Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed (1965) warned Americans that many “things” could kill as surely as people. Freedom to consume entails risks which have become hotly debated in the litigious ambience of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century where not only faulty products—flammable children’s pajamas, unsafe cars or faulty construction—but guns, tobacco and medicine have been subject to scrutiny in the courts and the media. While federal and state consumer product safety commissions, investigative journalism and lawsuits sometimes pin down clear dangers and culpable manufacturers or marketers, these class action lawsuits—representing claims of millions of smokers or thousands of women who received breast implants—have often faced more difficult questions of who is responsible in knowledgeable consumption and use, as well as what chains of causality must be established when billions of dollars in damages are at stake. Consumer-safety issues are frequent themes in both news, which duly publicizes weekly product recalls, and fictional media. Hence, Jonathan Harr’s 1995 bestseller A Civil Action, which deals with the search for responsibility for cancer in a contaminated Massachusetts city became a major 1999 film, followed by The Insider, which explores secrets of tobacco and television. In the end, it is unclear if the US is less careful in manufacturing or control, more litigious in its responses to product failure, or simply more embroiled in constant consumptionwhere expectations and satisfactions do not coincide.

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