A colleague recommended M. T. Anderson’s book Feed a while back, while I was still taking courses, and I really did not have time to read it, or research it at all. The situation changed last month, when I was doing some research into novels tackling what I’ve variously termed “corporationism” or “corporatism.” You see, I wanted to give my literature chapter some depth. I also wanted to find out what’s new in the area. Turns out, there’s so many novels that have to do with corporations, that one could probably spend years reading them.
Most of these novels are pretty predictable, in a “oh, look what the evil corporations are doing to us now” kind of way. You know, the usual me=good, corporations=bad routine, where the triumphal humanist end sees a hero prevail against all odds. I’d like to think my thesis is more sophisticated than that. But then again, sometimes I enjoy deluding myself. It’s the masochist in me.
M. T. Anderson’s Feed was a very pleasant surprise, in a dystopic kind of way: the future is doomed if we don’t take action now. What kind of action one could take remains a mystery, especially since the novel suggests that individual rebellion comes back to bite one in one’s rear quarters (or halves, actually). Violet, the protagonist’s girlfriend, a nonconformist trying to screw with the system ends up dead exactly because of her attempts to sabotage the image that corporatism holds of her: “What I’m doing, what I’ve been doing over the feed for the last two days, is trying to create a customer profile that’s so screwed, no one can market to it. I’m not going to let them catalog me. I’m going to become invisible” (81). And unfortunately, she does: FeedTech Corp refuses to repair her feed, which has become fatally damaged and causes Violet’s body to malfunction in mysterious ways. The reason: “FeedTech and other investors reviewed your purchasing history, and we don’t feel that you would be a reliable investment at this time” (195). Yep, resistance is futile.
The fact that there is not much in the way of plot, doesn’t deter from the novel’s appeal and ability to draw in the reader and hold her until the end. Other factors take responsibility for those qualities and account for its writing qualities: a very imaginatively developed futuristic teenage lingo, where the “dude” of the parents has been replaced by the “unit” of the kids; the “cool!”, “awesome”, etc. have transformed into “meg brag” and such. The scenario that Anderson develops is no less tantalizing: everybody in the U.S. has a feed implanted in their brains that allows them to interface directly with everyone else, and more importantly to receive tailored information from everybody else, like corporations marketing directly to them according to the individual’s mood, needs in the moment, or whim. In order to do that, “the feed is tied in to everything. Your body control, your emotions, your memory. Everything. Sometimes, feed errors are fatal” (136).
A bleak vision of the future, indeed, and, unfortunately, no solutions become visible in the novel, which functions more as a warning than as an offer for alternatives. The warning, as with all dystopias, pretty vague: continue on this course, and humanity (or the U.S.) is doomed:
“Marty had also gotten a Nike speech tattoo which was pretty brag. It meant that every sentence, he automatically said ‘Nike’. He paid a lot for it. It was hilarious, because you could hardly understand what he said anymore. It was just, ‘This fuckin’ shit Nike, fuckin’, you know, Nike,’ etc.
Everything was not going well, because for most people, our hair fell out and we were bald, and we had less and less skin. Then later there was thing that hit hipsters. People were just stopping in their tracks frozen. At first, people thought it was another virus, and they were looking for groups like the Coalition of Pity, but it turned out that it was something called Nostalgia Feedback. People had been getting nostalgia for fashions that were closer and closer to their own time, untuil finally people became nostalgic for fashions for the moment they were actually living in, and the feedback completely froze them… Marty was like, ‘Holy fuckin’ shit, this is so Nike fucked.'” (218-19)
Just like all humanity, too.