Bruce Sterling <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Ideological Freeware -- Distribute At Will
October 14, 1998
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Hello. Good to see all of you tonight. Thanks for taking the trouble to show up. Tonight I'm going to do something that I've never done before. I'm going to do something that I've struggled against doing for twenty years.
Tonight, I'm going to prophesy.
I've always very much wanted to prophesy. Of course, I know how dangerous and foolish this is. I realize what a sparkling career temptation this always is for us science fiction writers. Because there you are, you see.... doing the job at hand, filling up those wire racks at the chain store, spilling that ink and killing those trees, keeping the wheels turning in the good old Baloney Factory. And then you have to spoil it all by saying something stupid like "Let's found the Fabian Movement and bring enlightened socialism to the world's oppressed masses!"
But I can't resist any longer. Because lo the time is almost nigh. The Millennium is well-nigh upon us, and since I am ahead of my time, I'm also ahead of the Millennium. Tonight, you'll be getting a foretaste of January 2000.
Of course we all know that the 21st century doesn't officially begin until 2001, but that's just not how people's heads work. Sometime in the first week of January 2000, journalists all over the world are going to recover from their hangovers, and find themselves confronting blank screens and blank pages. And not just because of the Y2K problem -- because of a new-idea deficiency. So the editor yawns and he says to his ace reporter, "Well, the 20th century's dead now; what comes next?"
"What do you mean, boss?"
"Well, it's a new millennium now, so we need a hot story on all the brand new stuff and all the brand new, original ideas and fads and trends."
Now a sudden scowl creases the editor's brow. "I thought you were supposed to be hip, with-it and on the culture beat, man. Where's the brand new stuff? Where's the futuristic weirdness and the snappy prognostications and the enthralling visions of vast possibility?"
"Well, what the hell has been going on out there all this time?"
"Uhm, well, mostly it's been appropriation and sampling, sir. And subversion of the dominant paradigm. With lots of, uhm, calling the discourse into question. We call that postmodernism."
"Look kid, that was last year. That was last CENTURY. That was last MILLENNIUM, for Christ's sake. To hell with postmodern, postmodern is over now. The consumers have a goddamn new millennium on their hands, they don't want us to tell them that they're POST something. Everything post is buried now, it's irrelevant. Go out there and beat the street and find something brand-new, or you're fired."
You know, ladies and gentleman, that was a little sci- fi prediction of mine there, but I intend to stand by that prediction. If that doesn't happen in the first quarter of the year 2000, I'm gonna eat my spangled hat as a cyberguru and technopundit. I fully expect to have the phone ringing off the wall in the first days and weeks of 2000, with anxious journalists desperate for novelty. And since I can smell this coming from a mile away, I plan to have a fully developed party line.
I've got a whole year to work seriously on this project. I am going to move it right on up my agenda. People are going to demand from me to know what the future holds, and I am going to be fully briefed and in total command of my material. I will coolly and meticulously detail the future for them, in chapter and verse, with principles, subtexts, and policy recommendations. In the highest tradition of my futurist craft, I will be often wrong, but never in doubt. I feel a deep necessity to meet the need here, I consider this my moral duty.
Although it's a convulsively funny thing to do, I am totally in earnest about doing this. You see, the way I figure it, I might as well. I am going to throw away the scabbard of my sword, raise the black flag and burn my bridges. That year, 2000, will be the biggest hole in the status quo since 1977 and 1989. Furthermore, the year 2000 is going to be my personal last hurrah as a brain- burning futurist prophet. I'm in my forties now. The years after 2000 -- the decade of the zeros, whatever the hell we're going to call that -- will be the last time that I will to be able to say things, things that I know are true, and that are obvious to me, that sound weird and inexplicable to the general public.
In ten years, I'll able to compose a public speech like this; I'll be able to find the podium. But I very much doubt that I'll scare or amaze anybody. And in twenty years, people will feel all warm and nostalgic when I talk. So you see, I have no reason to hold back any more. It's prophecy or bust.
So now, I want you to all take a deep breath and get all comfy. I've got you all trapped in here with me, and we are going to be here for quite a while. I am about to reveal unto you just a few of the many, many things that I can foresee, and that you have no inkling of.
