Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Ballard and Blunkett

Just finished Millennium People, which offers all that you might expect of the pleasures of Ballard: the benign tolerance of extremes; the humming of intense affectlessness; the peculiar way he has at communicating reassurance at the prospect of chaos. Wherever you go, you’re safe with Jim. And you go to some pretty strange places.

Many assessments of Ballard treat him as a prophet. This is sort of true, in an out of kilter way. Crash can be seen to anticipate road rage. Cocaine nights pre-figured the flagrant hedonism of Club 18-30. The thuggish overclass of Super-Cannes can be taken as a metaphor for the overall effects of the Washington consensus and global neoliberal economics. And the success of UKIP seems to echo the middle class revolt that is the subject of Millenium People.

And yet there’s a lot that’s out of alignment. Car culture doesn’t generate psychosexual adventures, but punch ups on the hard shoulder. The island hedonists in Cocaine Nights are retirees, rather than the gormless teens and twenty somethings infesting Zante and Faliraki. And UKIP represent the forces of militant nostalgia rather than the more nuanced and comprehensive revolt against the very idea of civic responsibility that drives Millenium People.

Ballard’s too good a writer to be a really accurate prophet. You get the feeling he wouldn’t have created a party like UKIP – too loud and puerile. On the other hand, Robert Kilroy Silk is a real Ballard character, a mass of cliches struggling to emerge out of a sort of primal blankness.

What would Ballard have done with the Home Secretary as a character? Here we have a blind man obsessed with surveillance, identification and order, a man with a guide dog who needs to know where everyone and everything is at all times. On the face of it, Blunkett is a highly Ballardian character. But then again… he’s a bit too crude and a bit too obvious.

Perhaps this is really what makes Ballard so appealing. In real life, Ballardian types are spiteful, career obsessed and status hungry wised up rabble. You have to go to the books to get the real thing. Britain’s just too mediocre to make a satisfying dystopia.