Monday, March 21, 2011

Second Bodies by Sandra Danilovic, Documentary Film Review

"There is something stronger than sex or happiness: the passion for illusion." Jean Baudrillard, the French philosopher, theorist and social activist said this well before Linden Lab designed Second Life, a 3D virtual world created by its residents (people like you) that's bursting with entertainment, experiences, and opportunity.

If anything was possible and you could be anyone or do anything.... what would it be? Want to fly across the ocean or perhaps the universe? Care to change your body into a perfect physical specimen or maybe another gender or something completely different? Drive a Rolls Royce, work on Wall Street, dunk a basketball? Want to dabble with virtual reality for awhile, even if it means gaining some new perspective on your current situation?
Second Bodies cover image
I just had the pleasure of watching an Indie film, Second Bodies, about one woman's experience in the gaming world of Second Life. The 2009, 46 minute documentary is written, produced and directed by Sandra Danilovic of Toronto. It won Best Documentary at the 2010 San Francisco New Media Film Festival.

Elements of beauty, escape, personal journey, fear, sex and more are intricately woven into both Second Bodies and the online experience. Danilovic, as actress and director, does an excellent job presenting the philosophies inherent to the system without spelling everything out for the audience. In fact, I found this film subtly artistic; it's likely many people may not be ready to appreciate the scope of intelligence within. If one goal of the documentary is to get us to open our eyes and learn more about ourselves, this film passes with flying colors.

Second Bodies sex scene
After all, can Sandra Danilovic explain attraction, love, reality and experience for the rest of us? Of course not, and she's not attempting that. What's great about this film is what it achieves without trying to; it gets the viewer pondering subjects as basic (and simultaneously profound) as self-image and self-worth which are perhaps now more understandable because of this "video game."

Fellow cast members include Danilovic's friends, Annette and Michele, who help explain the intrigue of the Second Life experience as well as the benefits.

Annette's furry avatar
Annette describes herself as an educator, bookworm, bi-polar married person who is often shy and hides out with her husband and friends in her apartment. In Second Life, "I feel confident, attractive, funny and interesting, like a more confident version of myself." Annette has tried avatars like Goth Chicks, but in the film adorns the body of a Furry, a cross between human and animal with fox mouth, big ears, long tail, paws and a rather sexy-while-furry body.

Michele says she feels... "free, like a little kid experiencing something new for the first time. I get to do things I couldn't possibly do in real life, like flying." In this life, Michele faces the challenges after entering the real world with birth complications that left her suffering from cerebral palsy and eventually confined to a wheelchair. In the gaming world, Michele can do anything she wants.

"Do you think you're beautiful?" Danilovic asks, both herself and her friends.

"I wish I had my avatar's waist," Annette says jokingly. "My furry avatar is a way to distinguish myself from all the avatars that are perfect renditions of what bodies should be."

Michele answers, "I'm not the conventional beauty type like Kim Basinger or Nicole Kidman... I don't look like that... some would describe me as exotic looking. I feel loved by my son. He tells me all the time," she says referring to Seth, her 6-year-old who seems to appreciate his single mother at just the right moments.

Sandra Danilovic, writer director and producer
Perhaps Danilovic was destined to experience the gaming world and make this film. Her earliest childhood memories of beauty involve two women: her mother and Barbie. In the game she gets to experience either version, but there's much more to it than that. From Sandra's own diary in 1996; "Am I just imagining my own pain or is it real? I don't know what reality is."

Another huge element of both the game and movie is understanding experience itself. Perhaps we need to step outside of our bodies to experience something else and thus more fully appreciate our actual reality.

We have seen it in the past and believe that technology will continuously get better with each coming year. My guess is Second Life and other virtual worlds will forever get closer to everyday realities until we have trouble distinguishing between the two. The question ultimately becomes; which world would we rather life in?

"We no longer partake of the drama of alienation, but are in the ecstasy of communication." - Jean Baudrillard

Second Bodies, a Independent documentary film by Sandra Danilovic, 5 out of 5 stars rating

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Imagine Creating a Universe

Albert Einstein, Imagination is more important than knowledge
"Imagination is more important than knowledge," said Albert Einstein, the German born physicist who lived from 1879 to 1955. He's the father of general relativity, E=mc2 and arguably the greatest mind the Earth has ever known.
Perhaps part of what Einstein was saying is that creativity plays a more valuable role in actual discovery than merely understanding existing doctrine. Not to say educating ourselves on what is known isn't important, but perhaps fiction and fantasy are far more involved with the revelation of new ideas than we realize.

