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[] Interview mit Bruce Sterling zum "Military-Entertainment Complex",

 Inside the Military-Entertainment Complex
 Krystian Woznicki   16.06.2002 
 Bruce Sterling Interview 
 Set in Istanbul, [1]Bruce Sterling's most recent novel [2]Zeitgeist 
(2000) outlines a wicked scenario: the world is being conquered by G7, 
a girl group that plays cheap sampled pop and sells tons of merchandise 
product, oil-tanker-style. Against this backdrop of "popular 
geo-politics" a great deal of discourse is afforded to the so called 
"war for the soul of the next century." A culture war that is to be 
taken "inside the homes, and heads, and hearts, of the fundamentalists" 
as soon as the region's distribution infrastructure and its contents 
are entirely in the hand of the G7 management.  
 "Of course, you can be a soldier, and also be a great entertainer", 
admits the novel's anti-hero Leggy Starlitz. His pitch sounds familiar? 
Well, what the protagonists in "Zeitgeist" discuss among themselves as 
the military-entertainment complex foreshadowed contemporary phenomena 
such as "foreign diplomacy as marketing" (the current Undersecretary of 
State for Public Diplomacy is a former Ogilvy & Mather chief and tries 
to rebrand USA and sell democracy to hostile Musilms across the world), 
"war journalism as reality-TV soap opera" (networks like ABC supply 
personal stories of soldiers in Afghanistan, the Philippines and 
beyond, in Sitcom format, directly from the front) and "imperialism as 
entertainment" (a consulting agency like Pearlfisher advises clients 
including Virigin, F1, or MGM studios to take over an entire island in 
order to create "Virgin Territory", an adult-only war-themepark). 
 In an early attempt to comment upon the world after 9/11 Sterling 
sketched apocalyptic combat choreographies like Gulf War III and Cold 
War II for pop-science journalists, scientists and engineers who hang 
out on John Brockman's EDGE website. As Sterling explains "it's the 
sort of thing we "virtual intelligentsia" types like to discuss when 
normal people aren't looking." Now they are looking and wonder how the 
acclaimed Sci-Fi writer gauges the new world order. 
  What's left for Sci-Fi-writers to do after 9/11? 
      Bruce Sterling: Well, they didn't lack for topics after 
Hiroshima. Why should 9/11 slow them down? I know it got a lot of 
press, but it's just a few large buildings and aircraft, it's not like 
D-Day and the Seige of Berlin.   
  But isn't it more than just two towers and buildings? We see the 
globe caught up in a new type of world war. 
      Bruce Sterling: We indeed see the globe caught up in a "new kind 
of world war," but what kind is it? Veterans of World War One and Two 
would have to shake their heads at a "war" where people die in fives, 
dozens or hundreds rather than millions. We may yet work our way up to 
some serious shooting war, or maybe some acts of urban genocide 
committed with rogue nuclear weapons. But if that were the case, why 
would we call that "9/11"? If Washington disappeared in a mushroom 
cloud, we'd give that huge event a different name.   
  What about phrases like "September 11th is now!" or the notion that 
everything that currently happens, is - in the view of the Pentagon - 
legitimate because of 9/11? 
      Bruce Sterling: Well, I've been in the Pentagon, and there's not 
unanimous sentiment in there. The Pentagon is not a monolithic entity, 
it's a bunch of different military services and established industrial 
interests quarreling over tactics and funding. It's a disturbed, 
scrambling, doubtful, rather feverish time for them. Somebody crashed 
into the Pentagon and they're busy rebuilding the wreckage. People in 
the Pentagon had colleagues killed and maimed by bin Laden. They're 
trying to find bin Laden and kill him and his cult. Naturally they 
consider that a legitimate thing to do, but they're having mixed 
success at the job. They're busily re-thinking a lot of their cherished 
doctrines. Nothing concentrates the military mind like getting shot at. 
If bin Laden is in fact publicly killed, then the US military will find 
itself standing around with its hands in its pockets, wondering what's 
supposed to come next.   
  In your most recent contribution to Wired magazine (April 2002 ) you 
have an answer at hand: Astro Cop takes over, that is: Space technology 
based US military world domination, in the course of which peace is 
sold as war. In order to make this rhetoric(al shift) palpable, could 
you briefly explain how "peace as war" materializes? 
      Bruce Sterling: Well, humans are very aggressive and scrappy, and 
go to war at the drop of a hat. However, a standard land war is no 
longer going to work as it is no longer technically possible. There are 
no fronts, the commanding headquarters of generals can be smashed 
instantly and are number-one targets, supply lines can be interdicted 
at will, trans-border invasions by organized national armies are 
heavily disapproved by large coalitions of nations. War as Napoleon 
knew it just not possible any more. However, we're very unlikely to 
accept or recognize "world peace" even when we get it. Therefore, 
events that Queen Victoria would recognize as outrages, frontier 
skirmishes or minor popular rebellions will be reclassified as "war." 
