I don’t know much about the Japanese culture, and I know less about Japanese aesthetics. Still, I’m going to risk and state that D-Lab store in Second Life and its sim have a lot to do with the kawaii trend, under some steampunk influence.
Notice that I’m not implying that the owner of D-Lab, dazai Voom, had it in mind, himself (though it may be). What I’m saying is that I see both kawaii and steampunk plastic elements in the sim. Let me explain what I mean.
The term kawaii is often translated to English as cute. Some – or many – argue that, in kawaii productions, cuteness take precedence over the more traditional, “high art” ideals of beauty (and I’m referring to beauty here as the subject that has been theorized by a long tradition in philosophy, from Plato to contemporary thinkers and including Thomas Aquinas, Baumgarten, Kant, Schiller, Hegel, McLuhan, Adorno, Malraux, Lyotard and many others). In this perspective, cuteness is less contemplative and more pathological, in the Kantian sense (linking to the object and the desire to consume it, producing pleasure in contrast with delight).
Yes, there is some value judgement in such a description, but let’s try to detach ourselves from it: the D-Lab objects and decoration are cute – pleasant in a certain way, not exactly delightful, but producing some tender affection which has a lot to do with their childish look (again, let’s try not to add any value judgement to the idea of “childish look”, it’s just a description).
Not only the D-Lab objects for sale, but the whole store and the sim decoration around it draw on the idea of cuteness. And in some cases they cleverly merge it with certain steampunk elements. The link between some aspects of steampunk aesthetics and cuteness has been repeatedly noticed and the store at Poecila, in SL, is a very good example of it.
If cuteness borrows some traits from children’s universe (including children’s body proportion), the steampunk gadgets also relate to some infant-like features. Thinking of some boys’ toys with their engines, we can say that steampunk machines may be thought of as boys’ toys for adults.
So, transforming some steampunk engines in cute machines is not at all “out of place”. That’s what D-Lab does – for instance, with the propeller that keeps the store floating or with the airship that can be seen on the sim.
For all that, even if you are not buying anything there (well, I did, and my penguin avatar that you see on this post’s pics comes from dazai Voom’s store) D-Lab is still an interesting place to visit. Another wonder that SL makes possible.
P.S.: It took me a while to produce a new post after the one on Arles because I did have some really busy time in the atomic world (or rl, if you prefer). Now, it will take another extended period until I can post again, for, now that things are calmer, I am going to take my well-deserved vacation. I wish everyone an amazing Christmas time and a happy new year. See you in 2013.