Feed by M.T. Anderson

Synopsis

In a future America that features flying cars and homes with literal climate control”” each household can choose its own weather””the technology people rely on the most is the Feed. Part television, part Internet, the Feed is continuously available, courtesy of a brain implant received in infancy. The Feed is communication device (chat with your friends!), entertainment (the hottest show on the Feed is a serial teen drama called “Oh? Wow! Thing!”), and perhaps most importantly, a source for all the most important news: What are all the other kids wearing, and where can I buy it? What’s the new hairstyle this hour? What’s the coolest nightclub, the hottest Moon resort, the best place to shop? What do I really want?

The Feed watches the people who watch it, recording what they buy, where they browse, whom they hang out with, and what they respond to””using it all to create consumer profiles that help marketers pinpoint their audience and stoke the ever-burning fires of consumer need. The Feed is more than just a useful tool to the people of this world””it’s vital to their way of life. The Feed is so helpful, it’s almost like it knows what the kids want even before they do.

Our narrator, Titus, and his friends never question the role of the Feed in their lives, until the day Titus meets Violet, a girl who didn’t get the Feed implant at birth. A girl who didn’t attend Schoolâ„¢, where kids are mostly taught shopping skills. A girl with thoughts of her own””thoughts about how to throw a wrench into the system of the Feed.

(NOTE: Here there be spoilers!  Discussion of the book, including plot points, follows; if you haven’t read the book and don’t want to know in advance what happens, turn back now!) 

Kaizerin on Feed

“We went to the Moon to have fun, but the Moon turned out to suck.” I admire a writer who can give you so much information about the story you’re getting into in such a simple opening line. Pleasure jaunts to the Moon? We must be some distance into a future that hasn’t experienced an apocalypse, since technology has continued developing enough to allow lunar tourism. Our narrator is a person of sufficient wealth and leisure that he can pop off to the moon with friends for the weekend, and callow enough to have no appreciation of it. Ah, the color, the bouquet: the grape is American Teenager; the vintage, 22nd-century? Twenty-third, perhaps?

The author sets himself an interesting challenge, addressing big ideas like literacy, stewardship of the earth, and the effects of consumerism on free will, through a narrator as verbally-impaired as Titus. It’s a challenge for the reader, as well””not only to get past all the slang and divine meaning from the half-formed thoughts, but also because everything we know of this world is mediated through Titus’ experience and interpretation of it. He’s inured the nastiness and indifferent to the wonder, but the reader gets the full effect of both. That’s a neat trick, pulled off by a talented author.

It’s to Anderson’s credit that he creates a character as sympathetic as Violet and manages to convey her intelligence and thoughtfulness through the nearly-tongueless Titus. The glimpses we get make us wish we could get him out of the way and experience her story directly. Anyone who went through high school with thinking tendencies will relate to Violet. (And if you do have such tendencies, I promise you that the moment when Titus discovers Violet can write””with a pen!””will resonate with some experience in your own past.)

The world Titus and Violet move through seems unspeakably vile to us””the meat farm, the unidentified oozing sores that become a fashion statement””but that’s because we’ve been dropped into it from our present perspective. A person doesn’t wake up one morning in a dystopia like this; such a nightmare grows up around a person, day by day, choice by choice. In proud spec-fic tradition, M.T. Anderson has taken the trends he sees in today’s society and run them forward to their absurd””but not impossible””conclusions. The real horror of this book lies not in the ways Anderson’s world is alien to ours, but in the ways it is similar.

CountessZ on Feed

“The real horror of this book lies not in the ways Anderson’s world is alien to ours, but in the ways it is similar.”

~Kaizerin

Kai, I couldn’t agree with you more. As you so rightly observe, this is not an impossible scenario. And some days, it just seems like the inevitable conclusion of a self-serving, consumer-based society where everything is increasingly controlled by large corporations. And Violet steals the words from my mouth when she so aptly states at one point, “The only thing worse than the thought that it may all come tumbling down is the thought that we may go on like this forever.”

