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Dossier on Ralph Nader

Author: • Feb 27th, 2008 •

Category: America, Ballardosphere, consumerism, film, speed & violence

Ballardian: Ralph Nader

Nader at a news conference: ‘Sixties iconography: … the pudenda of Ralph Nader … the climax of a New York happening: a dead child’ (photo: UPI/Bettman).

Self-styled ‘consumer crusader’ Ralph Nader is again running for the US presidency.

To prep you on Nader’s qualifications, here is a dossier on the man, straight from the pages of The Atrocity Exhibition:

From Ballard’s annotations (Atrocity, 1990 edition):

Nader has only just survived into the 1990s, and it’s difficult now to imagine his name leaping to anyone’s lips, but at the time he sent a seismic tremor through the mind of the US consumer, challenging the authority of that greatest of all American icons, the automobile. Every car crash seemed a prayer to Ralph Nader.

His assault on the automobile clearly had me worried. Living in grey England, what I most treasured of my Shanghai childhood were my memories of American cars, a passion I’ve retained to this day. Looking back, one can see that Nader was the first of the ecopuritans, who proliferate now, convinced that everything is bad for us. In fact, too few things are bad for us, and one fears an indefinite future of pious bourgeois certitudes.

From the text (Atrocity, 1990 edition):

Dr Nathan gazed at the display photographs of terminal syphilitics in the cinema foyer… Despite the scandal that would ensue he had deliberately authorized this ‘Festival of Atrocity Films’… Behind their display frames the images of Nader and JFK, napalm and air crash victims revealed the considerable ingenuity of the film makers.

’Sixties iconography: the nasal prepuce of LBJ, crashed helicopters, the pudenda of Ralph Nader, Eichmann in drag, the climax of a New York happening: a dead child.

Talbot climbed the slope, following this spectre along the embankment. He had witnessed the annunciation of a unique event. Looking down at the plaza, he murmured without thinking, ‘Ralph Nader.’

‘Talbot’s belief … is that automobile crashes play very different roles from the ones we assign them… In the eucharist of the simulated auto-disaster we see the transliterated pudenda of Ralph Nader, our nearest image of the blood and body of Christ.’

Ballardian: Ralph Nader

‘The transliterated pudenda of Ralph Nader, our nearest image of the blood and body of Christ’ (photo: UPI/Bettman).

Talbot: False Deaths. (1) The flesh impact: Karen Novotny’s beckoning figure in the shower stall, open thighs and exposed pubis – traffic fatalities screamed in this soft collision. (2) The overpass below the apartment: the angles between the concrete buttresses contained for Talbot an immense anguish. (3) A crushed fender: in its broken geometry Talbot saw the dismembered body of Karen Novotny, the alternate death of Ralph Nader.

Captain Webster studied the exhibits. He fingered the shaving scar on his heavy jaw, envying Talbot the franchises of this young woman’s body. ‘And together they make up a portrait of this American safety fellow – Nader?’

‘The danger of an assassination attempt seems evident, one hypotenuse in this geometry of a murder. As to the figure of Nader – one must remember that Talbot is here distinguishing between the manifest content of reality and its latent content. Nader’s true role is clearly very different from his apparent one, to be deciphered in terms of the postures we assume, our anxieties mimetized in the junction between wall and ceiling.’

Ignoring her now, Talbot looked out through the dawn light at the converging concrete aisles. Soon the climax of the scenario would come, JFK would die again, his young wife raped by this conjunction of time and space. The enigmatic figure of Nader presided over the collision, its myths born from the cross-overs of auto-crashes and genitalia.

For Talbot the explosive collision of the two cars was a celebration of the unity of their soft geometries, the unique creation of the pudenda of Ralph Nader.

These erotic films, over which presided the mutilated figure of Ralph Nader, were screened above Dr Nathan’s head as he moved along the lines of crashed cars. Illuminated by the arc-lights, the rushes of the test collisions defined the sexual ambiguities of the abandoned motorcade.

Many factors confirmed this faulty union of time and space – the dislocated perspectives of the apartment, his isolation from his own and his wife’s body (he moved restlessly from one room to the next, as if unable to contain the volumes of his limbs and thorax), the serial deaths of Ralph Nader on the advertisement billboards that lined the airport approaches.

Ballardian: Ralph Nader

‘These erotic films, over which presided the mutilated figure of Ralph Nader’ (photo: UPI/Bettman).

Lateral section through the left axillary fossa of Karen Novotny, the elbow raised in a gesture of pique: the transliterated pudenda of Ralph Nader.

Images of the Zapruder film hung on the fractured windshields, fusing with his dreams of Oswald and Nader.

‘Planes intersect: on one level, the tragedies of Cape Kennedy and Vietnam serialized on billboards, random deaths mimetized in the experimental auto-disasters of Nader and his co-workers.’

Time-zones: Ralph Nader, Claude Eatherly, Abraham Zapruder.

On the roof terrace, Kline walked among the mannequins. The plaster models of Marina Oswald, Ralph Nader and the young man in the laminated suit stood by the railing. Xero, meanwhile, moved with galvanic energy across the runways, assembling an immense motorcade of wrecked cars.

