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Friday, January 30, 2004

FLOWERS FOR FATHER FAIRCHILD

Over the last few weeks, Buhbuhcuh Fairchild has been building a massive, vaulting structure in Welsh, and with its gleaming, flying buttresses, it looks for all the world like a house of worship.

"It's not really a church," he tells me. "I have wanted to play with the idea of flying buttresses for a while. Unfortunately we always associate buttresses with cathedrals and other big, gothic church-type buildings; I just think it's a neat architecture."

But during construction, the outside world intruded with grim news: Buhbuhcuh's real life father had been killed in a tragic accident.


So Fairchild created a plaque in memory of his father, and installed it at the base of the building's foundation. "[M]ost of it I did the afternoon and evening after I heard about the accident," he says. "Creativity has always been therapeutic for me, and the emotions I was feeling after finding out were very much a driving force."

He told a handful of in-world friends the news, but for the most part, let the plaque speak for itself. "I felt I needed to tell someone that it had happened... but once I made it, I pointed it out to a few people, but not many. Just having it somewhere where people could find it was enough."

They did. "Look at BBC's plaque to his father," Maggie Miller told me by IM. "He hasn't said a word...just put the plaque there." Others got wind of it, too. And when BuhBuhCuh returned from the funeral services, and visited the construction site, he found several vases of flowers, left by residents beneath his plaque.

"The flowers were unexpected and lovely," he says. Over the last week, more appeared. Someone added a candle, too; another, a glowing sphere that read, "Your love and memories of each other will always shine bright in your heart."

So what began as Buhbuhcuh's project to create a new home for himself became something much more than that.

"He was pretty religious," he says of his father. "His father and grandfather were ministers (he was a chemist though, but very active in the church). All the inspiration I had was I wanted to build something beautiful; the design of the buttress was done before I had found out [about his death]. But I knew it would be good, and after I found out, I decided to continue it in his memory."

"So the whole thing became a tribute to him, in memory of your father?"

"Yeah, kind of for him," Buhbuhcuh tells me, "even though I imagine he would rather have me get outside and do something."

Posted at 08:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 29, 2004

KING FOR A DAY

Last Monday, Bhodi Silverman convened a forum for residents to discuss race and identity in-world, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and invited me to be the keynote speaker. I assumed it would be a sparsely attended event, but so many residents turned up for it, the simulator housing Bhodi’s gallery promptly went offline, and we were forced to relocate to the outdoors meeting space located on the intersection of four servers, to allow for maximum attendance. Along with discussing the background for my "White Like Me" entries, here’s some thoughts I had for the audience...

"Because it is MLK day, I guess the main theme should be the place of race in SL... Second Life probably offers the widest variety of avatar choices, including race, so you really can choose whatever ethnicity/race you like. There's even an African-American hairstyle slot, which I find interesting. [In] most MMOGs, you are pretty much stuck with the classic blonde elf type, or variations on that. And if they do have black or non-white avatars, there's very much a kind of toss-it-in-at-the-last-moment, Lando Calrissian sort of deal. (In my opinion.)…


"I just found out something quite interesting before this: right now, in SL, we have residents from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel. [Along with 30 other countries! -- ed] So while we're mostly an American gang of folks, we'll see down the road different folks from everywhere, and not only will they also have their own questions about how they want to look in this world, but how they're going to be perceived, as non-Americans, in a mostly American world. So I think these kind of questions will come up more and more. And I guess a good question on this day is [to]wonder what Dr. King would think of this place, where people are really and truly not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

"Or are they, even here?"

"I think Dr. King would be both happy and sad by this place," says Nala Galatea, after Bhodi opens the floor for audience comments and questions. "I think he would be sad because most people I know here are white, with white behaviors and mannerisms. And things of culture, of any kind, are almost non-existent here. So while the opportunity presents itself to exhibit those things here, they aren't."

"As to whether this is a place... where people aren't judged by the color of their skin," Oneironaut Escher offers, "yes, it is, if people choose not to reveal that information. Also, we aren't judged for things like body type, ability or disability, smell."

"Don't you feel that there is still a class distinction of those who are more creative or knowledgeable?" Rikoala Jack asks me.

"It's definitely true that the most creative folks in here tend to be seen as elite," I say. "Sort of like how Jefferson envisioned a natural aristocracy. On the other hand, I also know folks who are less creative from a scripting/building standpoint, but are still popular, because of their social skills/emotional intelligence. So maybe there's hope for them, too."

An African-American resident sends me this thought, via Instant Message: "Me being black in real life, always kinda made me wonder what it was like to have straight hair or blue eyes. When I came across Second Life, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to see how life would be that way."

Someone else privately sends me another pointed IM, which I relate to the audience: "What you have here is a group of white bread, Caucasian middle class people, who are going to discuss race relations, in Second Life. Pfft. The people who do not fit that description in this crowd could be counted on one hand, less than one hand."

Lita Kothari boos the statement. "Just because someone is white," says Baccara Rhodes, "does not mean they have not been subject to another prejudice."

"I was targeted in school FOR BEING WHITE," Huns Valen says. "So don't try to go 'pfft' to me."

"I am disabled," says Lyra Dawn. "I can relate to real life prejudice even though I am blue-eyed blonde-haired."

"I think it's a valid point," says Bhodi. "I think we need to own that we are probably mostly white middle class folks talking about race... but that white middle class folks NEED to talk about race. We are largely responsible for racial tension in this country."

"The people who let racial tension become an issue are the people who make it an issue," says Nala.

"Let's not demonize Caucasians," Huns tells Bhodi. "people from every race have contributed to this [problem]." Bhodi answers that this isn't her point and somewhere in there, ALEXIA Noir cries out, "I just want you all to know I love everyone!!!"

("Oh boy," says Rikoala, "here we go.")

This goes on for time, veering in several directions. "Well, anyway," I finally say, "back to Dr. King. Maybe a vote: would he consider Second Life a step in the right direction, or not, or neither?"

I count one No and two Maybes, but the overwhelming majority vote "Right Direction".

"I believe that he would," says Apex Titan, "but I also believe that discrimination will always exist."

"I think it would all depend on which crowd in Second Life Dr. King talked to," says Beryl Greenacre. "There are so many different, disparate groups here in SL."

"Bear in mind," says Khamon Fate, "that he might also see all this as a waste of our time."

"I would guess he'd tell us to get off the computer and out into the streets!" says Bhodi Silverman, agreeing.

I point out that Dr. King was a fan of the original "Star Trek", and even convinced Nichelle Nichols to stay on the show in her role as Lieutenant Uhuru. ("Can you imagine Dr. King watching Star Trek?" I say, trying to picture the great man with his tie loose and his polished shoes off, sitting with his family and friends in front of the Technicolor RCA, offering commentary when the occasion warranted. "I believe," he opines to Ray Abernathy, "that lizard fellow is going to bash poor Kirk upon the head!")

So if he found value in a show featuring a multiracial cast on alien adventures in artificial worlds, I suggest to Bhodi's audience, surely he’d perceive some merit in all this.

Lita Kothari pictures him playing Second Life. "I think Dr. King would change his avatar color almost daily."

"And be named Martin Romulus," Khamon Fate adds.

Posted at 03:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)