“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