MILLENNIUM PEOPLE by J.G. Ballard (Flamingo, 2003)

“Learn the rules and you can get away with anything”

I visualize J.G. Ballard writing his dystopian fiction from his safe European home in the Surrey stockbroker belt of Shepperton. Although his views bordered on the misanthropic, his life was outwardly respectable and I reckon he was a big softy at heart.

However, the late author hated anything that struck him as pretentious and/or fake; which accounts for his venom towards cheap entertainment and much of what passes for modern culture.

It’s easy to sympathise with his branding of the world as an “endless theme park” and I tend to agree with his dismissal of travel as “the delusion that going somewhere helps you reinvent yourself”.

The topic/target of Millennium People, his penultimate novel, is the middle classes who he designates as “the new proletariat enslaved by trash culture”. In their smug, safe world this sector of society pay lip service to notions of justice and equality yet hate anything that smacks of the underclass. Their revolutionary uprising is therefore more likely to be fired by the lack of adequate parking facilities rather than any genuine feelings of oppression or persecution.

As well as being a biting satire on what The Fall’s Mark E. Smith once snidely designated as the ‘middle-mass’, Ballard seeks to comprehend the seemingly incomprehensible logic of terrorist acts. This is summed up by one character who observed that : “An inexplicable act of violence had a fierce authenticity that no reasoned behaviour could match”.

This statement succinctly explains why ‘soft’ targets like underground passengers, office workers or sunbathers are preferred to more obvious symbols of decandence or oppression. The more meaningless the act, the more unease it causes.

The revolutionary Millennium People of London are, in common with most revolutionaries, full of blatant contradictions. They want to change the world but their short-term triumphs inevitably lead to capitulation and cow-towing to the establishment.

Ballard’s novel is significantly less subversive and savage than earlier classics like Crash and High-Rise but still an entertaining read.