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Atrocity II

Author: • Jun 28th, 2007 •

Category: Ballardosphere, body horror, celebrity culture, death of affect, film, media landscape, short stories, urban revolt

Ballardian: Ronald Reagan

While I think Jonathan Weiss’s film of Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition was successful in its own right, I still believe there’s potential for a version (maybe not a straight adaptation, perhaps an obliquely angled ‘nod and a wink’; maybe even a sequel) that updates the notion of celebrity culture, that takes up the direction hinted at in the book’s second-last chapter, ‘Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan’. A version that replaces Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

In ‘Fuck Reagan’, ‘patients in terminal paresis’ are encouraged to devise the ‘optimum sex-death of Ronald Reagan’. A ‘unique ontology of violence and disaster’ takes shape, as the ordinary public — the patients suffering from paresis; impaired movement, paralysis — reanimate by tearing down the lustre surrounding celebrity culture, the forcefield that has prevented the ‘little people’ from realising their full potential.


In Ballard’s piece, originally published in 1968, the cultural class system that has impaired, or paralysed, ordinary people with feelings of guilt and inadequacy in the face of a galaxy of radiant stars is destroyed in a savage, air-strike of the imagination:

Patients [placed] Reagan in a series of simulated auto-crashes, e.g. multiple pile-ups, head-on collisions, motorcade attacks… Subjects were required to construct the optimum auto-disaster victim by placing a replica of Reagan’s head on the unretouched photographs of crash fatalities.”

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J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition (165).
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This literally is SLASH fiction. Blood drips from it.

‘Fuck Reagan’ marks a distinct break from the rest of The Atrocity Exhibition, in which, despite the instability of the central character’s fantasies, there was a certain awe underlying his imaginative sorties into the world of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, John F Kennedy and so on — an awe that prevented him from making the final leap. It’s also present in the character Vaughan, in Crash, who yearns of killing Elizabeth Taylor in a celebrity car crash but ultimately ends up annihilating only himself, terminally unfulfilled (along with a busload of innocent bystanders who got in his way).

In ‘Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan’, Ballard tested the wind, pushed the equation to its outer limits, predicted the rise of a new kind of ‘celebrity uncontaminated by actual achievement’ (as Ballard later termed the second wave of celebrity culture), a celebrity that causes resentment when ‘ordinary people’ finally have the means to dismantle the image, trying it on for themselves like a serial killer tries on a woman’s skin. There is no further truck with reification, with celebrity-deity because ordinary people have built a web 2.0 culture (or have been given the power, the means to build it) that will answer back and that will destroy those who seek to involve an unwilling public in their fantasies.

In further studies sadistic psychopaths were given the task of devising sex fantasies involving Reagan… Patients were encouraged to devise the optimum sex-death of Ronald Reagan.”

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J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition (168).
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But a web 2.0 culture doesn’t need to employ technology — doesn’t need the web, even — to do so. So, let’s use this term ‘web 2.0’ to denote a free-for-all that translates into the real world, an attitude that’s hardwired into the brain through constant exposure to the media landscape. As Ballard clearly outlines, the media colonisation of all available public and personal space means that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do but feed on the corpses…

Fame and celebrity were again on trial, as if being famous itself was an incitement to anger and revenge.”

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J.G. Ballard, Millennium People (2003).
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…spiraling down a black hole eating white stars, ported into Second Life, which lies just below the whirlpool, landmarked over there.

Paris Hilton is being consumed as we speak, just another star imploding. The savage public will not be placated by her talk of finding God in a jail cell. The savage public will not be wooed with her repentance and renunciation of vacuity. The savage public wants to feast on the corpse of empty celebrity. The savage public wants revenge. Like an anonymous would-be web 2.0 commenter leaving bile in the comments box of some blog that’s got too big for its boots, the savage public wants to break through the screen, wants to pierce the rump of unattainable stardom until blood oozes through the pores. So the savage public goes further, building its own ‘blog’ that becomes a destroying machine that becomes the body, drinking the blood and becoming infested with the knowledge that no one is better than ‘me’. The savage public wants to wank over serial killers and murderers, taking revenge for celebrity being attached to the cult of death. The savage public devours torture porn, bathes in the Bathory blood of actresses hogtied upside down. The savage public ensures that the most searched term leading to this very website is, in fact, the term ‘Princess Diana car crash’ and its multiple variations: ‘Di death fuck’; ‘sex Di death crash’; ‘fuck exhaust sex Di car Dodi died’.

The savage public wants to kill kill kill until there is nothing left, just a flat, smoking wasteland.

The savage public demands that torture porn be indistinguishable from snuff.

The savage public has no imagination and will feed off that corpse before turning on you, too.

Without doubt Oswald badly misfired. But one question still remains unanswered: who loaded the starting gun?”

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J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition (173).
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…:: ATROCITY II: Notes Towards a Sequel
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+ ‘R.P.M’ by Chris Nakashima-Brown
+ Invisible Celebrity Literature
+ Gallery of the Absurd by ’14’
+ The Brangelina Exhibition
+ ‘Chariot of Fire: Preliminary Analysis & Damage Reconstruction of the Death of Diana, Princess of Wales’ by Annik Hovac
+ ‘Fantasy Kits: Steven Meisel’s State of Emergency’ by k-punk

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6 Responses »

  1. […] Efron Link to Article britney spears Atrocity II » Posted at Ballardian: the World of J.G. Ballard […]

  2. […] Efron Link to Article paris hilton Atrocity II » Posted at Ballardian: the World of J.G. Ballard on […]

  3. “Savage public”? Traditionally, I think they’re called “The Beast”… but don’t get too elitist on us, Simon, they’re just unthinkingly caught up in their own psychopathologies.

  4. oh, there’s nothing elitist about it. just an observation!

  5. I think it’s only a matter of time before Britney runs over a photographer and kills ’em. What happened to that sweet old Britney we used to know and love?

  6. We ate her.

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