Ah, if only my former job had had a book club; this would have been the first book. I spent the last eight years teaching media literacy to kids – empowering them to think critically about the media messages that they consume each day and teaching them how to create counter-media. With dystopian fiction, part of the power comes in showing a potential future world which is recognizable to the extent that it makes the fictional future seem plausible. With Feed, M.T. Anderson explores the idea of what could come to pass if consumerism, addiction to (reliance on) technology, and the power of corporations continues to grow.
Feed follows Titus and friends through life in a futuristic society where people are installed with the feed, an implant that allows them to access information and entertainment (sort of a combination of radio, Internet, TV) in their heads. On a Spring Break trip to the Moon, Titus meets Violet, a young woman who has experienced life without the feed (she was implanted at around seven years old rather than as a baby) and has been home-schooled by her Feed-pack toting father rather than attending the corporate run schools. While on the moon, their feeds are hacked into and they lose access to it for a while. During this downtime, Titus and Violet grow closer and he learns more about what life is like without the feed and how different their experiences of the world are.
Feed explores the symbiotic relationship between media and youth and asks the question, when does the relationship cross the line from being mutually beneficial to parasitic? Corporations use the feed to market products to consumers based on their communications (reminiscent of how facebook and gmail etc. include advertisements in their programs that attempt to match one’s emails and profiles). With the feed, youth don’t even have to verbalize conversations – they can just chat via the feed; one of the things that stands out about Violet is that she prefers to speak with her mouth. These internal chats are of course a corporation’s best friend as they are able to listen in and sell accordingly. Along with the interpersonal effects of the feed, the environmental devastation resulting from the consumerist society is horrific. Forests are knocked down to make room for air factories (because we need air, and trees are inefficient air-makers) and whole areas of the planet are just disappearing. The effects of a poisoned environment on humans include lesions which the feed makes fashionable through ads and TV shows, convincing consumers to hold true to the belief in the worthiness of consumerism at all costs. And Feed shows human apathy at its worst. The following quote hit me hard because I’ve heard these arguments time and time again:
Of course, everyone is like, da da da, evil corporations, oh they’re so bad, we all say that, and we all know they control everything. I mean, it’s not great, because who knows what evil shit they’re up to. Everyone feels bad about that. But they’re the only way to get all this stuff, and it’s no good getting pissy about it, because they’re going to control everything whether you like it or not. Plus, they keep like everyone in the world employed, so it’s not like we could do without them. And it’s really great to know everything about everything whenever we want, to have it just like, in our brain, just sitting there. (pp.47-48)
Feed also addresses the issue of the digital divide, though very briefly and somewhat indirectly. The feed has a price and there are different versions of the implant, presumably the more expensive the implant, the better functioning the chip. 70% of the population has one, which makes you wonder, who are the other 30%? It would be interesting to hear their stories.
The only aspects that didn’t work for me so much with Feed and the audiobook version were the upcars (flying cars are overused in sci-fi) and the vocal performance for a few of the youth characters (M.T. Anderson wrote the words, but I don’t remember it ever specifying that characters should sound like Hollywood’s interpretation of stoner teenagers – very Bill & Ted’s). The best part of the audio recording is the production of the feed media (advertisements, TV shows, etc); they are often very funny or reminiscent of the worst of the worst in mass media (in a good way).
For more reviews of dystopian fiction check out fellow blogger Presenting Lenore’s Dystopian August page!
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