‘This motorcade,’ Dr Nathan explained, ‘we may interpret as a huge environmental tableau, a mobile psycho-drama which recapitulates the Apollo disaster in terms of both Dealey Plaza and the experimental car crashes examined so obsessively by Nader…’

Cine-films as group therapy. Patients were encouraged to form a film production unit, and were given full freedom as to choice of subject matter, cast and technique. In all cases explicitly pornographic films were made. Two films in particular were examined: (1) A montage sequence using portions of the faces of (a) Madame Ky, (b) Jeanne Moreau, (c) Jacqueline Kennedy (Johnson oath-taking)… (2) A film of automobile accidents devised as a cinematic version of Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed.

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8 Responses »

  1. Intriguing.

    But I prefer a more prosaic interpretation of the young Nader.

    Decades ago, he said: simple technologies can make driving – or at least crashing – less likely to be fatal or even to seriously maim. Is there any sensible argument against using such technologies?

    The answer was no.

    It might have been interesting to hear GM execs use Ballardian language to defend their resistance to safety measures. Still, I’d prefer to walk away from a crumpling with my brain inside my skull and not on the dashboard.

  2. yeah, but he was so evangelical. i think that’s what ballard was getting at. nader had a bizarre messiah complex that clearly spooked jgb in the 60s, something that overrode the issues nader was expounding.

  3. Re: Nader’s evangelical aspect…

    Yes, point taken.

    I wonder though, whether the scale and bitterness of corporate resistance to Nader’s ideas – which, in the main, were/are quite sensible: i.e., the auto industry’s extraordinary exertions to avoid even the slightest moves towards increased safety (the history is very revealing) created, or perhaps heightened, his evangelical tendencies.

    I suspect that sometimes, your enemies reshape you.

    Had the JGB of the past treated Nader’s fervor as part of a dyad – perhaps an effect whose cause was the auto industry’s equal (maybe greater!) fanaticism, hidden behind 1960s Grey flannel suits and calm appearances before congressional committees, we might have had a truly interesting treatment of the topic.

  4. Nader now exists in the USA as a rather frightening ghost of a political figure – whose
    divisive entrance into the 2000 Presidential election as an independent drew away just enough votes from Gore to throw the whole US Presidency into the Bush Neocon era- whose consequences are now all too clear – i.e. a hideous and unnecessary Iraq War, a CO2-dying planet, and a US $ that is pitifully less valuable than it has ever been before – and perhaps justly so. Go ahead, smash his pudenda – he’s responsible indirectly for FAR more evil than he admits… OBAMA 2008! – Crashman

  5. Wow! I can not believe the number of people who so quickly turned away from this good man! One man comes along that actually cared about what the majority of the people wanted and needed and not about Big Money. One man finally came and fought for the consumers right to know they could be safer. All this man has done to bring awareness to us when otherwise the corporations would have gladly kept us in the dark about the dangers of cars, air, water and more and instead of saying thank you to Ralph Nader and others like him we gladly throw him under the bus and blame one man for badly ran campaigns, bad ballot systems and the choice of The Supreme Court for putting Bush in office. And then to go so far as to blame him for this horrible war and the deaths of so many. Try putting he blame where it really belongs, then get mad then push to impeach Bush and Cheney who lied to us. While your angry at the right people check the voting in Senate, you will see that more Democrats pushed Bush’s agenda’s even more than the Republicans. Then check out the polling statistics for 2000 and 2004 instead of relying on a lie that was told by a Democratic party that needed a scapegoat to blame for their not fighting The Supreme Courts decision..They would have won that just like Gore won the election and had it stolen from him literrally by Bush!
    Check out Mr. Naders past accomplishments that have benefitted Americans. They outnumber anything that any of the past and present candidates have done for The People even if you put all their accomplishments together.

    I say shame on anyone who keeps badmouthing this man who dedicated 40 years of his life to bringing awareness to us and for all his contributions that really has mae life safer and better for Americans. I am actually crying because of this horrible treatment of this man. What has this country come to when liars and crooks of the people are practically worshipped but someone like Ralph Nader is talked about like he is crazy when he brought us the truth. I am truly saddened and ashamed.

  6. I would like to echo Melissa’s opinion and say that awareness is what this country needs and he has been able to create it. Also his campaign team has sent me numerous e-mails attempting to get me involved which is awesome. Way better than Obama’s campaign has done. I want someone who can be aware of, creates awareness, and acknowledges what the problems actually are. His humble acts of creating organizations to benefit the consumer and beyond is very hard to ignore. When will we stop voting for the Democrats and Republicans? To respond to Crashman who will more than likely never read this; what you are saying is that the American people can not have a choice beyond the Major two parties because it steals votes from them. How naive can you be, to ignore the fact that other people besides Democrats and Republicans are running? To not acknowledge those individuals means you are close minded. I want the press and the rest of this country to accept that we have more than two parties. As a young voter I want to know that I have more options and that I can turn on the TV and see more than McCain and Obama, that I can see something or someone different.

  7. Thank goodness the last two people commenting here have some education about Nader’s background and track record. I defy anyone to find anything Nader has done in his entire career that was self-serving, underhanded, or had hidden agendas.

    Are you so cynical that you don’t know a great American, one of the greatest in our history, who has never stopped being on the side of “we, the people” –ever–when you see one?

    Be thankful that there’s still someone with the stones to stand up to the corporate red and corporate blue money machines; be thankful for your kids.
    Attitudes like “Nader’s a spoiler”, “It’s a wasted vote” and “Lesser of the Evils” sure as hell aren’t going to set a good example for them.

    Ralph Nader will, though..like always.

  8. You do realise this is a site about JG Ballard, don’t you — not a political site?

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