I will admit a certain fondness for dystopian speculation. I’m sure that is what drew me to this book in the first place. I read Feed not long after having reread Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. Now, that’s a pretty tough act to follow. I remember hearing her say somewhere that she had written it in part as a response to George Orwell’s 1984. She also stated that she didn’t believe it a very likely future, but recently, given the current political climate, she has said that it seems a tad more realistic to her now. For myself, I sometimes worry about that type of a future. Still, the alternative dystopia presented by Anderson, one in which mind-numbing consumerism rather than religious zeal has gone overboard, seems a much more likely and, I might add, effective strategy.

Being Part of the Resistance

The central goal of Violet’s last days was to resist the feed ““ to become an uncategorizable variable in the system. She wanted to throw the corporations on their ends. Not like Titus and his friends, who all say on occasion that they want to “screw the corporations da da da.” For her it is a mission, an experiment. In the end, she was so close, but they were starting to win. Now, I feel that I am a fairly aware person and that I do my best to “resist the feed” on a pretty daily basis. I am trying to live consciously, but I will admit some days (maybe more days than even I realize) it feels like they are winning. Finishing this book always leaves me heavy. The most dangerous mistake we can make at this point is hubris ““ to think that we are not affected by the blatant and egregious attempts of corporations to control our behavior by any means possible is just plain naive.

The Languages are Dying
Just by way of a little food for thought, Kai. You refer to Titus’ language skills at a couple of points, calling him “nearly-tongueless” and “verbally-impaired.” I was a little surprised by this, because, in comparison to those around him ““ including his circle of friends and his family members ““ he alone has the capacity to understand Violet, it seemed to me, because of his grasp of language. Admittedly, I too find it pretty base and horrifying and Violet could run circles around him any day. But I also felt that since Anderson used the first-person p.o.v. so effectively, we are getting Titus’ own impressions of himself as the most obvious and he is completely dismissive (as he would want to be while trying to fit in with his friends) of his own use of language. At one point early on, Violet tells him that she picked him because he was the only one “of them” who used metaphor. Her impressions, even when watered down and filtered through Titus’ thoughts and attempts to develop his own complacency, are also tell-tale signs.

I’m thinking of several eloquent passages in the book where his description of his own feelings of emptiness and being alone touched on something deep in my own human experience. We saw this right from the beginning. When they arrived on the moon, he is contemplating how old and empty space is, how littered with trash and the cast-off remnants of life and how grateful he is to be traveling with friends for warmth and comfort. Later in the hotel room when they are trying to break into the mini bar they destroy part of it and no one can think of the word for the wheel on the bottom except Titus who comes up with “caster.” He says, “You know your break sucks when the most brag part of the night is you coming up with the word ‘caster’.”

Right from the beginning Titus recognizes that there is something smart and unusual about Violet. He is constantly worried about sounding stupid in front of her or being judged as a moron because of his friends. Stupid compared to what? Where does he get this idea from? That registers as meg (sorry, I couldn’t resist tossing in a little of the books incredibly well positioned slang) self-awareness.

One scene I think of in particular when I am considering the intelligence and sensitivity of Titus is when they are at Link’s house and he takes Violet up to the attic. He tells her about how they used to play ‘Sardines in a Closet’ (kind of an inverse hide-and-seek) and he talks about that moment when you realize everyone else has already found the hiding space and you are the only one left and you’re alone, but you aren’t because everyone is just thinking about you and you could walk around for hours alone, but not alone. His observation of little details such as the neighborhood where Violet lives with the sky that is starting to peel and his description of her in the mountain hotel room “looking what people call ‘askance’.” To me this conveys a depth that he was not very practiced in exposing and a skill for handling language which he both tried to hide and wasn’t encouraged to develop. It’s like that moment where his mother tells him he isn’t stupid, that he is just a “non-traditional” learner. Yeah! No kidding! Non-traditional in their world, but really more of a thinker than any of them put together. Ignorant, yes ““ even willfully so at times (which is maddening). And maybe even the label “verbally-impaired” is accurate and on more than one occasion he comes across as “nearly-tongueless.” Still, I didn’t want to pass by the substance of his abilities either, because for someone like him, in a different environment, it would have been a whole different experience.

That is one thing about the book that really sealed the deal for me. M.T. Anderson’s portrayal of these young adults is unapologetically realistic, but also respectful. It isn’t a censure-ridden “these kids today” look at the state of America. They are nothing more than a product of their times and environment. And yet, they really display some remarkable behavior ““ like Quendy’s admonishment of Titus once she realizes that he is starting to panic and distance himself from Violet.

