Wednesday, June 18, 2014
JG Ballard's Millennium People
I picked up J. G. Ballard's Millennium People, and was hooked immediately. Ballard does an excellent job, in the novels I've read, of laying out up front an idea about modern society that identifies a fundamental problem but views it from a unique angle. Crash is an example: it takes our obsession with cars and explores that obsession in the form of a sexual fetish related to the destruction of cars. Millennium People captures a problem of displacement caused by market forces in a capitalist system. In this case, however, it is not a matter of the gentrification of working-class neighborhoods that results in working-class families being pushed out and left without a place to live. Here, Ballard takes up the issue of middle class professionals being pushed out of London as prices for housing and consumer goods continue to skyrocket. The novel, then, works at the level of satire: it's a novel about revolution, but the revolutionaries have, and want to protect (or ideally increase) the value of what they have. In this sense, it makes a case for the hollowness of modern society. But at another level, it asks a serious question: what are we being led to do by the forces of consumer culture around us?
The novel works up to a point, but towards the end it seems like Ballard has played out the idea without having wrapped up the narrative. Overall, however, Ballard's novel forced me to think about modern society in a new and interesting way. For this reason alone, it is worth reading.