Feed (Anderson novel)
Cover to Feed
|Author||M. T. Anderson|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
Feed (2002) is a young adult dystopian novel of the cyberpunk subgenre written by M. T. Anderson. The novel focuses on issues such as corporate power, consumerism, information technology, data mining, and environmental decay, with a sometimes sardonic, sometimes somber tone. From the first-person perspective of a teenager, the book takes place in a near-futuristic American culture completely dominated by advertising and corporate exploitation, corresponding to the enormous popularity of internetworking brain implants.
The novel portrays a near-future in which the feednet, a huge computer network (apparently an advanced form of the Internet), is directly connected to the brains of about 73% of American citizens by means of an implanted device called a feed. The feed allows people: to mentally access vast digital databases (individually called "sites"); to experience shareable virtual-reality phenomena (including entertainment programs, music, and even others' memories); to continually interact with intrusive corporations in a personal preference-based way; and to communicate telepathically on closed channels with others who also have feeds (a feature called m-chatting).
The corporations responsible for the feed have immense power and even run the school system, which is now known as School™. Throughout the book, corporations appear to hold the true power in the United States, leaving the president virtually helpless as the Global Alliance, a coalition of other countries, begins contemplating war with the U.S., due to the worsening worldwide effects of American mismanagement of the environment.
Titus and his thrill-seeking teenaged friends meet teen girl Violet Durn, whose critically questioning attitude is completely new to the others. While at a club, a man from an anti-feed organization hacks all of their feeds. They wake up in a hospital to find, for the first time in most of their lives, that their feeds are unavailable: partially deactivated while under repair. During their recovery, Violet and Titus develop a romantic relationship. Eventually, their feeds are repaired enough for them to return to Earth; however, Violet's feed is not completely fixed.
One day, Violet reveals her idea of resisting the feed to Titus. She plans to show interest in a wide and random assortment of products to prevent the corporations that control the feed from developing a reliable consumer profile of her. The two go to the mall and create wild consumer profiles, by requesting information on certain random items, then not buying it. Later, Violet realizes that someone has been accessing her personal information through her dreams; this soon becomes a normal occurrence for many feed users. Violet calls Feed Tech customer service, but receives no help. Later, Violet tells Titus that her feed has been severely malfunctioning, and she may even die, having had the feed installed later in life (and so with greater accompanying risk). Due to her deteriorating feed, various parts of Violet's body are shutting down. Throughout the novel, there is also a presence of lesions appearing on the characters' bodies. At first it is something they hide, but eventually the lesions turn into a trend. Violet, disgusted with this latest fashion, declares that everyone has become the feed. After this outburst, she collapses and is taken to the hospital.
As a side effect of the malfunction, Violet loses memories of the year before she got the feed installed. To avoid losing more memories, she makes large virtual records of things she can remember. She sends them to Titus for safekeeping, but, not knowing how to emotionally handle this burden, Titus deletes them. Violet's body parts continue shutting down. She and her father cannot afford repairs, so they petition FeedTech for assistance.
Meanwhile, an environmental disaster affecting Mexico causes the Global Alliance to prepare to go to war with the United States. Titus drives to Violet's house. He falls asleep shortly after arriving, but, while he sleeps, Violet shares her bad news with Titus in the form of a dream: FeedTech has decided not to help Violet because of her bizarre and unreliable customer profile. That weekend, Violet comes to Titus's house to ask him to go with her to the mountains. He is reluctant at first, but ultimately agrees. While in the mountains, Violet makes it clear she wants to sleep with Titus, but he doesn't return the affection. They begin fighting, and eventually break up. On the way home, Violet's arm stops working and when she arrives home her leg fails as well. Titus drives away. The next day, Violet apologizes to Titus via feed, but Titus does not answer.
Several months later, Titus receives a message from Violet's father saying that Violet wanted Titus to know when it was "all over." He informs him that the time has come. Titus goes to Violet's house, where she lies in a coma, barely still alive. Her father blames Titus and shows him memories of parts of her body and brain shutting down and the pain she experienced. He then sarcastically tells Titus to be with "the Eloi." Titus asks what that means, but Violet's father refuses to answer, telling him to look it up. They fight, and Titus goes home. In an act of grief, he sits on his floor naked and orders the same pair of jeans continuously over the feed until he is entirely out of "credit," which is their form of currency.
