Sweet VR of California

Sweet Valley is a digital utopia where bodiless souls can explore psychedelic understandings through a networked VR high-school cult

Sweet Valley High was a young-adult paperback series that began in 1983 and ceased publication twenty years later. The 603 volumes that made up the Sweet Valley franchise (which included Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley Junior High, and Sweet Valley University) were an extended bildungsroman set in sun-kissed Southern California. The stories themselves were sprawling, vapid, largely forgettable, but the pastel artwork on the book jackets (drawn by James L. Mathewuse) depicted a romantic vision of a fantasy adolescence in California.

During the same period, a new virtuality was taking shape in the real California business parks and garages of Silicon Valley. The spiritual ethos of California, heavily informed by all manner of fantasy and magical thinking, has suffused the entire ideological apparatus of capital-T Tech. In the years since the Sweet Valley series wrapped up, the Silicon fantasy has revealed itself to be anything but romantic.

I grew up in upstate New York, homeschooled by two California radicals. I now work in virtual reality (VR), one of Silicon Valley's rising stars. There is a very real sense in which I traffic in visual fantasy. I produced SweetVR of California in order to ask what psychological consequences would obtain from juxtaposing the bronzed bodies and idyllic settings of the Sweet Valley with the strap-on techno-gadgetry of Silicon Valley.

I initially tried to commission Mathewuse himself to draw a portrait of me in my VR headset. After repeated unrequited attempts, I took matters into my own hands. I produced SweetVR of California myself, not as a self-portrait but rather as a series of imaginary book covers illustrating as-yet-unwritten Sweet Valley books about teens across California living their pixelated truths by communing as virtual beings. In my fanfic, Sweet Valley is a digital utopia where bodiless souls can explore psychedelic understandings through a networked VR cult.

Yosemite, SweetVR of California

Malibu, SweetVR of California

Los Angeles, SweetVR of California

San Francisco, SweetVR of California

Palm Springs, SweetVR of California

Santa Monica, SweetVR of California

Berkeley, SweetVR of California

Painted Ladies, SweetVR of California

Huntington Beach, SweetVR of California


SweetVR of California was created by Amelia Winger-Bearskin for the New Inquiry, October, 2017.