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Always Crashing in the Same Car

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All together now: “Warm leatherette/ Melts on your burning flesh/ You can see your reflection/ In the luminescent dash …”

For the fervent Ballardians, especially the obsessive completists among them, who enjoyed last week’s post, I’ve archived PDFs of the various versions of my lengthy, in-depth interviews with JGB and director David Cronenberg, published in 1997 to coincide with the American release of Crash, Cronenberg’s film of the Ballard novel of the same name. (The files in question are actually housed on the free, brutally cool document-sharing site Scribd, which David Pescovitz of bOING bOING brought to my attention. (Thanks, David!, as they say on bb.))

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Image courtesy Peter Ginter/Getty Images; all rights reserved.

The Director’s Cut of the two interviews, so to speak, appeared in the late, much-lamented Australian cyberzine 21.C. (Apologies for the minuscule type, but I had to reduce the magazine’s already flyspeck-sized font even further in order to photocopy the article before PDF-ing it. Vexing as it is, this will separate the Ballardians from the boys. Pour yourself a generous scotch, wait for the “friendly microclimate” (Ballard) to envelop you, screw in a jeweler’s loupe, and tuck in. The attentive reader will be well-rewarded.)

Like many ink-stained hacks, I doubled my fun by cannibalizing these same interviews for two articles published, more or less simultaneously, in the States, where they wouldn’t compete with the Australian version. My interviews with Ballard and Cronenberg appeared, successively, in the almost indescribable Rage, a mind-clenching blend of Adbusters-style anti-consumerist polemics; X-rated cartoons of eye-gouging awfulness (both in humor and execution), calculated to set the functionally illiterate aroar; political journalism; and, incalculably, softcore porn—accompanied, in some ill-conceived attempt at “culture jamming,” by captions that sneered at the silicone-injected models in the photos and snarked at the reader for oggling them (a strategy sure to increase the magazine’s market share). Did I mention that the magazine’s design was so groaningly amateurish it would have given Tibor Kalman an irritable bowel?

Of course Rage was published by Larry Flynt.

Of course it died, and not a minute too soon.

But it paid well, during its brief, grotesque life, and it must’ve left skidmarks on the minds of some of the hapless tools who thought they were buying a cheaper, sleazier Penthouse. Only in Rage could the unsuspecting reader turn the page from my Mensa-approved interview with Stuart Ewen, a cultural critic whose talk is thick with references to Lukacs, Bakhtin, and Benjamin, to what was indelicately referred to, in the locker rooms of my hairy palmed youth, as a “split-beaver” shot. (The reader averts her eyes in horror, for which: my apologies. Is there a more discreet term for this visual convention in hetero porn?)

Of course, it’s misbegotten monstrosities like Rage that make capitalism great. Where else but America would someone like Larry Flynt cast focus groups, branding experts, and coolhunters to the wind and, fueled by his porn-mogul millions and a pathological contrarianism, floor his desires, headlong, into the immovable bollards of the mass mind?

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Image courtesy Louie Psihoyos/Getty Images; all rights reserved.