The Simplification of Language

The obvious connection to “the feed” is our dependence on the Internet to get all our information, to stay connected with people, to remember things, and the list goes on. I don’t want to completely disregard technology, because while I believe all technological advances should carry big warning tags and require everyone who uses it to develop their own philosophy about its purpose in their lives, I still ultimately believe that the dangers lie in our use of it. Nevertheless, dependence on such media to remember facts, dates, history, language and any number of other things only serves to make our brains less agile. When Titus first meets Violet’s father she explains his strange speech in this way, “He says the language is dying. He thinks words are being debased. So he tries to speak in weird words and irony, so no one can simplify anything he says.”

Each time I read this book I am overcome with a need to be truly conscious of what I am saying, to take the time to really communicate. It is easy to leave off doing that when I’m with my husband or my mother or my good friends, because dammit, don’t we all know each other well enough to understand what the other person is saying without them having to say it? But that is not the point. So I find myself watching what I say very carefully. I find myself forcing my brain to find the words. Language is the original magic, and you can see at the end when Titus goes back to visit Violet, he starts with telling her stories. He can only tell them in one sentence to begin with, but you get the sense that this is the start of real change. But, even so, it is not a thrilling victory. Music does not swell and rise in a triumphal arch. The victory is small, it is personal, because that is the only type of change possible when things have gone so far afield.

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16 Responses to Feed by M.T. Anderson

  1. Ramona says:

    First, Congratultions! Glad you are up and running.
    From my view (older than dirt, grandma), it was hard for me to read Feed. Perhaps because of the slang, but more because (I think) even tho’ it is set way into the future, it is too close to now for my comfort. (Do pre-teens really need cell phones?)
    As post depression era and pre baby boomer, it saddens me – causes fear for the future of our world – when I view what I call “The dumbing down of America”. It isn’t what children are learning now, it is what they aren’t learning.
    Before I begin sounding like an old fuddy duddy and saying “those kids nowadays”, I will stop here. Each generation fears for the future generations. I just hope there are many, many Violets out there.

  2. CountessZ says:

    For me, it was the fact that this story seems a little “too close to now” that made it all the more fascinating (and, admittedly, terribly frightening). As someone only just on this side of thirty, I still find myself saying things that make me feel like an old fuddy duddy too. I notice a young girl dressed provacatively and worry about a country full of girls who think Britney Spears is their role model (and I ignore the fact that growing up, Madonna was one of mine). I see kids talking on cell phones and driving nice cars and I think about how things were in my day when we had to walk places or count on the one friend who could borrow their mom or dad’s vehicle or *gasp* use a public payphone to call a friend. As you said, every generation fears for the future…

    But in all of this, one thing comes to mind — In Feed, it wasn’t just about the younger generation. There were adults in this book. Adults that made decisions that affected the outcome of these kids lives. Adults that were also under the sway of the culture. Adults who were buffeted, brutalized and blind to the consequences of their own decisions, spurred on by the same messages and they remained just as unaware, safely ensconced in their bubbles. The problem isn’t just kids today, it’s me and anyone else who thinks that the problem doesn’t have anything to do with us.

    We are such a youth-oriented culture. There is a myth that is perpetuated by the media that all the force for potential change comes from them. I say, no way! We start the change (like Violet’s father did for her in so many ways) and it trickles down to them.

    I will admit that there is a very pessimistic streak in me that normally wants to collapse into a heap of despair at this point, but I will say this, I have met a lot of Violets and even a few Tituses that have caused me to cheer and to cry. They are the ones who give me some tentative hope for the future.

    As I mentioned in my post, I think one of the best things that M.T. Anderson did was to treat his younger characters with a great deal of respect. I think that ultimately is what everyone is looking for. We can’t start from a position of feeling frustrated and angered by them, because that road goes nowhere. And as I wrote that last sentence, I realize that just thinking of young people as “them” separates us and that is a long hurdle to jump over. Ultimately, we are all in this together.

    Of course, that is the idealized version. Sometimes I am sitting somewhere surrounded by teenagers listening to their conversations and I just want to crawl in a hole and cry cause the whole world is just going to collapse if this is the future.

