Strange Geographies: Iraq in San Diego

Ransom Riggs
Ransom Riggs
Ransom Riggs / Ransom Riggs

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.

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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.

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

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Some areas look a bit more realistic than others.

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

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Others have nothing inside but garbage:

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Empty shell casings are everywhere.

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A fake Iraqi family's fake Iraqi laundry:

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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.)

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Just outside the village sits a moldering 747:

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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.

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Slim pickings on the 747's drink cart:

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

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Weird: the reading selection in one of the houses. Weirder still: why someone would need Cliff's notes for


, a novella of less than 150 pages.

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A styrofoam chicken.

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

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You can check out more Strange Geographies columns here.