Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of virtual world and MMO fashion
When people start talking about SLsecret (like Hamlet did earlier this week) I have a hard time containing my opinion (and it's not a very popular opinion).
To put it politely, I don't think much of SLsecret. For insiders, it's a sideshow where ugliness is catharsis and entertainment, and for outsiders who don't use Second Life, well... They just make us all look like assholes. Here's what I mean:
I know that SLsecret started out with the best of intentions, modelled on the profoundly interesting Postsecret phenomenon, where anonymous people make anonymous confessions to the anonymous internet. Unfortunately, things got out of control quite quickly. Postsecret is not the place to tell your ex-best friend that you hate her guts and she has a face like a depressed pig, but SLsecret is (unless you use her name or picture of course).
The blog that hosts this feature, Shopping Cart Disco, handles it like a physical bomb, sometimes closing comments and frequently removing secrets that cross the line to keep destruction to a minimum. Of course, I don't blame them for sustaining the feature, as it generates truly impressive and valuable traffic every week. Most of us love a fix of juicy drama. We love the game of trying to figure out what's being said about who and why-- Plurk teems with this sort of chatter every week when the secrets come out. If you're going to tell me that you read SLsecret for the rare uplifting submissions, then I suspect you're either lying or regularly wasting your time. The fact remains that for nearly four years now, SLsecret has been the place to go if you want to see the worst of the worst in Second Life's fashion community.
That's the other thing... While Postsecret attracts submitters and readers from different spheres, SLsecret is almost exclusively a fashionista phenomenon. Unfortunately, it's entirely common for Postsecret clones in online fashion communities to turn into breeding grounds for the most repellant attitudes and behaviors that fashionistas are so often stereotyped for. If you don't believe me, try looking at things from the perspective of an outsider. Here's an example:
I love sugary-sweet Lolita fashion, but I hate the bitterness of their secrets communities like Behind the Bows, where adorable girls in adorable fashion talk about how much they just fucking hate that other adorable girl in the adorable fashion because she's fat or ugly or not wearing the right brand or not wearing socks. I wish I was exaggerating. Go ahead and take a look for yourself, and tell me it doesn't just repulse you. When I look at Behind the Bows, the feeling of disgust I get is probably very similar to the feeling that fashionista outsiders get when they look at SLsecret. They don't think "Oh these people seem fun" or "I want to be in this community". They're probably thinking "These are horrible, horrible people."
Is it cathartic to upload these kinds of secrets? Is it still serving a purpose to us? Recently a popular designer went through a messy break-up with her SL partner, and she discussed it avidly on Plurk. Tons of people joined in to support her there, and many of those same people were waiting for the next SLsecret post with baited breath. Everyone expected her to post about it, they wanted to see what she would say. Her identity wasn't a secret, neither were those of the other people involved in the situation, and everyone was already well versed on the issue so there could hardly be any new information. In fact, a significant number of SLsecret aren't secrets at all -- the images associated with the secret often make it incredibly clear who the target is. It's just an incredibly passive-aggressive way to lash out at someone in front of a guaranteed audience. When you're legitimately hurt, this kind of thing can be refreshing and cathartic, don't get me wrong... but when you're just being a catty bitch about someone you don't care for? Honestly, we can do without.
I would love SLsecret if it was as raw and self-reflective as Postsecret, but as it stands now, it's a festering wound in the SL fashion community that reveals all of our worst qualities, and we really need to stop picking the scab.
Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.