Running Really Wild

What’s more horrific: the tyranny of rigorously scheduled, superficial over-parenting (lovingly caught on camera 24/7!!) or a child’s violent rebellion against all that “care”?

That’s essentially the question posed by J.G. Ballard in his satirical murder mystery, Running Wild. (More satire than mystery, really. Even Ballard has referred to the novella as a “whydunit” rather than a “whodunit.”) And watch out Moms and Dads, his answer is pretty clear.

Inasmuch as he explores the collective heart of adolescent darkness (and he devises some deliciously dark means of demise here), Ballard is also issuing a warning against emerging technologies…and the over-doting parents who rely on them to supervise and protect their children. It’s disturbingly prescient.

This semi-obscure book, published in 1988, pre-dates our increasingly wired world – a world of nanny cams, surveillance cameras on big-city street corners, and the Internet capturing the minutiae of our daily lives, making the private very personal indeed – and predicts a time when even a child’s cuddle time with parents is regulated. It also foretells the increasing incidence of child-/adolescent-aged killers but that’s for another, far more serious article…

Back to 1988.

One Saturday morning, all the adults (parents, private teachers, maids, etc.) of a fictional gated, guarded and heavily surveilled UK estate are found murdered, and their mostly teenaged children have all disappeared, presumed kidnapped.

Investigators at the scene first come upon a murdered security guard. “Arms pinioned, he lies within a bizarre contraption of rope and bamboo sticks, his neck gripped by a pair of spring-loaded steel calipers.” Elsewhere on the estate, police follow bloody footprints to and from the varied and grotesque crime scenes.

You can almost visualize the “seething explosion of bloody water” of a father electrocuted in his bath, then stabbed. And you can almost hear the sick, slapping sound as one mother’s leg repeatedly hits the floor, torso gyrating wildly, trapped on an exercise bike that’s rigged to kill.

The rest of the story follows the forensic investigation of police psychologist, Dr. Richard Greville. Viewing the estate’s miles and miles of video footage, Greville ultimately concludes that the overly structured and supervised lives leave no space for even a minor infraction, so a kid’s catharsis is gonna be dramatic. Violent, even. Payback’s a bitch, you know.

Today’s parents would be wise to read Running Wild as a cautionary tale against “young minds willing themselves into madness as a way of finding freedom.”

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