So: the future. How to think about it productively. Well, of course I can't foretell the goddamned future. I can write and sell a novel set a hundred years from now, in fact I've done that, but I can't detail the events of 2098. Prediction is impossible, we all know that. What we don't know is that retrodiction is also impossible. History is a form of science fiction. The future is history that hasn't happened yet. History is the sensibility of one time, assessing another time, that it cannot possibly know.
And yet there is hope. Because those who know history get to watch other people repeat it. Once we know that the future is history, we can predict the present. A historical analysis of own situation is the vital first step toward framing the future. Because when we understand the present, we are stalking the future, we have sneaked up as close to the future as we can get. The future is latent here, its seeds are all around us. The future is already here, it's just not well distributed yet.
History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. People are people, trouble is trouble, and if you stare cross-eyed and ignore enough evidence, you can make any historical situation resemble any other. But I am going to make a strong argument here -- no, to hell with that, I am simply going to proclaim unto you -- that our present historical condition, the fin de siecle, postmodernism, the New World Order, the 1990s, is best understood by comparing it to one hundred years ago. The last fin de siecle, the Belle Epoque, the period from 1890 to the beginning of the First World War.
Hearken ye unto these manifold signs. Upon my left hand I bear the past, upon my right, the present.
Pax Britannica -- Pax Americana
Global peace with small nasty wars -- Global peace with small nasty wars.
Gross class divisions between the aristocracy and the proletariat -- gross income disparity between the super- rich and the excluded.
Gilded Age corruption with industries buying Congress wholesale -- Gilded Age corruption with PACs buying Congress wholesale.
Robber barons in oil, railroads, stocks and steel -- versus megabanks, software and media moguls and currency speculators.
Terrifying anarchists with bowling-ball bombs -- scary terrorists with truck bombs.
It gets stranger. Russia is back. We spent most of the 20th century without any Russia. If you go to Russia, as I have done on a couple of occasions recently, you see the period before 1914 as *very* much alive. The dead Czar and his family have been literally disinterred and given a Christian, Russian Orthodox burial. The Czarist period architecture is under extensive restoration, it looks newer than anything built under the Soviets. Local artists hearken back to Diaghilev and Mayakovsky and NeoClassical art. You see, if you disown Communism from 1918 to 1989, there is really no place for a Russian to go BUT the Belle Epoque. That was the last time in which they were Russian. This is a superpower we are talking about, a huge chunk of the earth's land surface, which has resurfaced from 1914 just like Atlantis.
Times are unhappy in Russia, they are blundering around in a brain-damaged flashback state, but let's face it: they're Russians, their life means suffering. The Belle Epoque wasn't very Belle for the Russians, but the Belle Epoque is seen a splendid time mostly in retrospect. People call that epoch beautiful, mostly because it ended in such an ugly way.
People who were living during the Belle Epoque didn't think it was beautiful. They considered themselves to be rather tense and disoriented. Freud's theories were just coming into worldwide vogue. People complained a lot about decadence, perversity and neurasthenia. "Neurasthenia" is an extinct sensibility now. For people in our period of history, is literally impossible to feel neurasthenic. A hundred years ago people were half-dead of this spiritual ailment, and it simply doesn't exist for us. Isn't that marvelous? It's history at its finest, really. I suspect that we do have certain parallels. Maybe our native version of neurasthenia is what Arthur Kroker calls "spasm," which is that violently oscillating 1990s state when you feel totally hyper and nauseatingly bored. That gnawing sense that we're on the road to nowhere at a million miles an hour.
The historically definitive look of the Belle Epoque was Arts & Crafts design and its cousins, Mission Style, Jugendstil, Art Nouveau, the Vienna Secession. Arts and Crafts is hugely popular now, much more so than it was in its time of origin, when Arts and Crafts was seen as being alternative, socialist-leftie and very far out. Frank Lloyd Wright -- a wild man in his own day, a scandal, an exile, but hugely popular and deeply respected today, especially his Belle Epoque Prairie House period. Arts and Crafts, Mission Style, these things have incredible appeal among 1990s cultural figures one would never expect to favor them. The widow Cobain for instance, Courtney Love, puts on her kinderwhore and Versace outfits, and cavorts appropriately on stage, and then she goes home to her Arts and Crafts house. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, owns a famous Arts and Crafts house. William Gibson -- Dr. William Gibson I mean, he has an honorary doctorate in design now -- has an 1920s arts and crafts-style house in Vancouver, where he likes to go out on the porch and read weapons manuals in his Adirondack chair. The ubiquitous Goth subculture is very 1990s and also very 1890s, very Aubrey Beardsley, very decadent and epicene, very Yellow Book, very Art Nouveau.