  3. kaizerin says:

    Welcome, Ramona! You’re our very first guest, and we’re delighted to have you here!

    I, too, am frequently overtaken by the “Kids these days! Harrumph!” impulse. Mine is often tinged with envy and expresses itself as “Little bastards don’t know how good they’ve got it.” Which is pretty darn funny coming from me, who had a reasonably cushy childhood myself—at least, by comparison to the lives of the generations before me. Every time I say something about “kids these days,” I immediately wonder what I had as a child that the people in the generation before me envied. (I imagine it was my E-Z Bake Oven.)

    The downside is that, by spoiling the little monster-darlings, we’re not really doing them any favors, but we don’t see that—and goodness knows if they ever will. We’re not teaching them anything about working and saving and earning their pleasures; my god, what an un-American thought! And so they never the learn the delights of delayed gratification, which Violet so tantalizing describes to Titus in my favorite passage of the book. I never felt closer to Titus than when he admitted that her description of the self-denial process had physically aroused him. Yeah, me too, kid! And I rooted for him, right there, to make the deeper connection and understand that there are complicated but intensely gratifying pleasures that have to be worked for, that can’t be run straight at and bought.

    Ramona and I had a conversation about this last fall—that there are other pleasures besides simple happiness, and we don’t often feel them. I don’t know if we even remember they’re out there to be sought, most of the time. Yearning is major one, and what, in our modern American society, do we get a chance to yearn for? There isn’t much we can’t just reach out and take when we want it, even if it means maxing out a credit card or two. It isn’t often we want something for months or years before we obtain it; it’s rarer still that we explore the pleasure embedded in the discontent, the excitement raised by the intensity of our longing. Yes, of course, we want the object of desire, eventually. But isn’t it worthwhile to let ourselves simply live in the desire for a while? Shouldn’t we tingle and crackle and quiver for a while, before sinking into the downy depths of satiety? Or are we too afraid to be that alive, that electric, for any length of time?

  4. Sekem says:

    Congratulations on the new site!

    What a interesting choice of novel to start out with “The Feed” was an enjoyable read for me, and I would have thought that it might have made Kai more than a little jealous of Titus. Spring break on the moon sure beats South Padre in my book!

    Like the Countess, I was impressed by how much care the author took with the development of Titus and Violet. More impressive, still, was his creative approach to “The Feed” itself.

    This book got me thinking about all the brands that influenced my identity and ideas when I was younger. I had the list of usual suspects, Coke, McDonalds, Reebok, and Anderson Erickson. It got me thinking about how there has always been a “Feed”- and how micro-processors are just the latest evolution if it.

    Speaking of breaking out of “The Feed” for a moment, it’s interesting to note that in London McDonalds has recently closed over two-dozen “poor performing” outlets. They are also embarking in a multi-million pound image makeover. Apparently, the parents of young Londoners have failed to Mc-doctrinate their young at the same rate as a generation ago. This apparently resulted in severely declining sales in the UK, and a muddled view of the brand. Can you beleive that kids here actually want healther food choices and think that the plastic decor of McDonalds is naff? Heresy! Apparently, the 14-18 demographic now wants a more “healthy, cafe-style” approach to their fast food. I guess my chip missed the latest download.

  5. CountessZ says:

    Yes, for a long time now, there has been something of a “Feed” — probably since the industrial revolution started producing more than we needed at faster and faster rates and they had to find a way to try and get people to want things they didn’t necessarily need. Newspapers and a larger population of literate people fanned the flames, and before you know it, capitalism has run rampant through the streets of our mind. However, I do think that it is accelerating, and while micro-processors may be the latest itteration, they have more potential to exert more influence and alter our way of life to a Feed-like future. Yikes!

    Even so, as seen with the case of McDonald’s needing to rework their image and change their menu and decor in the UK, consumers can exert some influence with their buying habits. It’s just that there are not many entities really interested in helping consumers understand their power (even, maybe especially, schools).

    My only hope is that there will be a generational backlash against the rampant consumerism and the lack of satisfaction it truly gives. Somehow, though, it doesn’t really appear to be going that way on this side of the pond.

