Tag Archives: Ballard

The Authorities are Always Watching You

“Bridgman, this is Major Webster, deputy commandant of Cocoa Beach Reservation.  On the instructions of the Anti-Viral Subcommittee of the UN General Assembly we are now building a continuous fence around the beach area.  On completion no further egress will be allowed, and anyone escaping will be immediately returned to the reservation.  Give yourself up now, Bridgman, before –” (350)

“So they sent him to Coventry.  And in Coventry they worked on him over.  It was just like they did to Winston Smith in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, which was a book none of them knew about…” (378)

A common trope in SF seems to be the the all knowing and controlling government, which is used in Ballard and Ellison’s work.  Ballard uses the Anti-Viral Subcommittee as this trope in order to show a way to control people, especially Bridgman, Travis, and Louise Woodward.  They are forced to stay at the beach, and are threatened if they do not comply.  In the end, the authorities are forced to capture the escaping inhabitants of the beach.  In Ellison’s story, the Harlequin is taken to have him brainwashed, in reference to 1984, by George Orwell.  In both stories, the government/higher ups are showing their power by always watching, always controlling their people.  In real life, people are always worried about the government watching their every move.  In SF, it is taken to the extremes, due to that they are literally watching and keeping control.

The clock indicates the moment…but what does eternity indicate?

Ballard and Ellison both focus on time. In Ellison’s story Everett C. Marm practices active civil disobedience in an effort to protest the Ticktockman, a man who utilized time to regulate the populace and increase efficiency for the war effort. Everett C. Marm is a man who has been late all his life but argues that he has not been late to living his life and enjoying himself. His message is clear, “Why let them order you about? Why let them tell you to hurry and scurry like ants or maggots? Take your time! Saunter a while! Enjoy the sunshine, enjoy the breeze, let life carry you at your own pace! Don’t be the slaves of time; it’s a helluva way to die, slowly, by degrees… down with the Ticktockman” (Ellison, 376)!

On the other hand Ballard introduces us to Bridgeman who is trapped in the past due to an unlucky circumstance surrounding his Mars architectural career. Similar to Everett, Bridgeman has created a counter schedule, his own pace, where he tries to piece his life back together after the incident. He is trying to find peace with himself, he finds comfort in the ruins of Cape Kennedy and needs time, “Bridgeman had easily adapted himself to his self-isolation, soon evolved a system of daily routines that gave him the maximum of time to spend on his own private reveries” (Ballard, 341). The government represented by Major Webster rushes Bridgeman and informs him that he is running out of time. The horrifying that arises when reading these stories is whether or not we feel as though we have taken enough time out of our day to appreciate our surroundings, learn about ourselves, and contemplate life? Buddhism, Jack Kerouac, or Walt Whitman might point you in the right direction.