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KC: ‘deeply silly, patronising’Author: Simon Sellars • Jan 28th, 2007 •
In a Sunday Times piece on the ‘curtailment of working-class pleasures’, Rod Liddle writes:
…what truly annoys me is … the way in which this government — and previous governments — view football supporters. If you’re unsure what this attitude is, read JG Ballard’s new novel, Kingdom Come.
This is, as usual, a dystopian fantasy set in a fictitious chavtown, just off the M25, called Brooklands. The local population — save for a few concerned members of the professional classes — are a brutal and brutalised morass of plebs, dressed in identical St George’s shirts and interested only in consumerism and sport. Sport is what happens to a society mired in boredom and existing in a moral vacuum; it necessarily leads to a kind of fascism, or is a symptom of it, Ballard avers. After football matches, the workers go on rampages, attacking Asians and chanting nasty things. They are viewed as dumb animals, to be led, manipulated and exploited.
Kingdom Come is a deeply silly and patronising novel, but it does at least encapsulate the contempt and lack of understanding with which working-class pastimes are viewed by our political leaders and, in Ballard’s case, our intelligentsia. And, as a corollary, why successive administrations have sought to make football more middle-class by stripping it of all those things that once made it vital and compelling.”
I never felt that in KC Ballard was writing anything approaching realism (surrealism, yes)… My first impression on reading KC was to laugh out loud at the sheer number of references to sporting supporters in St George’s shirts, almost on every page…it seemed absurd, a joke…maybe it actually is.
These scenes reminded me of the old Monty Python cartoon depicting waves of “Red Chinese; three deep” flooding over the continents and into Europe. The book is satirising a primal, irrational, classist fear: “the square root of J. G. Ballard divided by Monty Python” = Kingdom Come, to retool a line from a Max Barry review). I don’t think Ballard really understands sport — or sports fandom — that well, but I think he is dead on in identifying the ways in which it’s all become just another floating signifier.
Ballard escalates these processes to their absurdist conclusion. In KC, it’s all a background blur. A simulation. And more self aware than Liddle imagines: Pearson, the muddled protagonist is clearly a Ballard proxy, described by the author as being “beyond psychiatric help”; he dresses like the “public” Ballard does and there are all the in-jokes Ballard makes about his own public image via Pearson. Pearson lives and breathes the media landscape; he’s an ad man, and his perception is shaped by tubes and lenses. The St George’s hordes are mise en scene, maybe a bit like old Road Runner cartoons, where the same rocky outcrops whizz by over and over again.
For Liddle to imply that Ballard is so blinkered as to be unaware of the contradictions inherent in a member of the ‘intelligentsia” commenting on so-called ‘working class’ pursuits is ‘deeply silly and patronising’ in itself. It’s the same pointless argument that cyberfeminists used to make against Crash, that it’s a ‘deeply misogynist work’ or some such, or that early critics made against Drowned World, that it’s ‘bourgeois decadence’. Ballard writes honestly and unflinchingly from his vantage point, stripping perception down to its base metals — including cataloguing his own foibles and failures — and is no less relevant for that.
It’s often suggested that Ballard doesn’t sell in America because ‘irony doesn’t travel’…by the sounds of things, it hasn’t even made it to Wapping.
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