Strange Geographies: Iraq in San Diego

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Ransom Riggs

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In the 70s, Stu Segall made porn movies. In the 80s he became a mini-mogul, building a studio in an industrial part of San Diego where he began producing low-budget movies and TV shows like Silk Stalkings. After 9/11, he built a mock Iraqi village in a neglected corner of the backlot, rarely used by film crews but frequently filled with marines, thousands of whom have run through intense training exercises there. I was at the studio for a few days last week to work on the set of a friend's film (not porn!), and I couldn't help exploring the empty Iraqi village while there. It's a strange and surreal place: barely-furnished rooms; facades with nothing but weeds behind them; plastic flowers and "Arab"-looking dummies made of foam; blank shell casings everywhere. It's not quite Iraq and it's definitely not San Diego; instead, it's nestled deep inside the uncanny valley.

Many of the rooms are covered with paintball splatter. I'm told that soldiers sometimes use paintball guns during "home invasion" exercises -- when accurate firing is especially important, one would imagine.



An Iraqi village bedroom. I can't explain the horse-themed blanket covering the door:


Some areas look a bit more realistic than others.

Many of the "houses" are empty shipping containers from China with a plywood room divider or two built in:

Others have nothing inside but garbage:

Empty shell casings are everywhere.

A fake Iraqi family's fake Iraqi laundry:

This is probably as close as I'll ever get to actually being in Iraq. (Also notice the cart full of plastic flowers, the most colorful thing in town.)

Just outside the village sits a moldering 747:

It's clearly been used for training exercises, as well -- evident from the paintball splatter throughout the plane. I would definitely not want to be on a flight where whatever they practice for here actually transpires. IMG_0486

Slim pickings on the 747's drink cart:

Elsewhere in the village, tables are stacked with busted-up computer equipment.

Weird: the reading selection in one of the houses. Weirder still: why someone would need Cliff's notes for Anthem, a novella of less than 150 pages.

A styrofoam chicken.

The wife -- or foam-based life partner, whichever you prefer -- of the man pictured at the top of the post.

You can check out more Strange Geographies columns here.

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July 20, 2009 - 3:30am
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