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Chapter 12: Crash! Excerpt

Back to The Atrocity Exhibition

Note: The commentary is by Ballard, and unique to the RE/Search edition
The latent sexual content of the automobile crash. CrashNumerous studies have been conducted to assess the latent sexual appeal of public figures who have achieved subsequent notoriety as auto-crash fatalities, e.g. James Dean, Jayne Mansfield, Albert Camus. Simulated newsreels of politicians, film stars and TV celebrities were shown to panels of (a) suburban housewives, (b) terminal paretics, (c) filling station personnel. Sequences showing auto-crash victims brought about a marked acceleration of pulse and respiratory rates. Many volunteers became convinced that the fatalities were still living, and later used one or other of the crash victims as a private focus of arousal during intercourse with a domestic partner.

Relatives of auto-crash victims showed a similar upsurge in both sexual activity and overall levels of general health. Mourning periods were drastically reduced. After a brief initial period of withdrawal, relatives would revisit the site, usually attempting a discreet re-enactment of the crash mode. In an extreme 2 percent of cases spontaneous orgasms were experienced during a simulated run along the crash route. Surprisingly, these results parallel the increased frequency of sexual intercourse in new-car families, the showroom providing a widely popular erotic focus. Incidence of neurosis in new-car families is also markedly less. by the images of colliding motor cars.

Commentary: This 1968 piece was written a year before my exhibition of crashed cars at the New Arts Laboratory, and in effect is the gene from which my novel Crash was to spring. The ambiguous role of the car crash needs no elaboration-apart from our own deaths, the car crash is probably the most dramatic event in our lives, and in many cases the two will coincide. Aside from the fact that we generally own or are at the controls of the crashing vehicle, the car crash differs from other disasters in that it involves the most powerfully advertised commercial product of this century, an iconic entity that combines the elements of speed, power, dream and freedom within a highly stylised format that defuses any fears we may have of the inherent dangers of these violent and unstable machines.
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