Art Nouveau was European craft design, you see, back when Europe was still functional. Jugendstil and Art Nouveau emerged from design studios in Vienna, Paris, Brussels, Munich, Glasgow. For most of the 20th century, we had a crippled Europe. There was Europe dying in the trenches, Europe in the Depression, Nazi Holocaust Europe, Europe in two halves and covered with nuclear warheads, a continent with the lamps gone out all over it. But in the late 1990s Europe is back. Incredibly, we even have a Germany. You can go back to time immemorial and look for historical periods that have a Germany. Scarcely any. A Germany that is whole and at peace -- totally unheard of.
The Belle Epoque was a very Techno-progressive age. One of the reasons Art Nouveau was art nouveau was because it used new materials, aluminum, glass, weird new forms of metalwork. No one could miss the importance of radio, or rather the "wireless telegraph," as they understood that medium. We use terms that are almost that goofy now -- we have stuff we call "wireless cable." Plus little radios and satellite links that we somehow still call telephones.
The early cinema of Melies was basically stage magic, set in front of a camera. It was a cinema of special effects. We also have a cinema dominated by special effects. And of course the Belle Epoque launched the TITANIC. We also have a TITANIC, our special-effects, virtualized TITANIC. The first was an Imperial British flagship of the line, and the second is a flagship property of the imperial American entertainment industry. Cameron's TITANIC probably made ten times more money than the TITANIC would have made if she'd sailed without a hitch for forty years. We have every reason in the world to respond with recognition and affection to this TITANIC movie. It's all about them while also being entirely about us.
I could multiply parallels like all night, but it wouldn't push my argument much. If you're a skeptic on the subject of historical analogy, you can list things that aren't parallel. For instance, there is no massive arms race between Germany and Britain now. We don't care a hang about colonizing Africa, we can't be bothered to do that. We have a vast indifference as to how many people get shot in Sarajevo now.
But even these differences can be illuminating. If you see the differences, perhaps you can get a handle on them; the differences stand out in relief, they can be grasped.
For instance, the Belle Epoque had culture. It had an educated, distinct and privileged class of well-trained humanistic intellectuals, who were very self-consciously engaged in art and thought. We have something else entirely, which is a culture industry. A culture industry is not about art and thought. It's about images and information. Its primary reason for being is not inspiration or taste or refinement, but marketable intellectual property.
We're not used to having a culture industry, and we don't really think very clearly about it. But it's clearly a new phenomenon, and it's an exciting prospect for futurists. It's very difficult to second-guess cultural development, because you are basically declaring that you are outsmarting and out-creating every other intellectual, critic and artist on earth. But outguessing a culture INDUSTRY, that's a different matter. Anyone can outsmart a businessman. The woods are full of guys who make a living claiming they can outsmart businessmen. They are corporate futurists. I know dozens of these people. I know their techniques, I know how to think like they do. And when I think that way about culture -- I see daylight, it feels good.
In fact, once I had attained this insight, I had an immediate breakthrough in my own line of business. I've seen this happen right in front of my eyes. The last time science fiction had an artistic movement, it was back in the mid-1980s. The great story of the 1990s in science fiction was that printed science fiction has become a tie- in for other media. The most commercially vigorous action in science fiction today is in acting as a retailing billboard for action figures and other collectible spinoffs. Even science fiction movies have become billboards for the soundtrack, the T shirt, the CD-ROM and the other ancillary rights. This is the culture industry at its finest, this rhizome-like exploration of every possible commercial space.
Science fiction as an art form is diffuse and gaseous and all over the map, but science fiction as an industry has always been very ductile. Like pornography, science fiction is always one of the first genres to show up in new media, one of the first to exploit any new means of display and distribution. In a lot of cases, science fiction is actually ABOUT media, it romanticizes media and promotes it. For instance, Hugo Gernsback's original science fiction magazines were really about the romance of Hugo Gernsback's radio mail-order operation. Science fiction acts as a kind of conceptual lubricant here.
