Anatomy of a scandal
August 24, 2010 4 Comments
I know that the only thing sadder than blogging or tweeting about an inconsequential internet phenomenon is blogging about people who blog or tweet about an inconsequential internet phenomenon, especially one as five-minutes-ago as “Emeraldgate“, but this is exactly the sort of thing that we live for here at SLS, and I’m hardly going to pass up the chance get all pseudo-intellectual on the topic.
What was it about this issue that elevated it above the usual Second Life drama, and made it the talk of the virtual steamie for a day or two? I think it was down to a combination of the nature of the tale, and the characteristics of the audience.
The story itself was serious enough that people could be bothered commenting, but not so serious that they felt obliged to think much about their comments; the perfect recipe for a froth of instant opinion. The technical level was just right; the average reader understands enough about terms like emkdu and DDOS to grasp that something is amiss, but not enough to really quantify the risks involved, producing a haze of uncertain anxiety. Then there was the Woodbury sub-plot, and the allegations of Linden collusion, which added another layer of conspiracy theories (all that was missing was the JLU). Perhaps most importantly there were enough angles to allow people to use the story as a hook for their characteristic preoccupations; thus Pixeleen was able to reprise her Woodward & Bernstein act, and Prok could roll out another semi-coherent rant about… well, I’m not sure to be honest, the evils of opensource software I think. I of course am free to produce another batch of our trademark psychoanalytical posturing.
For the real secret of the story’s success lies buried in the collective unconscious of the Second Life blogosphere. We are suckers for this sort of paranoia-inducing narrative because it appeals to our narcissism, both on a personal level – how flattering to think that someone has gone to all this bother to track our virtual lives, or that the FBI will chase us for being accessories to cyber-terrorism – and in relation to Second Life itself, which we imagine is as important to the rest of the world as it is to us. The reality of the situation – that no one cares what our avatars get up to, or what our real-life identities are, and that this saga is of no interest to anyone outside of our obscure little garden – is rather less compelling.
Naming this episode “Emeraldgate” only emphasised the preposterousness. Most SL residents are probably too young to remember the Watergate scandal, which involved the President of the United States being forced to resign after being exposed as a crook who had subverted the Constitution, a notable affair by any standard. By contrast, these shenanigans have not, as far as I can tell, caused anyone anything more than mild inconvenience, and are unlikely to be the subject of an Oscar-winning film any time soon.
That said, the story has not been unamusing, and, as a piece of harmless entertainment, it has been quite diverting. Readers may recall that a couple of months ago I made the claim that, occasionally, the Second Life meta-narrative could “[come] together to produce an instant of dream-like clarity that makes the whole project seem worthwhile”. Well, the tale of the Emerald development team’s nefarious activities is just what I was thinking of. Only Second Life, with its unscripted nature and disparate cast, could produce a story like this, and if I were in charge of the Lab’s publicity department I would be using it as an example of the potential of the platform. Something tells me that’s not going to happen though, which is a shame, because without the storytelling element Second Life wouldn’t be half the fun it is.