Crash Culture and American Blood Ritual

  • Christopher Sharrett


the car crash is a component of our rubbernecking culture that takes joy in the suffering of others, the new schaudenfreude that is the earmark of postmodernity. But this is a pathology with roots deep in American culture, manifest today in the anxiety over the pursuit of a “politic of meaning” that is a fixation for neoliberalism. The fascination with mass death on the highway, with the persecution of people on “real TV” cop shows and the like, is about the bankruptcy of American mass ritual at the end of its road. The endless satisfactions demanded and promoted by late capitalism have reached a point of critical mass, producing a Sadean void where pleasure and pain become nullity. The bourgeois subject is reduced to base matter, and the Freudian death wish is finally actualized on a transpsychical scale. Ballard’s Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition1 illuminate an important aspect of postmodern death culture: the fixation on details and the fetishization of commodities at a particularly diseased register. The particulars of the commodity, and our absorption in them, represent an almost caricatured alienation, especially as the commodity— the detritus of postindustrial culture—is conflated with death and the cadaver. The anality of commodity culture becomes rather literal, as consumer interest alternates between hysterical consumption of worthless goods and the enthrallment with death, destruction, excrement, disease, the injured body, and holocaustal sites.


Mass Death Late Capitalism Injured Body Commodity Culture Sacred Ground 
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  1. 1.
    J. G. Ballard, Crash (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1973); The Atrocity Exhibition (San Francisco: V/Search, 1990).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    A good survey of the American fixation on sites of mass death is Edward Tabor Linenthal, Sacred Ground: Americans and their Battlefields (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See René Girard, Violence and the Sacred, trans. Patrick Gregory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979).Google Scholar

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© Mikita Brottman 2001

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  • Christopher Sharrett

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