A fine modern example is an Internet entertainment property like ULTIMA, the Electronic Arts multiplayer campaign. ULTIMA is genre-based adventure fantasy, and yet it isn't. It's about selling the experience of being a group of people on a computer network, who are pretending to be a group of people in a simulated fantasy environment. The busywork with the swords and trolls and dragons is really absolutely paper-thin here, it's just one phosphor-dot thick. The real drama in this game is in defending yourself from human-player assassins, other people in the game who want to kill your character. The truest and most intense devotees of ULTIMA are the player- killers, the assassins.
I've always been aware that the structure of genre publishing is a historical accident. I was never under the illusion that science fiction publishing and distribution was a work of nature and an eternal monument. On the contrary, I'm painfully aware of the evanescence of communications. For the past three years, I've been actively researching this subject, in an effort called Dead Media Project.
Thanks to this three-year, Internet based, scholarly matriculation of mine, I am now the world's leading authority on extinct forms of media. I'm going to write a book about dead media. I have one more science fiction novel to complete, and then this is my next big publication project. I'll be taking off my novelist's beret, and putting on my pointy, spangled, techno-guru hat.
This book on dead media comes in two parts. The first is a forensic catalog, a list of defunct technologies: magic lanterns, pigeons carrying messages, signalling mirrors, skywriting, the Apple Newton, and other similar relics. The second part poses the deeper problem. I have no doubt that a plain catalog of dead media would be quite interesting; something like those very nice specialized collectors books one sees, about the salt and pepper shakers of Occupied Japan, and so forth. But fieldwork is not the whole answer; a collection of facts isn't scholarship, any more than a pile of bricks is a house. Despite the fact that Dead Media is an intensely technical subject, I'm not really asking scientific questions. The questions I want answered about media are basically literary questions, cultural questions, questions of sensibility. "What does it mean, and how does it feel?" This is not an engineering question, not quantifiable, how many, how much. What does it mean and how does it feel?
It occurred to me that if I could answer these questions successfully, I would have changed people's attitude about media. In fact, I would probably change the understanding people have about the interrelationship of technology and society. But this isn't really the kind of effort one attributes to pop science writers, or even science fiction writers. This is basically an attitude one expects from an artist, a designer, an architect, from the guru of an art movement. This is what one expects to hear from a figure such as Le Corbusier, or Andre Breton, or Alexander Rodchenko.
And that's an attractive prospect really, because I quite like art theory, and I'm especially fond of designers. Designers, especially industrial designers, are one of the few classes in society that talk as strangely and anomalously as good science fiction writers do. The range of thought and expression you can get out of designers, the sheer expansiveness of their professional rhetoric, is absolutely enthralling to me. Graphic artists and painters and such, they tend to be a little bipolar, sort of smeared with cadmium yellow and vaguely inarticulate. But designers have that kind of bedside-manner glibness that you get out of expensive architects.
You can go to a designer's meeting, let's say some teakettle exhibit, and the dialogue sounds something like this.
"So, uh, nice teakettle you've made there, man."
"Yes, it's all about the mastery of space and volume. I'm developing a geometry with a strong symbolic impact."
"Yes I see, mmm-hmmm!" So you move on to the next designer. "So, uh, very striking teakettle you've got in the vitrine there."
"Yeah, well, I noticed that no one had used the unique affordances of lacquered plywood in a teakettle before."
Move on one more. ""Ma'am, I couldn't help but admire your teakettle."
"Well," (blink blink) "true beauty arises from the abject surrender of the object to its innate functional utility."
The weirdest part is when you're talking to some Finnish or Japanese guy, and he explains to you that his teakettle represents the inner recesses of his national character. The delightful part is that they're all teakettles. Most of them even work. People can actually cram a lifetime of aesthetic experience into a household device for boiling and pouring water. Henry Petroski once talked for an entire book about a pencil, and half a book about a paperclip.
But you know, for all the joy I take in studying this, there's something itchy and unsatisfying about it. My problem is, I'm not a designer. I'm not hands on. I design imaginary gizmos sometimes, but what I'm really interested in is the intimate interplay of technology and culture. What technology does to culture and vice versa, that is my theme as an artist.
Then it occurred to me that if I really do understand history, and if I really do live and work in a culture industry, then I ought to be able to design a design movement.
