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Very strange sit-coms : J. G. Ballard, psychopathology, and online participatory media.

Gleghorn, Martin (2019) 'Very strange sit-coms : J. G. Ballard, psychopathology, and online participatory media.', Humanities., 8 (1). p. 50.


“We’re all going to be starring in our own sit-coms, and they’ll be very strange sit-coms too, like the inside of our heads.”—J. G. Ballard, Extreme Metaphors. Ballard’s prediction about the possibility of projecting the inside of our own heads is highly illuminating in light of contemporary discourses on participatory media culture and online video-sharing platforms. This is not least due to the documented instances of violence and sexual deviance surrounding prominent figures on YouTube that lend a considerable amount of credence to what Ballard described, in his 1977 short story ‘The Intensive Care Unit’, as a ‘liberating affectlessness [that] allowed those who wished to explore the fullest range of sexual possibility and paved the way for the day when a truly guilt-free sexual perversity and, even, psychopathology might be enjoyed by all.’ This article examines how Ballard’s preoccupation with this ‘liberating affectlessness’—or as he notably termed it in his introduction to Crash, ‘the death of affect’—compares to the impetus that psychologists such as Jonathan Rottenberg and Sheri L. Johnson place upon an ‘affective science’ approach to exploring and treating psychopathology—an approach that they affirm has ‘tremendous potential to facilitate scientific work on the role of emotions in psychopathology.’ This active interplay between emotion and affect (or the calculated lack of) on one hand, and psychopathology on the other that Ballard and Rottenberg and Johnson investigate from different angles also feeds into discourses on online participatory media and the ways that users engage with online media. Specifically, this section of the article will draw upon the roles of private and public spaces, and the breakdown of traditional barriers between them, as well as the commercial factors that define and underpin this new media culture. ‘The Intensive Care Unit’ and later novels such as Cocaine Nights (1996) play upon these themes as a means of anticipating and demonstrating how, in Ballard’s fiction as well as in real-life instances, psychopathology emerges in the breakdown of the barriers between lives lived excessively on screen and the external, sensory and emotional world.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
Date accepted:04 March 2019
Date deposited:26 March 2019
Date of first online publication:07 March 2019
Date first made open access:26 March 2019

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