Tag Archives: Capitalism

Blomkamp, Ballard and the Hidden Politics of Overpopulation

“Squeezed out of existence”: The binaries and boundaries of overpopulation in Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium and JG Ballard’s “Billennium”

By Lizzy Steenkamp

In environmentalist discourse, the question of overpopulation is a controversial one as it is often still perceived as a problem exclusive to developing countries that exists only due to a lack of education that leads to large families (Fletcher 1198). In literature, overpopulation has been interrogated in many imaginative ways, and the two instances that will be discussed here – Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 film Elysium and J.G. Ballard’s short story “Billennium” (1962) – are important contributions to the field because they actively work against this assumption that the blame for overpopulation lies in the actions of the poor. These texts accomplish this by shifting the focus to the ways in which the structures of authority fail the poor and deliberately force them into a worse and worse condition. The subject will here be approached through the dystopian lens of the everyday life in overpopulated society as facilitated by narrative and cinematic technique. In terms of this, the primary foci are the ways in which boundaries and dichotomies are influenced by the increase of population. The boundary between the private and the public will receive special emphasis, as well as the effect of this on human interaction as well as alienation from the self and the loss of agency. The roles that societal institutions of authority play as catalysts for these processes will also be taken into consideration.

The deadly competition for Earth’s resources and space due to an increase in population is an issue that has not always been accepted as a valid concern, and is still considered a myth in even the most educated of areas. In terms of recent history, overpopulation emerged as a prominent threat after World War II and the subsequent “baby boom”: the effects were discussed in terms of important problems such as “security, the environment, poverty, food production and economic development in the global South” (Fletcher 1198). Overpopulation first began to be conceived of as an imminent threat in the late 1950’s, which eventually resulted in such preventative resources such as the United Nations Fund For Population Activities in 1969 (1199). The link between environmental degradation and overpopulation was only overtly established in the public consciousness in the seventies, largely to the Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s book The Population Bomb (1968) that contained accurate warnings about “environmental collapse, human suffering and massive starvation”(1200). The environmentalism of the 1980s saw the popularisation of an old argument that placed a lot of the blame for the population problem on the poor, labelling this class as a threat to the international community. Continue reading Blomkamp, Ballard and the Hidden Politics of Overpopulation


Waste, ideology and nature – blog assignment #1

The theme of our first blogging assignment is waste and who better to introduce the subject than Slavoj Žižek. In the following video clip, Žižek discusses “the ecological problematic” by considering the ideological dimensions of waste and nature:

Remember the ideal length for your written piece is between 300-500 words and it can be creative or critical. Please try to include at least one image (more than 700 pixels wide).

A garbage dump near Johannesburg

Philip Aghoghovwia on Nnimmo Bassey’s We thought it was oil but it was blood

Poetry and Activism as (New) Modes of Eco/Environmental Inflections in Nnimmo Bassey’s We thought it was oil but it was blood – Philip Aghoghovwia

In We thought it was oil but it was blood Nnimmo Bassey walks through a thin line between poetic commitment and socioenvironmental activism in bringing into the public sphere issues of sociocultural and environmental justice. The poetry collection carries the tone of subversion and defiance and the mood of anger provoked by a deep sense of denial, a collective deprivation of the people from access to the commonwealth which the oil brings. And the environment too, which suffers pollution as a result of mindless drilling of pipes into what he calls “mother earth”. Bassey creates a text that is at best poetic activism and at worst an environmental rights manifesto. His call for environmental justice at this conjuncture of on-going conversations on climate change indicts the oil extractive industry. The anthology, which Vanessa Baird describes as “dedicated to campaigning for environmental justice” (39), is a creative effort to capitalise on Bassey’s already established stature as an environmental rights activist. He poetically draws attention to corporate lawlessness and environmental crimes inflicted on local landscapes that bear fossil fuel for the oil extraction industry. His account of these spaces of environmental scrubland in the oil industry is concrete, for he has travelled throughout these parts to see first-hand how oil and other big businesses have destroyed local landscapes.

Continue reading Philip Aghoghovwia on Nnimmo Bassey’s We thought it was oil but it was blood