And here is where it all falls into place with a very loud clatter and thud. I've got means, motive, and opportunity. You couldn't ask for a better time to start a design movement than the year 2000. I've got my slate clean, or I will by that time. I've got my Internet mailing list chops down, I can easily set up another one. And the fun part is that I believe I actually CAN design a design movement. I don't think I can design objects, but designing the culture sounds very attractive to me. Here's a chance to begin the century with an art movement that has been designed from the get-go.
Is he joking, you ask. Is he serious? Why even ask those questions? They are bad conceptual formulations. We don't really have the terminology for industrial design of the culture industry. From our primitive perspective, this is probably best understood as an act of prophesy.
Now let me explain to you why my 21st century design movement is going to be a great technical improvement over all previous art movements. Let me give you a tour of its many unique and innovative features.
Number One. Perhaps most importantly, this movement has a built-in expiration date . The problem with previous art movements is this unexamined assumption that they have discovered some eternal cultural truth, and that they will therefore go on forever. In point of fact, no matter how much truth they discover, movements never do last very long. When they run out of steam it is painfully difficult to extricate yourself from them. I still get plaintive phone calls from journalists asking me if cyberpunk is dead yet. And if not, why not. Lately I even have to put up with guys who claim to be post- cyberpunk. With my new effort, I will design this problem right out of the system from the get-go.
Feature Number Two. This is also of vital importance. My new art movement has a deliverable. It is going to center its focus and activity around one central design challenge. My art movement is about the Greenhouse Effect. Our activities and interests center around greenhouse gases. Why? Because Malaysia and Indonesia and Mexico were all on fire this summer, that's why. An area the size of Europe has been flooded in Asia this summer, including 300 million people in fifteen countries. I don't think I have to lecture San Franciscans about the effects of this year's El Nino. Of course, many people claim not to be convinced by this so-called climate change evidence. That is because they are shortsighted sociopathic morons who don't want to lose any money.
But anyone who can look even a little bit into the 21st century has got to be highly interested in the summer *after* this bad and evil summer, and the summer after that one, too. Our society runs on fossil fuel. We have a substance-abuse problem with carbon dioxide. This is a seemingly abstract issue now, but it's going to get very, very much livelier once we start having evacuation camps and dustbowls and so on. At that point, anyone who isn't talking about the Greenhouse Effect is going to seem very twentieth-century and extremely old-fashioned.
So, this is where our movement gets it built-in expiration date. The date is 2012, a date in the Kyoto accords, when people are supposed to be engaged in a serious decline in CO2 emissions. So it's 2012 or environmental catastrophe, whichever comes first. I'm not saying there will be no more use for environmental design issues after a catastrophe; I'm just saying it won't be the province of an arty avant-garde. They'll control CO2 all right, but it will almost certainly be done by the military then, or at least at bayonet point.
A genuinely degraded climate doesn't mean that the sky is falling. It doesn't mean armageddon, or utter annihilation, or anything half so romantic. It means a conclusive end to our Belle Epoque, though. Basically, it means smoke and heat and damp, clinging filth. All our cultural circumstances will become different then. Everything we know and cherish about life will suddenly become antiquated. It will belong to a vanished, beautiful, innocent era. That will be our Belle Epoque's version of the Great War, in other words.
So why is this an aesthetic issue? Well, because it's a severe breach of taste to bake and sweat half to death in your own trash, that's why. To boil and roast the entire physical world, just so you can pursue your cheap addiction to carbon dioxide.... What a cramp of our style. It's all very foul and aesthetically regrettable.
I suppose there's some faint possibility that we will burn all the fossil fuel on earth, and the weather will calm down or even get much, much nicer. There's also some chance that we'll all be killed by the sister of the comet that hit Jupiter. Personally, my mind's made up. I live in Texas. It was 112 degrees Fahrenheit in Dallas this summer. That does it for me right there. The longer you wait to catch on to this, the more foresighted I get.
This is Feature Number Three. We have moral gravity and sense of urgency . This is not just a talking-shop for aesthetes, we are actually engaging a pressing design need for our civilization. This will keep our discussions from wandering all over the map, engaging in random theory-surfing, flames and topic drift. It's not about paradigm demolition. It's about CO2.
So, we have a deliverable, we have a built-in expiration date, we have a focus.... what else?
Number Four. We have no physical locale . You don't have to be in Vienna or New York or the Left Bank of Paris. It's all done with nets.
