Unreal City: Laguna Beach

If you're someone who wants to visit Laguna Beach, but is so filled with inertia that you can't be bothered to step outside your front door, there's good news– MTV is here to help. MTV, which has already had great success in reducing Laguna Beach to nothing more than a gaggle of impressively self-absorbed teenagers with its show “Laguna Beach: The Real OC”, has taken the next step in reduction, and reduced Laguna Beach to lines of binary code that give anyone with a computer the chance to pretend to be a part of a gaggle of impressively self-absorbed teenagers.

The New York Times reports that MTV is rolling out Virtual Laguna Beach this week,

an online service in which fans of [“Laguna Beach: The Real OC”] can immerse themselves — or at least can immerse digitized, three-dimensional characters, called avatars, that they control — in virtual versions of the show's familiar seaside hangouts.

“You can not only watch TV, but now you can actually live it,” Van Toffler, the president of the MTV Networks Music, Film and Logo Group, said in an interview.

Yes, you can actually live it— it'll be just like the real thing, only no Schwarzeneggerian-style groping.

“The worst thing they can do is kiss — and it's Catholic school kissing,” said Matt Bostwick, an MTV senior vice president. “The lips touch, but the bodies don't.”

What the Virtual Laguna Beach will have instead of roaming hands is the one thing MTV has become synonymous with: youth-oriented marketing opportunities.

One of the appeals of virtual worlds for MTV is the possibility that advertising can spill over into the real one. Visitors might buy a digital outfit for parties using currency they earned watching an infomercial or checking out a new product for an MTV advertiser. Then, they might decide that they would like to buy the same outfit for their offline selves, and, with a few clicks of the mouse and some real dollars, have one shipped to their home. In trial form, Virtual Laguna Beach has advertising relationships with brands including Cingular, Pepsi-Cola, Secret and another Viacom company, Paramount.

And to give it an extra touch of OC verisimilitude, MTV will soon be introducing class– or at least, cash– distinctions:

For instance, residents of Virtual Laguna Beach will have the opportunity later this fall to get a virtual car and a virtual house for a gold membership fee of $4.99 a month. For $5.99, a platinum membership will get them status: V.I.P. access to nightclubs and other events to be staged “in world.”

It's probably for the best that all those events stay “in world”, because the real world is bound to disappoint fans of Virtual Laguna Beach, for reasons the Times story clearly illustrates.

During a demonstration last week at MTV, Mr. Bostwick played the role of an avatar named Violet Jade whom he configured — scrolling through an extensive menu of eye shapes, hair colors, skin tones and so on — to look like a typical character on the show: blond, tan and scantily clad.

Violet Jade is a tanned and nubile blond teen. Matt Bostwick, on the other hand, is the one in the stripped shirt in the picture below.

Welcome to the real world.

(photo via New York Times)

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