And so will major atrocities such as biological warfare and 
surreptitious nuclear explosions. They used to be seen as insane or 
unthinkable acts of madmen. But if they take place they'll be called 
"war" too. And there will still be no conventional war.   
  It is quite interesting how you intermingle journalism ( [3]Peace is 
War) with Science Fiction ( [4]Star Tech). What is the agenda behind 
that? Do you intend to blur the borders between the two or extend our 
notion of the respective catergories? 
      Bruce Sterling: I like to get paid for doing basic research, so 
it's pleasant to write some nonfiction about it. Those categories don't 
bother me much, I don't need to "blur" them. The boundary between 
writing for the Internet and off the Internet, that's pretty 
challenging, though. There a lot of my work is noncommercial and for 
small or at least unpredictable audiences. Still, I like to think of it 
as some of my best work -- or at least, my most characteristic. 
 Inside the military-entertainment complex 
  It seems that you are not only writing about the 
military-entertainment complex but are also part of it. How would you 
define your position as a writer against this backdrop: "Parasitic", as 
the Japanese perhaps would call it? 
      Bruce Sterling: Yes, of course I'm an entertainer in the 
military-entertainment complex. I'm very clearly a major agent of 
American cultural imperialism -- I've even been sent to Italy by the US 
Information Agency. I've written about cops, about soldiers, I've even 
met real, live people from the FBI and CIA. And I wouldn't describe 
that "position" as "parasitic." I'd describe that experience as 
"edifying." I don't merely write from a critical intellectual distance. 
I actually live around here.   
  What was the Italy-mission all about? 
      Bruce Sterling: Oh, that was such a long time ago... Last week I 
was in Italy hanging out with Linux freeware activists in a college 
event sponsored by a dance club that's run by some kind of anarchist 
dive... With Communists, and feminists, and hackers, and the media, and 
professors of Latin American literature, and radio personalities, and 
solemn guys with piercings who hate Berlusconi... And man, the food was 
great. We were all drinking heavily, and the local soccer club won and 
the population went nuts and ran into the streets.... I haven't had 
that good a time in ages. Since September 11, really. I just felt so 
happy, it was like the sun came out of the clouds for me. I love Italy. 
  Let us talk about your readers: Hackers, digerati, media 
philosophers, etc. Of course also teens/students with Anthrax T-Shirts 
who are into the funky language and the "fucked up" scenarios. They 
probably lack any critical/intellectual distance to what you call the 
military-entertainment complex. They are hooked on that stuff, as they 
feel that this is now, that this is the beat that shakes the planet. 
They consume books like "Zeitgeist" along with movies like "Strange 
Days" and games like Counterstrike. 
      Bruce Sterling: Hey, I was once a student in a punk T-Shirt 
hooked on fucked-up scenarios. That's how I became the esteemed 
cultural figure that I am today. Young people may not be real worldly, 
but they're untroubled by the ballast of dead concepts and they think 
really fast. They've got plenty of time to develop 
"critical/intellectual distance," not that they much like doing it.   
  What's your "thesis" on the mode of consumption in the 
military-entertainment complex? 
      Bruce Sterling: Well, the intellectual-property crisis is going 
into the trenches right now. A lack of a workable means of cultural 
consumption has killed off the Internet boom and lost AOL Time Warner 
$54 billion dollars in just one quarter. It's a big, ugly, stinking 
deal, with extremely high stakes, in which there are no heroes. Even 
the smartest people make some of the worst and stupidest blunders. I've 
been watching this squalid debacle build up for decades on end, and I 
have to say at this moment I feel worse about it than I ever have. It's 
  A report on luxury, which has been conducted by [5]Pearlfisher 
shortly before and after 9/11 and aims at counselling major brands in a 
time of global recession, suggests one homogenous class of consumers 
and the democratization of luxury. 
      Bruce Sterling: That sounds to me like it's more a symptom of 
increasing class and income differentiation. The ultra-rich may be 
feeding roses and champagne to their racehorses, but that doesn't mean 
we're on the brink of an apocalypse. We might be on the brink of an 
apocalypse if, instead of poor people with suicide bombs killing middle 
class guys, middle-class people with suicide bombs started killing rich 
guys. I've heard people speculate that the growing American vogue for 
murder-suicides in the workplace has a certain tinge of this.   
  On the basis of the aforementioned "analysis" the Pearlfisher report 
outlines imaginary products, among them "Virgin Territory" - the 
themepark for war-games and extreme-sports, which somehow echoes the 
reality in some of your stories. 
