Kool-Aid Man in Second Life
From 2008-2011, Kool-Aid Man gave tours of the massively multiplayer online game, Second Life. The game has no objective, no story. Most of the content on it is exclusively created by players. Kool-Aid Man traverses this seemingly infinite user-created landscape: unpopulated desolate areas, nature modeled after a beautiful version of reality, and many places where users created as a field to interact with other users. Several places Kool-Aid Man finds are perverse, serving specific subcultures or fetishes. No music is played over the video, the sound effects in Second Life play throughout the video, plus any other music being streamed by the landscape. The appearance of Kool-Aid Man closely resembles the cartoon character from the popular American drink mix. Rafman’s avatar has red legs with foot-like shapes at the end, but his arms are red rods without hands. Its face is static, with a big smile.
Kool-Aid Man in Second Life shows an online world left to its users to create. It points to the interaction between humans and technology, creators and their tools. Whether in a palace built for vore fetishists or sitting amongst a group of planets in an artificial galaxy, Kool-Aid Man just enjoys the act of observation and exploration, regardless of the content. Within the same group creating cityscapes modeled after those in Blade Runner, someone has created a forest with a picture of an obese woman lying down. From the beautifully designed, to the uncanny perverse, to the plain bizarre, Kool-Aid Man’s tours in Second Life explore anything and everything creative. His tours also display a quiet horror in the loneliness and absence of tangible substance, while searching for meaning in a virtual world. Rafman states, “I think sometimes, that Kool-Aid Man’s presence is unnerving, and sometimes when I look at Kool-Aid Man’s smile, it terrifies me. There are those who believe that when dreams become reality, they become nightmares. Perhaps Kool-Aid Man in his tours transforms our experiences of Second Life in a way that highlights this possibility.”
“Rafman’s version strolls through the servers of Second Life in search of nothing in particular, but discovering all things playful and perverted. Best known for smashing through walls in TV advertisements, which the artist remembers watching as a child, now the very presence of Kool-Aid Man’s rictus grin implies the act of trolling. In the shared fantasy of Second Life’s role-playing world, Kool-Aid Man refuses to play along: ‘It’s like I’m destroying the consistency of their make-believe,’ says Rafman; he’s been banned from many worlds just for being there. Perhaps it's the allusion to the phrase ‘drinking the Kool-Aid,’ associated with the 1978 Jonestown cult deaths, which transposes the context from one ‘massively multiplayer’ illusion to another.” Zhexi Zhang, Gary (2016, January-February). Frieze (176), 92. The anthropology of Jon Rafman
Kool-Aid Man in Second Life brings attention to the rapidly changing world amongst technology, inside of that technology. It shows the self-fulfilling prophecy for those seeking an aid to loneliness in a virtual world like Second Life. As social creatures, human players in these games often create communities built on artificial identities, with the purpose of fulfilling personal desires such as youth, or to express personal identity commonly rejected in everyday life. Rafman’s project displays how the tools used to create can distort the creation past pure human expression and mix in syntheticness. Indeed, Rafman says, “How come we can take so much pleasure in a movie in which all human kind is completely annihilated? We’ve reached a point where we’re enjoying our own nightmares.” Second Life, presumably an easy way to connect with other people, is a barrier keeping those people apart. The further down the rabbit hole, the harder it is to get out. After all, there is very little space in modern day society for furries.
A more recent work of Rafman’s, Still Life (Betamale) from 2013, continues many of the same themes, although it was made in a much different format. Images pulled from the popular image board 4chan flip across the screen, in search of meaning. Ominous music, composed by Oneohtrix Point Never, plays in the background, and a picture of an obese man with underwear on his head who is pointing two guns at his forehead in each hand, is repeated. This video also feels much like an exploration of the internet, and an online world without consequences or a need for restraint that ultimately lacks meaning and harbors isolation.
Another similar piece is LaTurbo Avedon, an avatar created by an anonymous artist in 2012. LaTurbo Avedon participates in social media, and creates her own works of art, similar to how a normal human would. By doing so, LaTurbo Avedon explores what it means to create art as an avatar, and the boundary between humans and the avatars they play. LaTurbo Avedon’s works are inspired by Second Life, and she creates her own pieces similar technologies. The open endedness of her work resembles Rafman’s piece, although the intention of the two artists are not very similar.
• Valentine, Ben (June 11, 2014) Jon Rafman's Not-So-Still-Life of a Digital Betamale
• June 27, 2014. Jon Rafman: The end of the end
• Swift, T (July 5, 2014) you are here: art after the internet reviewed