Looking around for something to post as a bloggable memorial to J.G. Ballard, who died yesterday, I came across something suitably striking, full credit for which must go to Simon Sellars and his excellent site Ballardian. Sellers remarks on Martin Pichlmair’s cunning comparison of Grand Theft Auto IV with Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition:
Ballard saw cars as the signifying symbols of the 20th century. James Dean, John F. Kennedy, and Lady Di are just three of the many pop culture figures that died in car accidents. Ballard even renders the assassination of JFK as a car race in the essay “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race” (Ballard 2006, p.171ff). Class differences in Grand Theft Auto IV mostly manifest in car brands. The vehicles Niko drive get better and better throughout the game. Yet the great efforts Niko Bellic undertakes to further his status only push him deeper and deeper into a swamp of corruption and violence. Towards the inescapable crash. The city is in a state of downfall, ridden by corrupt police forces, street crime, poverty, mentally deranged inhabitants and unscrupulous politicians. A sign at the highway reads: “The world needs a strong America to tell it what to do”. GTA is a synonym for cynicism, Liberty City the antithesis of the American Dream.
Sellers takes this a step further by drawing upon Matteo Bittanti’s experiments with gamics (comic strips created using text added to videogame screen grabs), especially one that matches quotations from Ballard’s Crash with images from EA’s Burnout, where points can be scored by spectacular crashes. For Sellers, both texts link the “hyper-aestheticised violence of Crash and the elegant carnage of autogeddon-style computer games”. A cool and unusual reminder of the inspirational reach of the author’s work, and his intellectual infiltration of every place where humans, machines and architecture jostle for position: