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Crisis Schism

Author: • Oct 9th, 2007 •

Category: Ballardosphere, consumerism, urban revolt

Ballardian: Woolworths Recently, a man was reported to have died after slashing his throat with a Stanley knife in a Woolworths store in the UK in front of horrified shoppers. While I am wary of making light of this poor man’s plight by straining to find Ballardian resonance in every instance of violent consumerism and despair in the press, this story struck me for the usual reasons nonetheless. The man quite obviously was suffering from mental-health problems, and it seems that he had been badly let down by the mental-health services, who had not given him adequate care and protection. In the Mail’s reporting of the story, I was especially struck by this comment from a reader:

The melt down has been going on for years now. NOW IT IS EVEN MORE DESPERATE, people showing how they feel in public because they just cannot get the help they need. Desperate people either harm themselves alone, in a quiet place, or they go into the public and sometimes kill the public along with themselves. Desperate times.

I have actually lost a friend who was a victim of similar circumstances, a bystander caught in someone else’s public meltdown, and now after this latest incident I just can’t help thinking of the equally desperate Duncan Christie in Ballard’s Kingdom Come. With his own mental health problems, and also falling through the cracks in the system, Christie is drawn to the geometry and noise of the suburban shopping centre, forced to make his point in as public a fashion as possible, entrapped in a no-win situation, coerced and cajoled by a system that will not protect him, but will ruthlessly use him to its own ends. In exploring the tension between the underclasses of consumerism — and the consumerism of health care, bought and sold, and afforded as a product — I think Ballard is dead on.

Critically, Kingdom Come is a woefully underrated book, even though within it are some sombre insights into the desperate times we are being plunged into.

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