Friday, December 15, 2006

Invisible Literature for the Age of Celebrity

The Assassination Inquest of Diana, Princess of Wales Considered as an Unintentionally Ballardian Remix of the Warren Commission Report

In 1966, J.G. Ballard authored one of his most famous experimental works, "The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race" (itself a remix of Alfred Jarry's "The Crucifixion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race").

"Oswald was the starter."

Ballard has frequently described the Warren Commission Report as one of the great avant-garde works of the century, an iconic masterpiece of "invisible literature" unintentionally transforming chapters on bullet trajectories and custody chains of cardboard boxes into simultaneously rich and minimalist prose poetry that charted the cartographic nodes of mass consciousness at the dawn of the 1960s. The text was clearly a primary source not only for the aforementioned short, but for the entirety of his masterful exploration of the intersection of sex, violence, technology and media in The Atrocity Exhibition.

''The latent sexual content of the automobile crash. Numerous studies have been conducted to assess the latent sexual appeal of public figures who have achieved subsequent notoriety as auto-crash fatalities, e.g. James Dean, Jayne Mansfield, Albert Camus. Simulated newsreels of politicians, film stars and TV celebrities were shown to panels of (a) suburban housewives, (b) terminal paretics, (c) filling station personnel. Sequences showing auto-crash victims brought about a marked acceleration of pulse and respiratory rates. Many volunteers became convinced that the fatalities were still living, and later used one or another of the crash victims as a private focus of arousal during intercourse with the domestic partner.''

So, one can't help but imagine the smiles in Shepperton reading this week's sequel, "The Report of the Operation Paget inquiry into the allegation of conspiracy to murder Diana, Princess of Wales and Emad El-Din Mohamed Abdel Moneim Fayed." Eight-hundred-plus pages of pure clinical Ballardian detail remixed with Spectacular Baudrillardian celebrity media fireworks. If reading the Iraq Study Group's recipe book for imminent apocalypse has got you down, download this puppy, pull up a chair by the crackling fire, drop the needle on Herb Alpert's Mexican Road Race, turn to page 143, and consider this program book for the ultimate Formula One of the Zeitgeist:

"The following paparazzi or press agents were identified as being present at the Ritz Hotel at the time that the Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed left via rue Cambon:

Present in rue Cambon (rear entrance)

• Jacques Langevin (grey Volkswagen Golf)

• Alain Guizard (grey/blue Peugeot 205)

• David Odekerken (Mitsubishi Pajero)

• Fabrice Chassery (black Peugeot 205)

• Serge Benhamou (green Honda scooter)

Present in Place Vendôme (front entrance)

• Laslo Veres (black Piaggio Scooter)

• Serge Arnal and Christian Martinez (black Fiat Uno)

• Romuald Rat and Stéphane Darmon (blue Honda 650 motorcycle)

• Nikola Arsov (white BMW R100 GS motorcycle)

• Pierre Suu and Jerko Tomic (red BMW 750 motorcycle)

• Pierre Hounsfield (black Volkswagen Golf)

• Stéphane Cardinale (white Citroen AX)

• Dominique Dieppois (white Renault Super 5)

• Colm Pierce (no vehicle)"

Not enough? How about this:

- The testimony of Madame Myriah, the holistic healer that traveled with the Dark Dauphin on his yacht "Jonikal" and examined the Princess.

- Earnest consideration by Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington and his fellow inquisitioners of the potential that HRH Prince Philip is a looming gangster mastermind, his Upper Class Twit public persona masking a sinister Machiavelli ordering hits from his green country sanctum.

- The inquest's sophisticated computer sims of the crash (if that isn't the ultimate Grand Theft Auto add-on module, I don't know what is).

- Henri Paul's previously unnoted life as an aviator, his failed career as a private eye, comprehensive inventories of his apartment, and a novel length anatomical exposition on the forensic toxicology of his post-mortem anatomy.

- Deadpan evaluations of conspiracy theories involving MI5, MI6, Mossad, CIA, NSA, the Freemasons, the Scientologists and the Royal Mafia.

- Voyeuristic views from every surveillance camera in Paris.

- Unintentionally fetishistic dissections of the black Mercedes.

- Oliver Stone film clip glimpses of the Princess's contorted post-crash body position and cryptic last words.

In sum, a perfect pathology report on the end of the twentieth century.

