That’s Virtually…a Nice Bag!
As the current economic crisis necessitates consumer frugality, various companies are attempting to reap additional revenue by innovative means of selling their brand. Internet cultures and networking sites are expanding at a meteoric rate providing a spate of opportunity for celebrities and companies to capitalize materially from this virtual medium. The company Virtual Greats, based out of California, is utilizing this opportunity by representing celebrities and brands that are being sold in virtual worlds. These sop virtual goods are sold at a fraction of the price compared to their ‘real’ material counterpart. As the co-founder of Virtual Greats astutely recognizes “a customer may not be able to afford the ‘real’ Louis Vuitton bag but [certainly] can afford the virtual one.” Virtual Greats acts as a buttress between brand companies, celebrities and virtual worlds like Gaia, Whyville and WeeWorld. These three virtual worlds are youth oriented and have witnessed, perhaps counter intuitive to the current economic climate, unabated sales. The perennial and fecund concept ‘commodity fetishism’ concretized by Marx 150 years ago is a useful tool in understanding this new level of consumption and identity formation. This fetishism refers to the mystical qualities products retain above and beyond their use value. Similar to the material world, certain virtual goods are kept sparse in order to increase their value. It is palpable that goods bartered in virtual worlds have limited, if any, use value, but its ‘fetishized’ value is potentially unlimited. Marx could not have augured the commodification of virtual worlds, however this new medium may be bringing commodity fetishism to its apogee. Avatars, as in the past, are no longer just icons with dialogic capabilities; they are self-expression identities. If we are to allow children unencumbered access to virtual worlds, and believe they provide fruitful growth experiences, we must beware the dangers of consumerism subjugating self-expression. Citizens of virtual worlds must remain wary of their colonization and hucksters selling them ersatz products, even if it creates distinction and temporarily fills a void.