Thursday, May 28, 2015

Caricavatars Political Satire Sim (2007/2008)

Second Life has been the scene of political expression. One of the more notable examples was when a member of the right-wing French National Front built a place where his party could express it's views and promote it's candidate Le Pen. But the result was protests from it's opponents that sometimes went to the point where they could be considered griefing (youtube) (The Guardian) (New World Notes). Another example from France was the Caricavatars sim, owned by Christophe Hugo. He called himself a political satirist, with caricatures of political figures, hence the sim's name, of the United States and several other countries, notably the sim owner's home country of France, in the sim, as well as builds made with the purpose of expressing political views such as "George Bush's Colon," and "Larry Craig's Bathroom." However, Christophe could be a little thin-skinned when it came to anything he considered a slight in his direction. His place would be the scene of two articles by Second Life Newspaper, by Brutha Voodoo in April 24, 2007, and several months later by Bixyl Shuftan in Jan 25, 2008.

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April 24, 2007

Vive La Politque

By Brutha Voodoo,

So there I am... standing in a nightclub high above the ground, trying to interview with a man who is sitting pointing a rocket launcher squarely at my head, as he sits in his army helicopter, telling me in no uncertain terms that if I was not French, then I would be removed from his island... and since I'm not, and can barely speak French... well, you can see what I have to go through in the name of a story.

"So how did you get yourself into this strange situation, and should I call amnesty international or the UN to ensure your swift release?" you may be asking? Well, to answer that, I need we need to go back to a previous article I wrote, where I interviewed a gentleman doing a study on SL for university ( In the interview, it was mentioned that "The French National Front set up a HQ in Second Life, which caused a protest, which broke down in to a riot." This stuck with me, as the idea of having politicians following us into our little virtual fantasy world, where we go to escape the boring day to day grind and reality of things just like this, was not one that particularly struck me as being conducive to fun. However, being the studier of the human condition that I am, it intrigued me, and so I went searching for evidence of real world politics in SL.

Frustratingly, I found little evidence of the politicians actually getting on their laptops, logging into Secondlife, and canvassing the streets for potential voters. There are a few groups and places for politically like minded people to gather and chat and debate (as much as you DO debate when you're politically like minded). There are even a few places independently trying to promote certain political candidates, but are completely unaffiliated with the party the represent, or the person, and didn't really seem worthy of in depth investigation (although I did learn that Hilary Clinton seems to have her own logo).

Frustratedly, I moped around the sl-newspaper offices, until, while discussing this piece with fellow newshound Dixie Barbosa, it was suggested that I return to the source of my intrigue. With the French Election in full swing, we set off to investigate it's effects on SL.

And thus, we ended up on the island of Caricavatars, a place of political discussion, demonstration, and from what we discovered, performance art. The place is littered with signs and posters, protesting for amongst other things, gun control (with their own little tribute to the Virginia Tech victims next to a picture of a George W Bush type avatar wearing stars and stripes boxers, and holding two handguns). There is a castle with more propaganda and political statement, and a nightclub where folk gather to chat about the pros and cons of current political feeling. But the thing that really got my attention on arrival, was the gunfire. At first, we thought it was a griefer, but upon closer inspection, a caricature avatar of the French centre-right politician Nicolas Sarkozy, current UMP candidate for the French Presidency, was shooting randomly, and flying a military aircraft. Eventually I managed to grab a few words:

[16:36] You shout: Hello!
[16:36] You shout: May I ask what you're doing?
[16:37] Christophe Hugo: I am the owner. Next question
[16:37] You: ah... np.....
[16:37] You: was just looking into this place as part of a story on rl politics in sl
[16:38] Christophe Hugo: there is no rl politics in France. There is just a dictatorship
[16:38] Christophe Hugo: I am the dictator
[16:38] Christophe Hugo: any more question?
[16:38] You: right....
[16:38] Christophe Hugo: are you French?
[16:38] You: no... english
[16:39] You: but interested in learning
[16:39] Christophe Hugo: I am sorry but I have to protect the French national identity
[16:39] Christophe Hugo: consequently I will have to ask you to leave if you are not French
[16:39] You: o....k......
[16:39] Christophe Hugo: you can't learn to become French
[16:39] Christophe Hugo: you're French or not, simple for Sarkozy
[16:40] You: no.... but I can get a perspective on french situations and politics
[16:40] Christophe Hugo: easy:
[16:40] Christophe Hugo: (a) me Virtual Sarko next dict... next president
[16:40] Christophe Hugo: (b) you and all French people have to obey me
[16:41] Christophe Hugo: (c) for the next 5 years
[16:41] You: ah...
[16:41] Christophe Hugo: simple
[16:41] Christophe Hugo: and it seems that you truly are not French...
[16:42] You: well... thank you for the information, my brother from across the channel
[16:42] Christophe Hugo: you welcome.

This is the fascinating and impressive thing about island: Not only is it being used to allow political debate and discussion, and proving to attract many intellectual residents to engage in these talks, but also for performance art, using skillfully modelled cartoon avs, to make dramatic points about the real world, through character and presentation. And while the ability to move the discussion from the real world to the virtual, to get a wider mix of perspectives, is undoubtedly a good thing, the use of the medium to create thought provoking pieces, that actually engage with you, and make you think, is much much more so. And if the rl political influence into SL produces more things like this, then it can't be all bad, can it?