Number Five . A real problem with traditional art movements is that they acquire their enemies at random. Mostly their enemies emerge from within their own ranks. Any avant-garde that lacks a designated hate and contempt figure immediately breaks up into warring schisms. Successful groups tend to define themselves by the people they can't stand.
My art movement comes presupplied with powerful, malignant, threatening enemies, the Global Climate Coalition . They are perfect villains. They have huge industrial backing, massive P.R. budgets, and a headquarters in Washington, things that we don't have, and will never have, and that we deeply envy. Worse yet, they have a vested interest in obscuring and distorting the truth about climate findings. Plus, they carry out intensive campaigns of personal smear attacks on the integrity of scientists. This practice is Lysenkoism, which all serious intellectual workers must hold in contempt and abhorrence.
Our enemies thus give us a unifying internal principle. We badly need this principle. By necessity, we are combining highly variegated input from people in design, art, engineering, networking, computation and climate science. That's a very eclectic grouping by 20th century standards, but we do have one shining commonality; none of us can stand evil bastards who tamper with the integrity of the data.
This makes the GCC perfect punching-bags for us. It helps a lot that we resemble them so much. You can't get a good acrid bitterness going unless your enemy shares a lot of your own characteristics. You see, we're both global climate coalitions. And we're both very 21st century organizations: we are a net-based, autonomous, research-and-design collective, while they are Washington infowar spooks supplying black spin for megacorporations. We share a lot of physical characteristics, kind of like the noble electric eel and the vile, bloodsucking leech.
We intend to find out all about the people of the GCC. We intend to make public fun of their moms and the way they dress. So our friends and fellow travellers needn't worry about sharing every jot and tittle of our arcane aesthetic doctrines. If you're on the web and willing to do some oppo research against the GCC, you'll always receive a hearty welcome from us.
It's obvious by now that we are Greens. What keeps us from vanishing into the undifferentiated primal newage of all other Greens? Well, one vital principle, which we can call Feature Number Six. We have no tolerance whatsoever for anything spiritual or mystical. This is simply absolute anathema for us. If it doesn't pass muster over at the Skeptical Inquirer magazine, we don't want to know about it. It's not that we're going to pick big public fights with spiritually motivated Greens and other illuminated hippie types. This is useless and a waste of time, like beating up Quakers and the Amish. We're simply going to serenely ignore them, the way everyone else does.
Feature Number Seven. Our movement has no street credibility . We are not hip, underground, bohemian or alternative in any way. If anyone asks you, tell them you are engaged in corporate futurism and product development. Trust me on this one. I have an exquisite understanding of how this system works, and at the end of the 90s, the real estate in the underground is priced out of site. Not *monetarily* of course -- it's priced in reputation capital, and the interest rates and confiscatory taxes there are way too high. The product-cycle and shelf availability times in the underground are absurdly thin. Forget about the underground, it's not worth it. Give it back to the young people and let them live there and breathe there and grow there.
Our movement has no street credibility, and it is certainly not a youth movement. We're not particularly interested in young people, or in recruiting young people to our cause. We think that young people have suffered enough, and will probably suffer a great deal more for things that they never did. They should not be required to be trendy any more, the overhead there is just too cruel. Young people should be left to enjoy their pirated MP3 music and their baggy cast-off clothing, and everyone over 30 should get the hell off their backs.
Which leads to unique feature Number Eight. We are an avant-garde that is specifically interested in OLD PEOPLE . If anyone should be galvanized with guilt over this issue, it's guys who have been driving big ugly cars and living in leaky mansions for sixty years. Well, your chickens have come home to roost now, Mr Muscle Car, Mr Little Deuce Coupe. This is your legacy to the grandkids. If you have a spark of decency, you should pitch in and help us. We've got plenty of stuff you can do without leaving the house or even getting out of your wheelchair. Besides, we're the first avant-garde that is living in a society where the median age is rising steadily. The target audience is old.
Unique feature Number Nine. We love cops and soldiers . Cops and soldiers are the armed wing of our movement. One problem with traditional cultural movements is that they have way too much culture and not enough people with revolvers. We have a special fondness for environmental crimes units, anti-poacher units, post-disaster National Guard units, emergency civil engineers, the Red Cross and so forth. As for terrorism and vigilante action, we just find this absurd. These people aren't serious players, they have no idea how to seize and hold power.
