I was already planning to read M.T. Anderson’s Feed when my friend Steve Mollmann gave it such effusive praise last month, so I was doubly motivated to pick it up over the weekend. And it furthers my look at young adult fiction, somewhat of an ongoing theme here. Anyway, the book is a cautionary tale combining cyberpunk and teenage culture. At some point in the future, brains are wired into the internet near birth, which creates a streaming ‘feed’ of audio, video, and text that act as a sort of secondary consciousness to all those equipped.
Anderson tells the story through Titus, a teenager from an affluent family whose friends are shallow stereotypes of typical idiotic teenagers. They follow fashion trends that change by the hour, alter their bodies in disgusting ways because supposedly it is in vogue. When the group of friends goes to the moon for spring break, Titus meets Violet, a girl who is home-schooled and didn’t receive her feed until she was seven, much later than is typical. It’s never clear just why Violet would be interested in Titus at all; he’s not particularly bright, and the only stated reason is that he wants to be dumb but isn’t. That’s a typical teenager stereotype too, and not a very interesting one.
While they are on the moon, the group is hacked and their feeds crash. The absence of the feed gives Anderson the chance to begin to grind in his real purpose for the book: a cry against consumerism. When their feeds are restored, Violet realizes that the feed is really just big business’s way of getting them to buy stuff, an elaborate marketing tool. While the idea that the internet is being used to homogenize the public in order to make them easier to market to is an alarming one, it also isn’t terribly original. Anderson does a good job getting his message across, but only Violet emerges as a more than one-dimensional character.
Anderson puts the world of Feed in greater context by references to the hatred of the rest of the world toward America because of its consuming ways. The planet is a ecological nightmare, with trees being cut down to make way for air factories, and people including our characters getting lesions that are suggested to be from radiation poisoning. Again, not terribly original.
Chapters often end with a sort of blast from the feed represented with text to try to create reader/character identification by allowing one to experience what it must be like. However, the text presented is so unlike the feed as described that such identification is nearly impossible.
Anderson’s novel isn’t necessarily bad, it just is sadly predictable. This may be a prime example to refute my original thesis that there was little to distinguish young adult books from those intended for an adult audience; there’s just no way that a book with such a narrow and transparent agenda would have received the same accolades had it been marketed to a broader audience.