Thanks to Dixie Barbosa for the assistance and photos

Brutha Voodoo

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January 25, 2008

Hillarious 2008 - Biting Political Satire

On one of Sean Voss' tours, he showed me and the others in his group a unique sim in Second Life - Hillarious 2008, of the Caricavatars sim.

Teleporting into the sim, one finds oneself surrounded by caricatures of various political figures, black helicopters, A Beijing 2008 Olympic flag with "N"s circling the Olympic rings so they resemble "NO"s. Further in the distance is a punching bag with a picture of Hillary with a black eye, in front of a recreation of the White House.

Nearby on a chair sat the creator of the sim, Christophe Hugo.  He never spoke a word outside IM to us, but after overreacting to a question by one guy in the group (more on that later), he changed into a Hillary Clinton avatar, then took a gun and began popping at us, "Hey, don't shoot, we're Democrats!" As this was not a combat sim, we weren't hurt, but it encouraged us to retreat to the White House.

Sean got the codes to enter the White House from Hugo through IM, then we went in. The first floor had a public restroom lampooning the disgraced Senator Larry Craig. The second floor had what might be called "Hillary's Oval Office." There was a funny picture of Bill, and the computer on the Resolute Desk had a google search no doubt done by Hugo's version of Hillary Clinton.

Christophe Hugo is a biting satirist, whom some might say is the kind that's the most fun. Unfortunately, his temper was anything but fun for someone in the group. All the visitor did was ask about a red mosque in the sim that was supposedly the subject of some controversy for being insulting to Muslims, and Hugo threw him out. Talking to the guy who had been unceremoniously given the boot, he told me Hugo had insulted him, then before he could answer, was told he was being muted.

Returning to the place later, Christophe Hugo would only respond to me in Chinese characters. Of the Red Mosque, there was no sign of it. In the place where a picture I found on a website showed it in another area of the sim, was a Sphinx with face of the French President's fiancé. Apparently he had taken it down.

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Christophe did not appreciate the second article written about him, he writing in the comments that not just would I be banned from the area, but all of Sean Voss's exploration group. He would also appear in the Second Life Herald (2006), and Free Rebublic "Xeroxing Hillary Clinton" (2008). Hamlet Au had the fortune to contact him when he was feeling civil, explaining he had a mild form of Autism. (2008). He called the 2008 elections a challenging one for satirists, as criticism of women and blacks could easily be taken the wrong way. I would later hear that someone complained about an exhibit to Linden Lab and he was asked to take it down, he angrily took down everything in Caricavatars. I also heard he had been banned soon after.

Satire can be a tricky art to pull off right for even a man of mild temperament, let alone one with a temper. It appears either his art or his behavior got Christophe Hugo booted by Linden Lab.

Bixyl Shuftan


  1. It is interesting to read your article and reflect on my tenure in Second Life as a caricaturist, almost ten years after I ceased my activities on Linden Labs' platform. In retrospect, I believe that satire is not a fit for for-profit companies like Linden Labs, whose main priority is first and foremost to attract an increasing number of customers. Hence they want to be mainstream, and will avoid controversy at all costs and aim for political correctness, even if it means curtailing freedom of speech. The same goes on on Facebook, where every picture of breasts will be taken down, even when the picture is to promote an action against breast cancer... Being, in RL, a university marketing prof, I expected this type of issues with Linden Labs from the start... However I eventually grew tired with untrained moderators taking down with no notice some of my 3D exhibits, every time there was a risk they may offend a community (most frequently the muslims', or the christians').
    So I didn't get booted by LL, I am the one who threw the towel because enough was enough. As for booting visitors: it is hard to describe the pressure of having to handle dozens of visitors at the same time, especially when some of those visitors are just coming to troll the place. I remember having a lot of burqa-wearing avatars trolling the place (because I'd dare put a mosque on the sim). And yes, they'd be booted every time they'd come to troll. I have no regret about that. If these burqa-wearing female avatars had been as good as defending their rights as they were quick at filing a complaint with Linden Labs, this (real) world would be a better place... In retrospect, Second Life was useful to me, as it allowed to develop my approach to 3D caricatures, which was useful in eventually developing a drawing style I am now using to publish comic books in RL. However the space of Second Life always remained what it was from the start, i.e., a for-profit corporate space, not a public place. This very much limited freedom of speech, hence artistic freedom. Let's hope that future virtual worlds will not follow the same path... --Christophe Hugo

    1. I was one of the visitors of the Caricavatars region on SL from all those years ago. I was a very big fan of your work. I wonder if you are still active in making caricatures and if yes, where could I see your work?

  2. I came across your comment when looking back at the article to write about Sean Voss' tours. It's interesting to note he also felt there needed to be a change in virtual worlds, but more company control, not less.

  3. More corporate control means less free speech, as the main focus becomes customer satisfaction - and customers rarely enjoy anything that is not mainstream. And more corporate control also means more focus on the need to make short-term benefits to please the stockholders. The issue is the same in a context I know well: the academic world. If corporations were dictating researchers what to study, and how to write the publications of their findings, freedom of speech - hence the desire to speak truthfully, no matter the consequences for any corporations - would quickly be replaced with a censored discourse. The same will happen in virtual worlds if they happen to be run the same way Facebook is currently run...