“Created” by Henry Beard
“It didn’t matter whether you ended up sitting in a bathtub with too many holes in your body to repair, or whether you did something stupid and they came back and took you away… it was all the same. Everyone goes back, sooner or later, back in the big recall.”
RALPH NADER. American political activist, consumer advocate, presidential candidate.
And hard-boiled private eye.
Only the warped minds at National Lampoon could cook up this one. Or make it so funny. Or so pointed, given that at the time this parpdy was published, way back in 1972, it had just been revealed that General Motors had sicced a private eye on the real-life Nader, hoping to dig up some dirt.
And the parody perfectly captures the us-against-them paranoia of the Nixon era, using the tropes of the genre to take potshots at the banks (the only reason he carries a credit card is to break into buildings, although he feels “using credit cards to break the law is toitally justified given “the interest rates they.. charged”), as well as vegetarians, shoddy manufacturing, consumer culture, advertising, “two-bit lobbyists, shyster lawyers” and influence peddlars” who work over a bill until “a Congressman from Mississippi is getting $1 million for not growing rice on his tennis court.”
Nader works out of his Washington, D.C. office where the client’s chair comes equipeed with a seat belt and where he’s hired by a babe wearing a mini skirt “at least as large as a wildlife commemorative” and cto find her missing car, a “red 1970 Camaro that probably couldn’t go much faster than the speed of sound, and if anything went wrong they’d probably have to help you out with a high-pressure hose.” The whole thing rattles along in delightful fashion, wrapping up with Nader taking the bus home, and coughing up the Chandleresque soliloquy quoted above that is so pitch-perfect it’s a coin-toss whether we should laugh or cry
“The Big Recall” appeared in the “CRIME” issue of National Lampoon, and the cover, while not an illustration of the story, does combine hard-boiled crime fiction with consumer issues — it’s a great pulpy illustration of a looming, menacing figure unlawfully ripping the tag from a mattress — despite the warning not to do so!
Shocking then. Shocking now.
Henry Beard is an American humorist who was a contributor to the Harvard Lampoon, which circulated nationally. In 1968, Beard and a Harvard class mate, Douglas Kenney wrote the bestselling parody Bored of the Rings, and in 1969, Beard, Kenney and Rob Hoffman founded the National Lampoon. After selling off his share of the National Lampoon in 1975, he turned to writing humorous books, including Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life (1981), Leslie Nielsen’s Stupid Little Golf Book (1995), French for Cats (1992) and O.J.’s Legal Pad (1995).
- “She took a sawbuck from a purse made out of the skin of one of those endangered species of which there are just enough left to field a softball team if you don’t mind a couple of raccoons filling in as pinch hitters.”
- “The Big Recall” (February 1972, National Lampoon)
Also included in This Side of Humour, a 1974 paperback spin-off from National Lampoon that consisted of parodies of the work of famous writers, including Richard Brautigan, Henri Charrière (then riding high on Papillon), John Cleland, ee cummings, T. S. Eliot, Kahlil Gibran, Shakespeare and, of course, Raymond Chandler.