“Where Does a Girl Have to Go to Find a Pool Table: Gender Performance, Leisure, and The L Word in Second Life”
by Kelly Kessler — DePaul University
April 22, 2008 – 05:00
In 2004 Showtime launched The L Word. Viewers simultaneously hailed the show as groundbreaking and critiqued the sudsy dyke drama for its narrow presentation of lesbian life: white, femme, and upwardly mobile. Jumping to her own defense, creator Ilene Chaiken described the show as a representation of her own specific Los Angeles lesbian community. Over the past few years, the promotion machine of The L Word has sought to draw in existing fans and increase its fan base by delving into online activities. The folks at sho.com began with a simple L Word message board and by 2007 had created its own lesbian networking site Our Chart, bringing fans together for chats, blogs, podcasts with cast members, etc.
In 2007, Showtime and The L Word also kicked things up a notch by joining in on the fun of simulated living by being the first television show to build an online community in 2nd Life. Now, fans can create their very own avatars to live, chat, dance, and, well, stand around in the lush surroundings of The L Word. Per the folks at Showtime, this experience only increases the opportunities of social networking. Well, sign me up! Upon entering this virtual play land, I was greeted with the same narrow version of lesbian living presented on the show (and then some). Fantasy femmes vie for lush living in a luxurious subdivision, dance their pants off, and do aerobics in the courtyard. (Well, that’s if anyone is actually around.) Gals can purchase bustiers and sassy tattoos to flaunt their stuff to the local hotties. That’s all well and good, but where’s the pool table? What’s a butch to do?
I’m not wholly sure what to make of this. This fantasy meeting place seems to be solely geared to the young, educated, wealthy, and heavily made-up. Without scads of leisure time and mad computer literacy, one will have a hard time in 2nd Life. I for one spent a lot of time running into walls, through the ocean, into folks, etc. (and I have a PhD). I still have no idea how to do much or get anywhere interesting. One must have serious patience, time, and money and/or skills to obtain stuff (clothes, cars, good hair, houses) and figure out how to aerobicize or do the dirty deed. Along with youth, wealth, and education, it seems to reinforce the norms of traditional femininity (much like the show). Your female avatar defaults to a highly sexualized girly girl and few of the L Word citizens seem to stray far from that image: skinny, white, scantily clad, and glamorous. (My small-chested avatar was repeatedly approached suspiciously and asked if she was an interloping male.) Does any of this matter? Why does this virtual world seem to omit the same images eschewed by the show? The fans’ vocalization of their disdain for the narrowness of representation seems to imply a wider array of types represented in the fans than on the show. Does their absence in 2nd Life speak to the show? 2nd Life itself? The L Word 2nd Life islands? We the viewers? Are there bigger 2nd Life fish to fry? If you find the pool table, let me know.
(Note: The avatar I’m hanging out with is my real partner who joined 2nd Life because no one would talk to me and I looked like a stalker)
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