Two days later, Titus goes to visit Violet again. He tells her any stories he can find in the information available through his feed. Finally, he tells her the story of their relationship in the form of a movie trailer. The book ends with Violet's life systems becoming progressively weaker, and the feed ironically repeating the advertising slogan "Everything Must Go" in progressively smaller font.
The narrator Titus is the teenage son of an upper-middle-class family. For the most part, he is content with his consumerist lifestyle. When he meets Violet, Titus begins to help her "resist the feed," but ultimately abandons this project as he gives into peer pressure and the alluring advertisements. Titus was genetically designed to look like Delglacey Murdoch, a two-star actor.
- Violet Durn
Violet is Titus's girlfriend throughout the majority of the novel. She was raised by her eccentric father, and was home schooled. Violet did not get a feed until she was seven, unlike Titus and his friends whose feeds were implanted when they were infants. Violet views the feed negatively, different from Titus and his friends. She also comes from a lower-middle-class background.
- Lincoln "Link" Arwaker
Link is one of Titus's friends. He is described as being very tall and physically unsightly. His family is also depicted as much wealthier than Titus's family. Link is a clone of Abraham Lincoln and lives in a gated community. Calista and Quendy compete for his attention throughout the book.
Another of Titus's friends, Marty is described as being good at any game. He is loud and obnoxious at times. At the end of the novel, Marty purchases the "Nike speech tattoo," causing him to insert the word "Nike" into all of his sentences.
Calista is Link's girlfriend throughout most of the novel. She is the ring leader of the group of girls and was the first to get "cosmetic" lesions. Confrontational and outspoken, she instigates a major fight she and the other characters have with Violet.
Loga and Titus had a past romance. By the start of the book, the relationship has ended, but they are still friends. Loga is the only one of Titus's circle of friends who is not hacked at the Rumble Spot.
Quendy tries to replicate Calista. She tends to be jealous and ever-competing with Calista for attention from Link and the group. After Calista has lesions cut into the back of her neck, Quendy takes the trend to the next level and has lesions cut all over her body in an act of competition. At the end of the novel, Titus and Quendy are dating.
- Titus's father (Steve)
Steve is depicted as obsessed with both consumerist desires and status. He works for a corporation, somewhere in the realm of banking, and buys Titus an upcar. Towards the finish of the novel, it is exposed that Steve is possibly having an affair with a woman he works with based on a video from his business trip.
- Titus's mother
Titus's mother works in the area of Design. Titus expresses a lack of knowledge towards what either of his parents do for a living.
- Titus's kid brother ("Smell Factor")
His real name is never given, and he is referred to by Titus exclusively as "Smell Factor" throughout the story. Often Smell Factor is entranced by his feed. Having no idea of what is going on around him, he shouts out random phrases with no relevance to any given situation.
- Violet's father
Along with Violet, her father also has a different kind of feed, referred to as "Feedpack". His feed is much different in that it is a detached backpack with virtual glasses. Her father is a college professor who uses words most of the characters are unfamiliar with and often frustrates those trying to communicate with him. He teaches programming languages in a historical context. Violet's father is not as wealthy as Titus's parents. Although he was able to afford to send Violet to the moon, he was unable to afford the cost of visiting her when her feed was hacked.
M.T. Anderson writes the dystopian novel using heavy satire of consumerism and corporate America. He presents the futuristic downfall of America clearly in capturing the deterioration of language and thought through the voice of Titus. As the readers are often denied detailed description of the main characters, Anderson creates a sense of apathy and hopelessness in the character's thoughts and actions.
