In 1969, during the midst of the Vietnam War, General Motors (GM) launched an ad- campaign that introduced the public to a new experimental crash test dummy. “Sophisticated Sam” was the real deal – an American dummy finally prepared to “bleed, suffer concussions, sustain abdominal injuries and undergo autopsies” for the safety of the nation. In this paper, I explore the relationship between individual and national desire, risk, security and injury through an analysis of GM’s “Sophisticated Sam” advertising campaign.
In Injury, Sarah Lochlann Jain explains that only after the activism of the 1960s, the automobile industry was expected to design to avoid car crashes. Major automobile manufacturers such as GM responded by increasing car testing and developing public outreach campaigns using and promoting the “crash test dummy” model. However, as Karen Beckman explains in Crash: “dummy actors failed to satisfy the needs of crash- test directors because they could not register or express the subject experience of pain.” In this paper, I discuss the role of the Automobile industry–and corporate American more broadly–in crafting a public consensus about the scope, limits and constitution of bodily harm.
Drawing on Beckman’s work, I argue that GM’s strategy for restoring public faith in automobile safety entailed developing and publicly performing a techno-scientific practice of defining, categorizing, and quantifying the scope and limitations of “injury by automobile” – one predicated on a “stick and stones will break my bones” logic that neatly adhered to militarized American wartime masculinities. Drawing on Mel Y. Chen’s Animacies, I end by introducing the framework of “biomedical warscapes of the automobile” to create a generative terrain for analyzing the multiple queer sites of exchange where injury and trauma are implanted onto humans.
Beckman, Karen Redrobe. Crash: Cinema and the Politics of Speed and Stasis. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. Print.
Chen, Mel Y. Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2012. Print.
Jain, Sarah S. Lochlann. Injury: The Politics of Product Design and Safety Law in the United States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2006. Print.