No Eden to the west

In the United States’ modern mythology, Route 66, established in the 1920s, emerged as a symbolic way to hope and freedom, to the promises of a better life or to the dreams of a more authentic existence on earth. This set of images also comes to my mind when I visit Mother Road – Mirage Motel 66 in Second Life, which, together with its neighbor sims, presents a small town built on the desert along a representation of probably the most famous highway that the US has had.

A hitchhiking penguin at Mother Road

Mother Road – Mirage Motel 66 is not the first incarnation of the historic Route 66 in SL. The repeated presence of that highway in the virtual world and the fascination it exerts on visitors and photographers show how its imagery is cultivated among us, SLers.

Motel sign and diner along the virtual Mother Road in SL
Ricco waiting in the motel
Ricco watches TV by the road

Not surprisingly, the adjacent regions to the current Mother Road in SL, which help building the image of a town in the desert, offer homes for those who are attracted by the idea of living in such an iconic landscape. In other words, they reflect the assumption (probably a well-founded one) that SL residents are commonly touched – to the point of considering inhabiting it – by the myth of the road that, through a scenery of conquered wilderness, leads to some kind of missed paradise in the west of our imagination.

An abandoned bus in the desert

Actually, the west is a proper place to house paradise, in the eyes of the sons of Cain, who was banned to the east of Eden after murdering Abel. The west is where the greener fields should be found in the hopes of Okies trying to escape the consequences of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, either in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath (where Route 66 is famously mentioned as the United States’ Mother Road) or in Sanora Babb’s Whose Names Are Unknown.

Windmill at Mother Road
Restaurant alongside the Mother Road
Inside the restaurant

In a way, the journey to the west, the idea of crossing the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific, has also appealed to Americans as a path into the wilderness and towards freedom, independence or abandon, be it under the colonialist mentality of the Manifest Destiny in the 19th century or under the spiritual quest cultivated by the Beat Generation in the 1950s and 1960s.

A drive-in cinema at Mother Road

I will risk to say that representations of the Mother Road may exert a special attractiveness on Second Life’s residents because SL itself is still a product of a time in which we searched for online existences as our western paradises. The most successful product by Linden Lab belongs to an era in which the internet used to be thought of as a thriving and expanding bubble of liberty – or as a no-man’s land as well. Yes, SL has always been a walled garden, governed by the Lab, but we have never been driven in its domains by the algorithms that populate today’s social networks.

Getting high at Mother Road
Ricco phones home

In the history of its existence, the internet has changed from that unexplored land of possibilities into a controlled environment where our presence is limited by all the routines that determine what we will see, whom we will interact with, what kind of content will be presented to us and so on. To put it in another way: we moved from utopia into dystopia.

Sunset at the Mother Road

As in Steinbeck’s or Babb’s novels, there was no Eden in our west, no paradise in our California. Still, as the Beat Generation pointed to us, there is the way itself, the wild desert in which we can still navigate. US Route 66 may have been decommissioned in the 1980s, but the idea that it represents is still food for our dreams – and in a way that’s why we keep building such a highway again and again.

4 thoughts on “No Eden to the west

    1. Thank you, Bou! I write on this blog whenever I think I have something to say. I guess I was just speechless up to now in 2021, hehehe. I’m glad you enjoy the blog, thank you again.

  1. Yes, nice to see another of your thoughtful pictorials.
    You make such excellent images (:
    I always describe SL as being like the ‘Wild West’ because, although there are ‘rules’, they are so seldom enforced by the ‘authorities’, yet, in a ‘lawless’ environment, all is not chaos, because, delightfully, most people (avatars) are basically ‘law abiding’, and good. They self-regulate in order to prevent chaos, which isn’t a lot of fun (chaos, not self-regulation).

    1. Thank you, Seraphim, the places that I tend to write about here are great, I just point the camera 😉
      You are right, even if rules are sometimes difficult to enforce in SL (it’s not like you have a timeline with words that algorithms can look for or with pictures that can be examined by some machine), most people follow them – simply because, I think, they want to build an welcoming virtual world. Still, the feeling of “Wild West” is there, isn’t it? Less in Bellisseria, for instance, than in some other parts of Mainland, I would say – but also in Belli. Still, I have noticed, personally, that either law enforcement or law abiding, or both, have increased through the years. I mean, I see less griefing/trolling now than I used to see in the past, and when I report something, I generally don’t see the problem again anytime soon.

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