      Bruce Sterling: My idea of an amusement park story is getting 
adventurers to go tour environmental disaster areas. After all, if the 
entire Great Barrier Reef gets killed, which seems like an extremely 
lively possibility, what are you going to do with all that rotting 
limestone? The Chernobyl "wilderness" - disappearing glaciers - trees 
growing on dead skyscrapers in Detroit - in the Viridian movement we 
spend a lot of time and energy describing and studying these things.   
  The "greening of the US military" comes to mind, a phase in the 90s, 
during which the army basically lost its job and started to take care 
of environmental problems, engaging upon missions like [6]Endangered 
species. Ironically, the military's surveillence apparatus was being 
revamped as an ecological-warning sytem among other things. Do you see 
these two complexes converging: the military-entertainment complex and 
the environmentalism of your [7]Viridian project? 
      Bruce Sterling: Well, if politics and business fail us, of course 
the military will be called in. In the developing world, the massive 
and repeated ecological disasters are quite commonly met by the 
military. If disasters get bad enough, they certainly become 
national-security threats and the National Guard is called in. If the 
National Guard never goes home because the weather never gets any 
better, that's a scenario we Viridians like to call "Khaki Green." It's 
by no means a pleasant prospect, but what else is there? I once saw the 
82nd Airborne doing rescue and psychological operations in the wreckage 
of Hurricane Andrew. I respect their dedication, and the population was 
thrilled to see them. 
 Tracing Leggy Starlitz 
  What was the starting point for the "Zeitgeist" novel? 
      Bruce Sterling: As you likely know, "Zeitgeist" is part of a 
continuing series of stories involving an iconic figure who travels to 
peculiar yet illuminating corners of contemporary society. So that's 
the general starting point: what would a guy like Leggy Starlitz find 
of interest at the moment? At this hour, I feel quite sure that he's in 
Dubai. It would be corny to be in Afghanistan or the West Bank. 
Lebanon, too easy. Bombay, too full of itself. Dubai, just about right. 
Not too hot, not too cold, just close enough to the blazing fires of 
geo-political context; close enough to warm your greedy hands.   
  Any perspectives on the "military-entertainment dust-up" in 
contemporary Dubai? 
      Bruce Sterling: Yeah. Dubai seems to be the primary area in which 
Al Qaeda and its allies within India launder their money through the 
hawala system. Dubai is thriving. I'm especially interested in Dubai's 
connection to the Bombay criminal underworld. Most zealots with guns 
gravitate toward organized crime, because it's a lot easier to have 
money and buy gunmen than it is to have gunmen and get money. It's 
going to be really interesting to see what the heroin market does in 
the next two years or so. One thing you can be pretty sure of. The 
Afghan peasants who grow poppies won't get rich. The money will end up 
in places like Dubai.   
  What's also very interesting about Dubai, is that it has recently 
been promoted as the "portal" of the United Arab Emirates. Take a 
project like the [8]Dubai Media City: at the crossroads of the Middle 
East, Africa and South Asia, Dubai Media City is being described as the 
region's media hub: "It has been established by the Dubai Technology, 
e-commerce and Media Free Zone Authority to provide an infrastructure 
and environment that enable media-related enterprises to operate 
globally out of Dubai. Today the Dubai Media City is the place where 
every kind of media business, including broadcasting, publishing, 
advertising, public relations, research, music, and post-production 
      Bruce Sterling: I'm pleased to have you tell me that about Dubai. 
It's confirming my intuition about the place. I may have to go there 
myself. Probably not anytime soon, though. My travel plans are pretty 
well booked up for the season.   
  Starlitz used to make his hands dirty in black market operations in 
rural Azerbaijan ("Hollywood Kremlin", 1990), he helped radical 
feminist pro choice phone phreak activists to smuggle a French deveoped 
abortion pill through a Japanese female rock band in Salt Lake City 
("Are You For 86?", 1992) and he tried to launch the first 
Internet-based money laundry while plotting a revolution on Finland's 
Aland Islands ("The Littlest Jackal", 1996). What kind of job would 
this guy do in Dubai? 
      Bruce Sterling: Obviously, broadcasting, publishing, advertising, 
public relations, research, music, and post-production. At least, 
that's what he would claim to be doing.   
  Would Starlitz be managing G7 in Dubai, too? 
      Bruce Sterling: No, no, he would never repeat himself in such a 
banal way. I'm sure he would involve himself in some entirely new scam. 
Like [9], for instance, where you can buy the costumes right 
off the backs of Bollywood actresses. The cool thing about baazee is 
that it's global e-commerce, it sells the physical rags of the glamour 
right off the shooting sets to fans with hard currency in Europe and 
the USA. The Bollywood distribution system is so corrupt that they have 
trouble making money off movies. So they sell shoes that an actress 
stepped in. If they turned up the amps some, maybe they could sell the 
actresses. A set of Bollywood actresses are coming through Dallas soon 
in a live tour; I'd pay a lot to see them, but alas, I'm fully booked 

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