Subject: Viridian Note 00001: Viridian Design Speech
From: email@example.com (Bruce Sterling)
Key concepts: Viridian movement; Viridian design;
Greenhouse Effect; historical analogy; Belle Epoque;
futurism; postmodernity and its successors; Year 2000;
culture industry; principles of industrial cultural
design; Viridian Mailing List
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Sources: an original composition for the New Minds
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
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
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
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
"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."
"Oh. Well...." 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?"
"Gosh..." "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
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
Robber barons in oil, railroads, stocks and steel --
versus megabanks, software and media moguls and currency
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
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
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
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
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
You can go to a designer's meeting, let's say some
teakettle exhibit, and the dialogue sounds something like
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Bruce Sterling firstname.lastname@example.org