Imagination is at the heart of the novel, The Little Universe. For the reader needs to imagine creating a miniature universe, a living and breathing self-enclosed cosmos separate from our own where the reader can explore all the galaxies, stars and even planets within it.
Think outside the box for a moment. If you really had a universe at your fingertips and could search anywhere within it, what might you find? The possibilities are endless; from primordial soup to advanced alien worlds, surely anything could be found - and this truly stretches the limits of anyone's imagination. As an author, I felt humbled by the very concept.
Here is a sample from the novel, at the moment of creation within The Little Universe:

The Little Universe front cover, Jason Matthews, spiritual books
I wiped the sweat from my palms onto my pants. Adams gripped the back of his swivel chair as he stood behind it, pressing his thumbs into the fabric. His stare remained locked on the blank monitors. I felt the tension getting worse, and I wanted to say something witty to break the silence, but nothing came to mind. Instead, a calm peace spread over us from the dark screens. I could hear my breathing and feel my heartbeat over the sounds of anything else. The silence made me think that something wasn’t working. I looked at the control panel and noticed that Jim’s green light was glowing as brightly as I had ever seen
it, as if at any moment he would explode from thinking. I figured there must be a glitch, and I expected Adams to take off his glasses in frustration and start complaining to Rose about what went wrong.
Then suddenly, a tiny spot of light began to show on the main monitor.
As soon as I could focus on it, it flashed into a brilliant explosion across all the monitors. Then it was dark again. Jim’s light dimmed to a dull green glow. I looked to Adams for an explanation. He started laughing out loud, staring at the screens. The flash had blinded me after it dissipated. Now I saw that tiny dots of light remained. Those spots of white emerged from the center of the main monitor and began spreading out and getting larger.
“Yes!” Adams cried.
“Yes, what?” I asked.
“Everything okay, Jim?” he asked, taking off his glasses.
“I think so,” Jim said. “I think it’s working.”
The screens remained primarily dark, but small areas of glowing light were visible.
“There!” Adams said. “Let’s get a closer shot from Monitor One.”
As the camera zoomed in, I could make out what looked like glowing gas. The light was bright yet transparent. It floated outward and settled into swirls with other bits and pieces. My hand made swirling motions, mimicking the action on the monitors.
I turned to Adams. “What is that stuff?”
“Matter,” Adams said, smiling broadly. “Pure matter.”
It didn’t look like matter. It looked like a bundle of glowing gas. As the shot went closer in toward the light, I could see big blobs and little blobs, each pulsing with tiny specks of light.
“Chemical analysis of the matter, Jim?” Adams asked, nervously spinning the chair in front of him.
“Hydrogen. Entirely hydrogen.”
“Perfect!” Adams said, rubbing his hands together.
“It’s just gas,” I said. “You took hydrogen from one source and merely placed it into another.”
We watched the images of the glowing gas blobs become larger. They spread out and intermingled with other blobs of light. It was mildly intriguing.
We stood motionless for several minutes, just watching.
Then Adams broke the trance. “See, Jon. These lights number in the millions. Most are locked in orbits with others.”
As I looked more closely at the tiny areas of light, I suddenly realized they looked like galaxies.
A shiver traveled down my spine. A tiny universe had been created before my eyes. Within minutes, dozens of different masses sparkled against the darkness on the screens. Each mass hovered about on its own, tracked by a different camera within the cavity of the building and displayed on a monitor. Our dimly lit lab room was filled with light from these newborn galaxies.
Adams laughed again. “Jim, zoom Camera Two in closer.”
Monitor Two revealed a cluster of stars, tons of them surrounded by extraordinary colors and formations. It was like a fountain of magic dust, reminding me of the pictures in the hallway that I passed by each day.
“What’s happening here?” I asked. “This doesn’t look like gas anymore.”
“It’s a nebula!” Adams cried out, raising his arms to the ceiling in victory. “We have a nebula! Slow down the rate, Jim. Take it down to a crawl.”
The twisting and moving slowed down, halting the lights. The monitors displayed dozens of galaxies frozen in time. Adams, mystified by his creation, stared at the screens. Each one showcased a galaxy of brilliant lights and amazing colors. He laughed in delight.
“We did it,” he said, shaking me. “We really did it!”
I looked around at the monitors into a vast horizon of heavens, feeling like I was on a space station in the center of the universe.
“I still don’t understand,” I said. “How did this come from a little atomic matter?”
Adams sat in his chair, calmed himself, and stared at the monitors in a dreamy way as if the full understanding of the invention had just come to him.
“When you analyze things that are extremely small, like quarks and elements of atoms... and when you compare them to things that are extremely large, like stars and galaxies... they’re oddly similar. Physical size may be one of the great mysteries of life.”
Then it became clear to me. I found myself saying out loud, “We have a model of a universe. Not just a plastic model, but a living, breathing, real universe right in front of us.”
All that time in the making, I never really understood the significance of what he was attempting until that moment.
“What’s more,” Adams added, “we’ve just witnessed The Big Bang.”

“Creation has happened! It’s been a long road, but we arrived today. Rose, you were right as usual. Portal from ct over zero at parsec y! If I die tomorrow, I’ll be happy. Doubtful to sleep tonight, the rush of it all is still in me. Watching light come out of nothing... watching the birth of stars! It was everything I had hoped for and more.”
- From p. 23 of Webster’s journal.

This novel available as a paperback at Amazon and as an ebook for Amazon Kindle, Barnes&Noble Nook, Apple iBookstore and the author's website directly.

What are your thoughts?
Click here for the home page of author Jason Matthews.

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