply because my avatar fails to come up to the virtual norm. It’s no wonder that many of us choose to simply follow the crowd to become the finely toned, unblemished, perfect specimens of virtuality that is expected by the masses.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule – many people will choose to stay true to their real world ethnicity when inworld, although I suspect that there are equally as many who choose otherwise, particularly if they spend a significant amount of time amongst peers of a different ethnicity. Then there are those who will decide that they should be themselves inworld, even if to do so means to distinguish their avatar as having a disability – others may choose to be different inworld, for a variety of reasons. However, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if well over 70% of SL residents would balk at the idea of ever adopting a look that was anything less than their own personal or SL-stereotypical version of ‘attractive’.

And I’m not sure what that says about us, or human beings in general.

s. x

She’s a perfect 10, but she wears a 12
Baby keep a little 2 for me
She could be sweet 16, bustin’ out at the seams
It’s still love in the first degree
The Beautiful South – Perfect 10

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