From: Bruce Sterling <>
Subject: Viridian Note 00060 : Viridian Strategy
To: Viridian List <>

Key concepts: catalogs, design shows, imaginary products, fundraising, money and organizational problems

Attention Conservation Notice: If you read these notes because they´re funny and they have weird news clippings, then you´d better skip this one.


A woman who makes pottery out of deep-sea abyssal mud. Teakettles anyone?

After the Viridian Teakettle Contest, I have had some time to ponder Viridian imaginary products and possible Viridian events.

I believe we Viridians have hit a nerve with this imaginary products theme. The response is strong. Viridian Notes with "imaginary products" provoke a lot of list feedback. They also stir up media interest.

Grim reportage of melting Antarctic ice packs is all well and good, but we´re preaching to the converted as we track the climate news. These made-up gizmos of ours, by contrast, really seem to suit the contemporary temperament. It´s an age which is profoundly weary of ideology and hates to face the facts, but it´s still touchingly eager for a technical fix, especially if it´s personal, intimate, and can be FedExed in with a single website click.

So I´d like to see the Viridian Movement invest some serious effort in this promising direction. Expressing one´s desire for righteous knicknacks is an effective political tactic, much less shopworn than protest signs, peptalks, or dire prognostications.

I believe our tactics here should echo those of the Canadian publication ADBUSTERS. ADBUSTERS violently loathes the advertising industry and all its works. A typical ADBUSTERS fake ad is "Joe Chemo," a chainsmoking camel undergoing chemotherapy. The uniform subtext of all ADBUSTERS fake ads is that you, the viewer, are a victim of mental pollution and corporate false-consciousness. ADBUSTERS tries to hammer you into a more socially- advanced awareness by revealing the machineries of consumer manipulation.

This is doubtless a virtuous and useful message, but there´s already a group energetically doing this, ie. ADBUSTERS. Given our limited resources and innate Viridian Inactivism, we lazy Viridians could never out-do ADBUSTERS.

However, I think we could detourne advertising in another way. Our Viridian version of fake ads should strongly suggest to the viewer that he lives in an entire culture which is so crass, so crude, so filthy, and so lacking in refinement, that he or she is being cruelly denied these very valuable and attractive consumer items. Viridian Imaginary Products should look as luscious, guilt-free and enticing as possible. They´re utterly wonderful -- cheap, too!

So, we Viridians do NOT want to urge the pampered consumer to behave in a more adult, reponsible fashion, consuming less, consuming correctly, and spending more time in (for instance) sprout-eating and transcendental meditation. No, our basic intent here is to provoke a trance-rupturing consumer tantrum. Our intent with these fake ads is to push the contradictions -- to exacerbate an atmosphere of consumer hysteria.

We Viridians want consumers to be instantly afflicted with a terrible, tantalized greed for these marvelous items that they simply cannot possess. This is because Viridian imaginary products are, by their very nature, products inherent to a superior and more advanced 21st century civilization. Stupid 20th-century cultures vilely smothering in their own CO2 trash cannot manufacture items this cool. Desire that item, therefore, and you find yourself, will-nilly, desiring some better culture.

As an important corollary, we want actual, contemporary product manufacturers to suffer severe pangs of future-shock and competitive anxiety when they see our imaginary ads. That´s because our imaginary ads make all their actual, real-life, coal-powered products look really bad and ugly.

Now, if we had a sufficient number of these imaginary ads in production, we could assemble an entire Viridian Imaginary Products Catalog. I surmise that this publication would look and act rather like a SHARPER IMAGE catalog, only, well, very Viridian. This catalog would be a visionary work of science fiction (without of course, identifying itself as "science fiction" in any way). In order to get it into as many hands as possible, we would sell it commercially. It would probably be retailed in alternative bookstores, fanzine outlets, by mail-order, and so forth.

If this publication created useful interest and did not bankrupt our so-called organization, then a Viridian Exhibit would be in order. We would create mock-ups and models of our Imaginary Products, and take the show on the road. Like the magazine, this would be a commercial effort. Entry fees would be charged in host galleries, and, to cover our costs, it is quite likely that the fake products would be auctioned off to eager sci-fi collectors at the end of the event.

