"Well, my feeling about this country (Britain) — that we have nothing left but consumerism — does, as far as I know, translate to other consumerist societies like America and Japan. My impression is that Australians, however, have got other things to do with their spare time. They’re not besotted with shopping, because the country’s so large and there are so many opportunities for recreation — that’s probably another delusion of mine, I’ve no idea."
- JG Ballard in interview on Ballardian
Well, even sages have to be wrong some of the time.
Ballard seems here to have fallen for the English disease of transposing onto Australia his ideal of what it ought to be. Generations of Englishmen have fallen for the same trick, building up Australia as a wonder-land of plenty, the anti-England. Of course it's not all false, as those who experienced the grim pessimism of post-war Britain and then moved here would no doubt attest. But certainly there is a compulsion to dream everything one wishes for in existence in that Great Southern Land, and it is one that proves easier if you stay in Britain. Ballard's Australia seems to be a huge expanse of driving terrain, free of the British social hierarchies he so rightly loathes and ripe for the exploration of inner space. The reality proves somewhat duller.
Presumably Ballard does not watch Kath and Kim but it offers a clear picture of Australian suburban reality/banality. The suburban consumerism & anti-cultural, alienated thinking explored in Ballard's novel Kingdom Come is here too, made even more intense than in Britain since in Australia everything is fucking miles away! Australia's space does not facilitate liberation, quite the opposite. Those McMansions parked on large, cheap tracts of land hundreds of kilometres from the city are intensely claustrophobic. The nearest library, cafe, pub or shop requires a seemingly endless voyage through bland medium density habitations.
All of this is done by car of course, which might impress Ballard I suppose. Yet while there are plenty of roads in Melbourne, they aren't the neon highways of Crash, and of Heathrow airport (stretches of the new Eastlink freeway excepted). The roads here are decorated by factory outlets, discount kitchen warehouses and hardware superstores. And all roads lead to a mall, even those from the CBD:
That is not to single Australia out for special punishment, but the idea that it is exempt from the dumbed-down second rate consumerism in Europe, Japan and North America is patently false. What does place Australia apart however, is that the space here means people are less 'hemmed in' and so maniacal bourgeois terror cells are probably less likely to appear, but I'm not sure Ballard would think that a good thing. Then again there's always hope that this was the beginning of something bigger...