One gets tired of watching cultural movements act as if they were engaged in something daringly criminal and semi-licit. The GCC is the group that is engaged in something daring, criminal and semi-licit. They should live in dire fear of arrest and prosecution. So we don't engage in any of this net-radical hacking or monkeywrenching nonsense. We're far more interested in things like on-site inspections and legal indictments.
Feature Number Ten. We're futurists . One of the major problems of the Belle Epoque movements is that they had no idea what they were getting into with World War One. You saw artists who should have had more sense giving up everything to bay for blood and glory. Once they realized just how ugly it was getting, they got this stunned, sheeplike look. We will never, ever look like that. We see our own doom very clearly. We're interested in the specific, everyday details of our doom. We're not all intimidated by it, we want to look at it with coldblooded objectivity and document it. When society starts coming apart at the seams, we want to affect the thinking of the guys running the contingency and the emergency plans.
Feature Number Eleven. All art movements tend to have favorite drugs. We're also interested in drugs. Our pet drug is Viagra . This is the first legal, recreational dope that has swept the entire population in ages. We're interested in biomedicine and life-extension drugs. Mostly we're interested in these drugs because they are the only mind-altering drugs that are well-designed. Because believe me, when you live longer, your mind gets permanently altered.
We're also concerned about the problem of short-term thinking in environmental issues. We want people to live longer, so that they can comprehend the full extent of their foolishness, and pay the full personal penalty for their shortsightedness. This is a minor issue for us, but it's on the agenda. It ties into our interest in futurological principles and scenario forecasting. We think design movements should study culture as if they knew it was going to change and *keep* changing. And the best way to understand the future of culture is to invent it yourself.
Feature Number Twelve. We have a name, and a coherent look . Art movements that aren't designed in cold blood have a problem, which is that moron critics name them. That's how you get stuck with a name like the "Fauves." We've already got a name. We're Viridian Greens, the Viridian movement.
That's because we're green, but there's something electrical and unnatural about our tinge of green. We're an art movement that looks like a mailing list, an ad campaign, a design team, an oppo research organization, a laboratory, and, perhaps most of all, we resemble a small feudal theocracy ruled with an iron hand by a Pope- Emperor. We have our own logo -- or we will. We have our own font and our own typography. And we have an entire list of favorite Viridian-approved tie-in products: T-shirts, chrome stickers, socks, solar panels, ultrasonic sterilizers, and so on.... We're going to be spending a lot of time picking bits and pieces out of the background clutter, and assembling them, and placing our stamp of ideological approval upon them. The future is already here. It just hasn't been assembled as a cultural ensemble.
So much for my organizational principles. They're excellent principles except for one major problem, the unlucky Feature Thirteen.
Feature Thirteen is that I am the absolute monarch of the Viridian Movement . Not only does the buck stop here, but I am going to be coining and distributing the bucks. If you would prefer to be the King, you have my blessing; I have made my design principles public and open, so start a movement, knock yourself out.
All I ask of you, is don't do one fatal thing. Don't commit the fatal act of all eager net-based dilettantes. Don't think that just because you have a really cool idea, all those eager volunteers will materialize out of cyberspace to do your organizational work for free. Editing a list and picking out good ideas from crap is heavy, killer work. It's like sorting letters, it's disgruntled postal worker labor. I've been doing this for three years in Dead Media Project, I know what I'm talking about. It's not about youthful enthusiasm, it's all about grim middle-aged persistence. Anyone in a frenzy of enthusiasm can edit one issue of a fanzine; even Ezra Pound could manage that much. Scarcely anyone can do four issues in a row. Everyone in cyberspace has cooler ideas than WIRED magazine. Nobody else can come out on time with their facts checked and the proofs read.
So I plan to give it a shot, starting next week. There's one final thing art movements don't have. Lucky Feature Fourteen. They don't have a beta pre-release. That's why I have one. Real zealots ship, you see? Our first pilot project, our first official rollout, is a Viridian Manifesto for January 3, 2000. We are going to collect and filter all the cool ideas we can, we are going to build a new world on the screen through an act of vivifying imagination. It's an act of science fictional world creation, but this time, it's the world we're living in. The plan is to set the world back on its heels. We have till January 3. If we can't put that together and ship, then it's vaporware. It never happened. We'll all deny everything. No one will ever know.
If you're with me, send email.
Thanks for your attention.