“Where Does a Girl Have to Go to Find a Pool Table: Gender Performance, Leisure, and The L Word in Second Life”

Curator's Note

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)


So, not being much of a dancer in FirstLife, I can’t imagine that I’d be too great a companion in SecondLife. That conventional femininity and upper middle class homosexuality, would be the prereqs for self-presentation in “The L Word’s” SecondLife “planet” isn’t all that surprising given the show’s mode of address and representational regime. I do think, however, that it speaks to the necessity for a varied web of interactive “portals” for those invested in utilizing the show for identity purposes. For all the gains in the realm of “gay visibility” in tv’s post-network era, it’s not like there are all THAT many places to consume the sign “lesbian” on television. It seems a good idea that cable tv’s “big lesbian show” has a varied internet presence allowing for all manners of interaction with the text, no? Viva la “Varied Fan Culture,” I say….

Kelly, This is a really interesting piece on the experience of using Second Life and the intricacies of using services such as these. I would surmise that the fans on Second Life are a small subset of the fans of the series, and you're hinting at the classed, raced, and gendered aspects of the space. How do the activities here compare and differ from the Our Chart fans' activities and other forms of online fandom?

Kelly, I have a student who is interested in how peole engage in initial interactions with others in Second Life, so I will definitely point her to this. It seems like expert users could--if they wanted--challenge the representations that are reproduced by the producers. But, expert users probably have more interesting places to be than a corporate-produced fan community.

Kelly, This is a really interesting clip! It doesn't seem that there are too many queer women of color, or those who don't conform to conventional gender norms in this online avatar. And yet, the show lately has been trying to 'expand' its representation, and move beyond the white, hyper-femme ideal. What about those L Word viewers who welcome these 'changes' but are thwarted the moment they attempt to extend their participation beyond the show? It would be really interesting to see how they would subvert/challenge their online 'exclusion.' What about Second Life? Have there been attempts by participants to question/subvert/challenge Second Life's 'version' of L Word?

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