After a long while planning this, the opportunity finally came for me to prepare a post with one of the greatest photographers that I’ve met in Second Life, my friend Benjamin Glendale. And it was like taking a trip, like going west in the US and experiencing all the iconic elements of that travel: a certain wildness, a road through the desert, some motorcycle culture, blues music… It is curious that such an American journey was taken by a Brazilian guy and his English pal. The scenario we chose was The Sideroads Blues, at Moonlight.
The sim that houses The Sideroads Blues was inspired on the former US Route 66, which was established in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985. Linking Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 soon became a symbol of a changing country, starting with the waves of migration towards the Western United States during the 1930s, when hundreds of thousands saw on the highway their hopes of escaping from the Dust Bowl. The saga of the “Oakies” who set out to California was the subject of one of the greatest American novels: The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. The book gave Route 66 its most famous nickname: The Mother Road. Since then, the emblematic highway played an important role in the US culture, being mentioned in a variety of works ranging from Bobby Troup’s homonymous song (“Get your kicks on Route 66”) to movies like Easy Rider, Bagdad Cafe and Disney’s animation Cars. It is also considered a significant element in the rise and expansion of drive-through and fast food restaurants. And though it is only briefly mentioned on Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, it is widely associated with the Beat Generation’s spirit.
As a way to the West, Route 66 is a path to the American rhizome, as described by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. On Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy, the rhizome is an epistemological model, a way to understand culture as a multiplicity, as opposed to an arborescent conception of reality as a system submitted to unidirectional progress under a binary evolution. In other words, a rhizomatic analysis considers the world a variety of flows, narratives and constructions, while an arborescent way to organize thought sees the world as an evolutionary process, sometimes as a choice between black and white, sometimes as a struggle between two opposed forces (capitalism and communism, for instance), sometimes as a dialectic synthesis of a thesis and an antithesis (as in a Hegelian-like theory).
According to Deleuze and Guattari (or the way I read them), the arborescent conception has been typical of the traditional Western thought, particularly of the European thought. But “America is a special case. Of course it is not immune from domination by trees or the search for roots. This is evident even in the literature, in the quest for a national identity and even for a European ancestry or genealogy (Kerouac going off in search of his ancestors). Nevertheless, everything important that has happened or is happening takes the route of the American rhizome: the beatniks, the underground, bands and gangs, successive lateral offshoots in immediate connection with an outside. […] And directions in America are different: the search for arborescence and the return to the Old World occur in the East. But there is the rhizomatic West, with its Indians without ancestry, its ever-receding limit, its shifting and displaced frontiers. There is a whole American ‘map’ in the West, where even the trees form rhizomes. America reversed the directions: it put its Orient in the West, as if it were precisely in America that the earth came full circle; its West is the edge of the East […]. (India is not the intermediary between the Occident and the Orient, as Haudricourt believed: America is the pivot point and mechanism of reversal.)” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus).
It is not surprising, then, that, as an iconic way to the West, Route 66 became associated with a certain countercultural ethos, as reflected on Easy Rider. Put in other terms, The Mother Road is also a road to minoritarian cultures. Again, Deleuze and Guattari explain what it means: “The opposition between minority and majority is not simply quantitative. Majority implies a constant, of expression or content, serving as a standard measure by which to evaluate it. Let us suppose that the constant or standard is the average adult-white-heterosexual-European-male-speaking a standard language (Joyce’s or Ezra Pound’s Ulysses). It is obvious that “man” holds the majority, even if he is less numerous than mosquitoes, children, women, blacks, peasants, homosexuals, etc. That is because he appears twice, once in the constant and again in the variable from which the constant is extracted. Majority assumes a state of power and domination, not the other way around. It assumes the standard measure, not the other way around. […] Majority, insofar as it is analytically included in the abstract standard, is never anybody, it is always Nobody – Ulysses – whereas the minority is the becoming of everybody, one’s potential becoming to the extent that one deviates from the model. There is a majoritarian ‘fact,’ but it is the analytic fact of Nobody, as opposed to the becoming-minoritarian of everybody. That is why we must distinguish between: the majoritarian as a constant and homogeneous system; minorities as subsystems; and the minoritarian as a potential, creative and created, becoming.” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus).
It is, thus, amazing to find out that Route 66 is back to the grid at The Sideroads Blues (in the past, many will remember, there was a sim called The Mother Road, but it disappeared as many other regions did after SL’s hype), reminding us that Second Life is our highway to the West. Yes, for in SL even the majoritarian model becomes loose and weak: Second Life is made for our becomings. There, we are always changing, we fly, we teleport, we turn into centaurs, satyrs, furries, nekos, we come back to human forms, we can be male, female, children, adults… One can argue that many of us build a virtual reality based on some majoritarian standards: avatars that correspond to the mainstream beauty ideals, big houses at the beach and so on. But even then, most of us turn everything into a flow: we change skins, shapes, we easily replace our houses by new buildings, we keep traveling from experience to experience. And this is also true for one of the most controversial subjects in SL: sex. A number of people search for sex in SL, and sex there is mainly deviant. By that, I’m not implying that it’s morally problematic in most cases (I have no data about that), but that it is actually an enactment of fantasies, an experimentation, under a multiplicity of forms and roles.
It is important to stress that The Sideroads Blues is not just an empty metaphor for SL. It actually shares SL’s nature: it is built around minoritarian expressions, the bike culture, the road through the desert, the music of minorities… It shelters a blues club, for instance, cultivating a music genre that has always been linked with a certain set of cultural outsiders. Certainly, blues musical styles have influenced rock and roll, jazz, R&B and pop music in general – which testifies for its rhizomatic connections – but blues itself hasn’t really become mainstream. As for the motorcycle, which is the only vehicle which visitors are allowed to rez at The Sideroads Blues, it can be said that it is evidently minoritarian in comparison with the car (of course, there are minoritarian cars, but the car, as a model, has been majoritarian in our times – and let’s not forget that I’m not only talking about the vehicle itself but also about the cultural ideals and images built around it).
Finally, it was a very interesting experience to visit The Sideroads Blues during the same period as Ben did (we both paid several visits to the sim, not always together, but along the same lapse of time). As it can be seen from our pictures, each one of us experienced the place in our own, particular way, thus building, each one, a different (but complementary) journey to the West. In both cases, though, the West is not our objective – we know we’ll never actually reach it. The route is what matters: our nomadism, our Mother Roads.