Anderson presents the novel in a first-person narrative through the perspective of Titus. Significant to Anderson's narrative agenda, Titus is often presented as an unlikeable and unpredictable character. The reader is positioned to feel as though they can not rely on Titus's view of the world, as it is often skewed by media, friends, family, and temporarily by Violet. Titus's perspective also plays an important role in explaining the conditions of society—he speaks in the contemporary vernacular, expresses apathy towards the political events, and detests learning anything beyond what is required of him in School™. In spite of this, Violet observes that Titus is also the only person amongst his peers to use metaphor, indicating that in spite of his apparent emptiness and vacuity, his perception of the world is somewhat more advanced than that of most other people in this reality.
Another characteristic of Anderson's writing in Feed is his ability to create authentic adolescent voices. Through this sometimes humorous technique, Anderson critiques the negative effects of a loss of independent thought in terms of the character's deteriorating morality.
In addition, the story's text interrupts the narrative with commercials for consumer products, Feedcasts, pop songs, and news snippets. The constant media/consumerist presence positions readers to analyze how adolescents are exposed to consumerism. Eventually, Anderson alludes to America being fired upon with nuclear weapons by the Global Alliance for its industrial crimes. This element lends to the apathetic characterization of the teens in the novel as well as causes the reader to question the moral complexities to understanding a consumerist, globalized world.
Even with the quick information access provided by the feed, the vocabularies of characters present in the novel are minimal, though full of futuristic slang. Anderson's use of language mirrors the slang of today's "youth culture," and familiarizes the reader with the likeness between the characters' mode of communicating and present state of communication of the reader. The degradation of language and heavy use of slang is not only a matter of youth, but also present in the speech of Titus's parents. The novel offers comment on the language use of adults and proves, through examination of Titus's parents, that the adults possess an immature world view.
Throughout the novel, Anderson emphasizes his created slang and adolescent vocabulary specific to the society in Feed. This extreme emphasis on the nature of the teens' language use corresponds with the theme of the dangers of overpowering consumerism. Even the word choice that characterizes the slang used in the novel carries undertones of advertisements, purchases, and corporation power.
Anderson depicts the failing futuristic society as an outcome of constant consumerist influence through his character dialogue, thought, and description of their surrounding environment. His comment on the disintegration of the natural environment aligns with the disposable representation of consumerist desire. The environmental state is presented as the fault of consumerism, as it leads to the character's lack of political awareness. Anderson shows the characters' complete obliviousness to the dangers of trademarked clouds, meat walls, and toxic oceans, as a result of their feed. The deteriorating environment exemplifies the characters dependence on consumerism for their sense of identity.
As the novel progresses, the illusion of consumer gratification is represented directly through the girls' near hourly trips to the bathroom to keep with the hair style and fashion trends. The girls' identity is absent without their ability to adhere to trends and current styles, furthering Anderson's point of dehumanization through a consumerist society. Also highlighted is Anderson's display of a nagging presence of advertisements and propaganda, endlessly directing the characters towards their next purchase.
Titus and his friends receive consumerist influence from constant ad flows through their feeds as well as their buyer's education from School™. The feed itself is considered a tool for education, but it is controlled by major corporations with the intent of creating consumer profiles. In this sense, it is simply another outlet for the consumerist narrative of the novel. Most evident of the feed's anti-education objective is Titus's apparent lack of skills in reading and writing, and his sparse vocabulary. This reinforces the idea that critical thinking is not a necessity in the interest of the corporations.
Anderson represents the concept of authority through the feed's ads and through influence of Titus's friends. Where Violet combats the pressures from friends, Titus's character is presented as unwilling to veer from the decided "norm." Anderson describes Titus as apathetic in regards to the feed's commands because he sees no point in fighting the feed's powerful force. The feed knows and decides everything for Titus, so his rebellion is minimal. In conjunction with abiding by the feed, Titus also gives into the demands of his friends. More than he is concerned with independent thought, Titus wants to be "cool" and live within the norms his friends and society have successfully formed.
Awards and nominations
- Finalist 2002 National Book Award for Young People's Literature
- Winner 2003 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction
- Winner 2003 Golden Duck Awards Hal Clement Award for Young Adults
- Nominee 2005–2006 Green Mountain Book Award
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