In Los Angeles, they learned the lessons of Diana's death long ago, the Peugeots having paved the way for a new extreme paparazzi of the privacy-free 21st century. Last year, the NY Times reported on the increasing trend of celebrity photographers literally chasing down movie stars in cars in an effort to get more intense, emotional, real-life action shots:

***Routinely now, law enforcement officials said, paparazzi use several vehicles to ''box in'' a celebrity's car; try to force stars off the road; chase them at high speed as they do nothing more than run errands, often with their children in tow; and recklessly put pedestrians, other drivers and even themselves at risk.

... The photographers have long been a fixture in Los Angeles, on red carpets and outside fashionable restaurants and nightclubs, and there has always been a kind of symbiosis between them and celebrities, and particularly celebrity publicists. But veteran stars, publicists and entertainment lawyers say that certain photographers, and the publications they sell to, began increasing the pressure several years ago and seem to have changed the rules of the game -- transforming Los Angeles, even more than New York or other hot spots, from a somewhat safe haven into a hostile environment.

''They weren't always as invasive,'' [Halle] Berry said. ''There was some healthy respect about it -- they kept a certain distance from you. You weren't chased at high speeds through the streets where you endangered other lives and other innocent people who really don't know what the heck is going on.''

[Cameron] Diaz said screeching tires and honking horns had become a kind of personal soundtrack for her whenever she ran errands -- typically with three or more paparazzi cars in pursuit. ''People used to ask me how I could live in Los Angeles, and I'd say it's the best place, everybody's so jaded,'' said Ms. Diaz, who appeared in her first movie in 1994.

''That's how it used to be: I could go to the dry cleaners or to grocery stores. In the last few years, it's gotten to the point where you literally cannot walk outside your front gate without being literally attacked.''

Ms. Diaz recalled walking in the street with Mr. Timberlake and a friend and his dog about two years ago, when a photographer in a Toyota 4Runner roared up from behind them, knocking the friend to the ground, then shot pictures of her and Mr. Timberlake coming to the friend's aid. ''We're so used to not having any rights, we didn't think we should call 911,'' she said.

Photographs of the incident wound up in the next US Weekly with a caption saying, ''Cameron and Justin race to help a friend'' after the friend's dog was nearly hit by a car.

Janice Min, the editor of Us Weekly...acknowledged that the market for photos of stars' unguarded moments might have eroded Los Angeles's status as a safe haven. ''But anyone who's a celebrity in this day and age knows this is part of what being a celebrity is, for better or worse,'' she said. ''Its a 24-7 job.''

Still, stars say the risky behavior is becoming untenable. The actress Reese Witherspoon said in an interview that her car was sideswiped a few weeks ago when she tried to leave her gym and was hemmed in by photographers. ''After last month, I feel the boundaries are slipping,'' she said. ''One tried to ram the back left of my car. That had never happened before.''***

These predatory photographers, and the magazine editors they feed, didn't need the researchers at Cal Tech to tell them that human beings have single neurons dedicated to each celebrity. The stars are our cathode ray Olympians, arrayed in neurological constellations across the drive-in movie screen on the back of our foreheads.

If the celebrities and their masters are the airhead tyrants of our collective consciousness, the paparazzi may be unwittingly evolving into a vanguard of culture jamming guerillas, telephoto Nikons as postmodern Kalashnikovs in an amped-up L.A. cell of the Billboard Liberation Front. Imagine if they acted with deliberate revolutionary intent, seeking to capture the most hideous possible images of movie stars, the pampered skin of their faces pulled back into horrifying contortions by disused tendons provoked out of their Botox slumber. Surely that would hack the Spectacle, at least for the fifteen minutes before it morphed into the new sexy commoditized cool.

In the meantime, we wait for the secret boxes of evidence collected by Operation Paget to trickle out into the Internet-of-Things via eBay.


Scott said...

One wonders if Diaz's friend (who according to the quote was actually hit and knocked down by the car) didn't press charges. If the photographer didn't stick around, it's called a felony hit and run...

Christopher Brown said...

My understanding was they did, the Times reporting that "[Lindsay] Lohan is joining with Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake and an A-list of Hollywood actors who are trying to turn the tables on the paparazzi. Spurred by the stars and their representatives, the Los Angeles police and prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into what they describe as a new breed of photojournalists willing to flout the law, drive recklessly and even slam into celebrities' cars."

MarkLWilliams said...

but of course, once the LAPD "investigates," then it becomes not Ballard, but James Ellroy...