Should we reach this exalted, ambitious stage, many further opportunities beckon. Personally, I would probably write a Viridian book. Other Viridian spinoffs by other Viridians seem plausible. At this point, the term "Viridian" would probably go into public domain. There would be press coverage, and bandwagon hopping, and many derivative rip-offs, and perhaps some actual real-life working artifacts, and basically, we would be witnessing an authentic little 21st century design movement, leaping up from deep obscurity to wreak whatever temporary havoc these things can.

To get there from here requires cumulative steps. Given our narrow resource base, any misstep can do us serious harm, and the first and most important misstep, I believe, would be muddying the waters between the Internet gift economy and for-profit activity. It is fatally easy to cause great ill-will by mishandling this issue. For instance, this is likely to happen when Grandma gives you a bicycle out of the loving goodness of her kindly heart, and she spots you flogging her bike for cash in a flea market, one week later. At that point, even the kindliest of Grandmas is likely to whip out her umbrella and lay into you. And justly so.

Much can be done outside the money economy. I´m a great believer in distributed systems and gift economies. But magazines, and especially, gallery shows, just don´t work without funding.

A natural dividing line suggests itself, however. Inside cyberspace: outside cyberspace. This will be our operating principle. Inside the Net, we will continue the Viridian List just as it has gone to date: it will be done entirely with noncommercial cajoling, ideological exhortations, prestigious dingbats for your log-in name, and occasional cool art-books as door prizes.

However, when it comes to moving atoms rather than bits: say, layout, shipping, publishing, and making Viridian rayguns out of Fimo, we need to be on a firm commercial basis. In other words, I plan to pay contributors. Not very much, I hasten to add. Just barely enough to convince you that you are not being baldly ripped-off.

If "Viridianism" ever somehow becomes truly "fashionable," then somebody somewhere, very likely including me, is going to get a lot of money. In the culture industry, if you make any perceptible cultural difference, you will definitely be burdened with a lot of money, whether you want it or not. I have witnessed this happening hundreds of times to hundreds of people. They always seem surprised about it, but that´s because they´re artists, and nobody ever trained them to think ahead. This is the stark operational reality of recuperative, co- optational capitalism. We Viridians have just got to get used to that dynamic and its consequences, because if we buckle under such an elementary gambit, we don´t deserve to live.

If, in future, you somehow make a lot of money because you got famous in the "Viridian Movement," I would suggest that you blow it on better software, strange artwork and cool designer crap. Then you´ll be broke again, and just as lean, mean, and virtuous as you were before, except your apartment will be full of cool weird furniture. Somebody´s gotta keep Philippe Starck in business, you know.

Now: we will have some time to ponder and debate these matters. This spring, I´m very busy completing a novel. But once summer is here in Texas, I expect to be working on Viridian issues with much intensity. Because I expect to endure an extremely, lethally hot Texan summer this year. I´ll be spending a lot of time hunched over my computer in the laboring air conditioning, grimly waiting for big swathes of Mexico to catch fire.

I welcome your feedback on this matter of imaginary products. Specifically, I would like to create four lists of Viridian volunteers.

A. People who want to work on these advertisements and the catalog, with the firm understanding that this is a for-hire, piecework-style, design job. Because we need these fake ads to look good. We want them to intrigue and alarm normal people who read real, no-kidding magazines. A billboard or two likely wouldn´t kill us, either.

B. You´re not a copywriter, designer or graphics type, but you´d like to take on some of the organizational work, such as shipping stuff around and bugging total strangers to meet deadlines. It´s awful, unglamorous drudgery. We´ll pick up your postage costs and probably give you, I dunno, a Big Mike sweatshirt or something.

C. People who are too damn lazy do any work for us, but who have lots of money, and want to give some to us so we can create mischief with it. If one of you software moguls on this list wants to pony up ten grand, for instance, I can guarantee you some entertaining fireworks by the end of summer.

D. Modelmakers, gallerists and other fellow-travellers.

Send email if you think you are up to tackling this.

The next Viridian Note will have a new design contest, for a very nifty new prize.

Bruce Sterling