Monthly Archives: November 2015

CEO fight clubs and crashing cars to get turned on: The trippy tales of J.G. Ballard

THE FIRST RULE OF CEO FIGHT CLUB is there is no CEO fight club.

While reading J.G. Ballard’s Super-Cannes, I thought a lot about Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. Both center themselves on the idea that unrestrained violence and sexuality are healing actions, rather than negative or self-destructive. However, in Fight Club, that violence is directed to cripple a society that has already crippled the clubbers. In Super-Cannes, the anarchy is more controlled, with the idea that these periodic bursts of lunacy will help make the world a better place by allowing elites in their fields – business, engineering, medicine, etc. – to release this pent-up rage and malaise, to unblock their psyche and intellect so that they can focus on their chosen professions and studies with a singularity and fervor that they would have been unable to do before said acts.

Paul, a magazine editor, moves to the elite business park Eden-Olympia after his pediatrician wife, Jane, accepts a position there. David Greenwood, the pediatrician who preceded Jane at Eden-Olympia and an acquaintance of Paul and his wife, is dead after going on a rampage at the business park, shooting a number for fellow co-workers before being gunned down by security. While Jane is immediately immersed in her work, Paul starts to wonder what exactly set David off and gets his Hardy boys on digging into the incident.

What Paul comes to find is that the elites that populate Eden-Olympia are participating on “bowling teams.” These teams periodically go out to areas around the park, in Cannes and the neighboring towns and cities, stealing, committing vandalism, beating up immigrants and more. The staff psychiatrist, Wilder Penrose, encourages this psychopathy. He believes that these elite individuals really don’t understand down time, unable to commit to average hobbies and pastimes that help soothe the souls of normal people. This negatively impacts their health and productivity. But after evenings beating up prostitutes or stealing top-end furs from a commercial shoot, these leaders in their respective fields get physically and mentally healthier and are able to spend even more time working.

Super-Cannes is intriguing and works well, with one exception. On the one hand, Paul seems sucked in by this madness, wanting to stop it but unsure how. On the other, Paul almost seems completely removed from the madness he witnesses or even is involved in personally. When it comes time for him to shit or get off the pot, you can see why he chooses what he chooses to do morally and personally, but Paul seems to lack the rage and passion required for his book-closing move. The journey is interesting and well-executed, but the wrap-up feels like it doesn’t quite fit.

DO MANGLED STEEL, broken plastic, burning wires, spilled gasoline, broken limbs, dripping blood, scarred torsos and metal leg braces turn you on?

Ballard’s Crash confronts the sexual nature of the automobile in ways I never imagined. I saw David Cronenberg’s Crash back in the 1990s (see The 5 Most Disturbing Movies I’ve Ever Seen) and was pretty appalled by what I was witnessing. The idea of intentionally crashing vehicles as well as maiming and killing people in order to achieve some ultimate turn-on – known as symphorphilia – isn’t exactly commonplace stuff, and it was hard to digest. The movie is compelling if you can stomach the perversity, but I didn’t really connect with it.

If it’s possible, Ballard’s book is even more startling, but in a different way. Cronenberg’s flick is really about the relationships that form among the members of this bizarre subculture. And while Ballard’s Crash does that as well, there is one thing that both separate it from the film and make it, to me, at least, the superior work of art.

I’m a man. I’m an American. I get the idea of a hot car and how it appeals on a sexual level. But the intensity and detail that go into Ballard’s description of vehicles here take that to a new level. It’s the one part of the book that, for me, doesn’t feel absolutely bugshit insane. The angles, the chrome, the lights, the shadow, the feel of a leather interior, the cool cleanliness. I’m not saying I’m jumping into the fetishism with both feet, but for brief moments of the book, I gained an understanding of how combining the cold-steel eroticism of the vehicle with an intense, life-altering event like a near-fatal car crash could push a person over the edge and into an obsession with this very dark kink.

That, to me, is the power of Crash. There are plenty of kinks – for example, watching a pretty girl in expensive shoes crush worms on a sidewalk – that I look at and think, “How do you get to the point where that gets you off?” With Crash, I feel like I gain some understanding of how, in a singular instance, one could get to that point. That Ballard could find a way to convey this unique psychological outlier in a way that brought me to greater understanding of it says something about the author’s abilities (or possibly about my own pysche). Quite the feat.

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