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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pride, Vanity and Hubris in a Virtual World

It is a common perception that models are vain and conceited.  Perhaps in real life with great looks models might find it difficult to develop proper social skills when they are coddled on all the time and their looks carry them through life.

But in a virtual world, like Second Life, when anyone with a bit of money can literally buy their looks, what reason is it that a lot of the models and aspiring models are vain and conceited?  

Why do some virtual modeling organizations try to create an air of upper elitism when it is obvious that that is an aspect of real life that people shy away from?

Before I continue with this soapbox post, let me define the differences as I see it between vanity, pride and hubris.

Vanity: Excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements.

Pride: A feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of one’s close associates, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.

Hubris: Excessive pride or self-confidence.

Aristotle defined hubris as shaming the victim, not because anything happened to you or might happen to you, but merely for your own gratification. It is directed excessive pride, where you try to make yourself look better by making another look less.

Vanity is excessive self-pride.  Narcissism. It is not equivocal to hubris because it's self-directed.  So where the cheerleader captain might be vain and think herself the most talented and beautiful person in the high school, she might treat others well.

So in a Virtual World everyone is more or less on equal footing.  In time, even the penniless can look amazing.  So why is there so much vanity, so much hubris in a Virtual World?

Some of us try to veer away negativity and convince everyone to lighten up and have fun.  We get enough real life stress so why impose it in what should, could, be an Utopic version of the real world?

Is it elitism a veneer to hide real shallowness, a lack of depth in a person or organization?  That is always my first suspicion.  When someone is pretentious I immediately think they lack depth in character or talent. 

Is it professionalism?  In corporate management the most successful are the diplomatic, the gentlemen and most well mannered.   The ones who treat others with hubris, unless they are backed by incredible talent and/or knowledge, do not advance far.  In my corporate management training the first basics include harassment prevention, fairness and equality.

So here are my theories on Virtual World elitism:

1. Anonymity.  It is well know that net neutrality is both a blessing and a curse.  Being faceless affords incredible freedom and while many choose to paint a better aspect of themselves, quite a few have false bravado and feel they can be insulting and smug because there is no repercussion.  They won't be identified.  They don't have to deal with the consequences of their words or actions bringing out their worse behavior.

2.  Inadequacies.  As I mentioned it is easier to try to discredit another and hide one's inadequacies than it is to own up to one's own failings.  For example listen to most people when they drive.  It is always the other driver's in competencies as opposed to the driver's own.

3. Created Elitism.  Since anyone with enough money can buy good looks in a Virtual World, people will have to resort to other things to criticize and use for self-aggrandizement.  For example though another avatar may look stunning, the ones with hubris will find some inadequacies including the person having cheap spending habits, cheap skin, cheap hair.

4. Closed Mindedness.  The world is full of different tastes, different musics and feelings.  Many however will believe their own tastes to be the only correct one.  Old avatars, old models will think their styles are the best forgetting that times change.  

In the late 1990s magazines began to increasingly resort to celebrities over models to grace their covers.   Actresses, pop singers, and other entertainment celebrities began gradually replacing models on fashion magazine covers and ad campaign leaving many models in a state of obscurity.  It is commonly believed that designers and fashion editors just grew weary of the hubris and greed of models.  It was the death of the super model.  

In the 2000s some models began making names for themselves again including  Brazilians Gisele Bündchen , Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio.  They signalled the return of the Sexy Model where Bündchen was credited with ending the "heroin chic" era of models.  The classic anorexic look of models that was popular in your/my mom's generation. 

Though May 2007 American Vogue dubbed ten models Doutzen Kroes, Agyness Deyn, Hilary Rhoda, Raquel Zimmermann, Coco Rocha, Lily Donaldson, Chanel Iman, Sasha Pivovarova, Caroline Trentini, and Jessica Stam as the new crop of supermodels.  This crop is quite varied in appearance.

As an aside, I have observed the chosen avatar look of a player reflects the era of model they knew.  Many of the more proud accept only the heroin addict look of the pre-millennial.  The younger ones choose more celebrity or winsome looks while some go for the sexy model look.

Virtual Worlds seem to suffer from strange hubris and vanity for pixels and store bought looks.  The more utopic a world can be, the more people force fit their real life behavours into it, for better or for worse.