  6. kaizerin says:

    Hey, Sekem, welcome to the party! Nice to see ya! Your point about me envying Titus is a fair cop; it’s the grain of salt, if you will, with which you should take my assessment of him.  (**grumble*** Knows me too well.  **Mumble**) 

    CZ, you pegged it. In the delightful book Affluenza, the authors discuss the Industrial Revolution as the turning point. There was a moment when, with doubled productivity in hand, we had to choose: produce the usual amount of stuff in half the time, and take the rest as leisure, or work the usual amount of time, and have double the stuff.

    Obviously, we chose the stuff. Imagine what life would be like if we’d taken the leisure–four hour work days, or maybe three-day work weeks, with half-days on Wednesdays. Wouldn’t THAT be the life? I’d love to leave the office at 12:00 today and not be back ’til Monday!

    The choice is still open to us, in some ways. I miss my high-flying airline job sometimes, but I’m glad I don’t have to be away from home for three weeks at a time anymore. I could try to work my way up into management in my current job, but I also really like putting in my 40 hours and having nights and weekends to myself, and I make a comfortable living as it is.

    It’s up to each of us to find the balance point that satisfies all our ambitions–for income, for recognition, for health and happiness.

  7. Ramona says:

    Feed. Need. Greed. Freed. A generational backlash against consumerism? Didn’t we try that during the 70’s with the “back to the land” movement? I know I came back to the land with the idea of teaching my children how to garden and raise livestock for our own food. Only one out of three caught on. And I no longer raise my own meat and vegies even tho’ I am back on the land again and could.
    There will always be trade-offs as Kaizerin said. How much is enough? Kai says it is up to us individually to find our balance point. I agree. But CZ suggests that “we” can somehow influence “them” and effect some change. “We start the change and it trickles down to them.”
    I try to have some influence on my grandchildren. i.e. Their mother recently related that one of the girl’s bikes was stolen right off their front porch. She was trying to figure out how they could afford buying a new bike to replace the stolen one. I suggested they could buy a used one until 1)they got the stolen one back or 2)they could afford a new one. I should have suggested 3)that the girl work for the money to replace the bike as it was her fault for not locking it up. My suggestion to buy something used was quickly rejected. I realize I won’t have much influence on these grandchildren when their primary lessons come from one of those adults who got her feed at an early age!

  8. kaizerin says:

    Everyone, please have a read of the main story on Salon today (“The Oil is Going! The Oil is Going!”), then come back here for discussion, if you’re not hiding under the bed in terror.

    It’s not all said and done yet, Ramona. You might find at least one of your “missed the lesson” kids on your doorstep one of these days, looking to re-plant Grandma’s garden, read your old issues of Mother Earth News, and get tips on keeping dairy cows. And pigs, ’cause, mmmmm, bacon! And woolly sheep, of course. The End of the World is certainly no time to stop knitting.

  9. Corvus says:

    I really see the current descent into a Feed lifestyle as having begun in the 1950’s. The elements were there, waiting to be ‘activated’ if you will, but as far as I can tell it wasn’t until the 50’s that media and marketing got their act together and really teamed up with a specific focus on generating demand for mass produced objects.

    The problem with the state of things in the US today, in my not so humble opinion, is that consumer spending accounts for a vast majority of our economy. I don’t see that as being conducive to creating a thoughtful society that behave respectfully to each other, much less other cultures.

  10. Ramona says:

    Corvus is right. It did begin in the 50’s with parents who had been through the great depression and a world war. They saw the opportunity to give their children more than they had had. Couple that with the rise of a tv in every home and the immediate view of anything and everything we could possibly “need”; the consumer monster was born.
    What too many parents don’t understand is that giving their children everything they want is not the true meaning of parenting.
    CZ is also right when she talks about the collapse of our paper world. I am already digging my hole in which to crawl.

  11. kaizerin says:

    CountessZ, I want to pick up your point about Titus’ language skills. I think the crucial phrase is “in comparison to those around him.” I grant the points you made about Titus having greater verbal skill than those around him, and Violet noticing him because of it. But my point was about a man who writes books, communicating to people who read books, through a kid who couldn’t print his name in crayon.

    I saw it as the central tragedy of Titus’ character that he has this remnant instinct toward poetry and curiosity about the world around him, but because of the culture he was raised in and what passes for education in it, these have nearly atrophied. He doesn’t have the words to express the things he feels—and even if he had them, he doesn’t have an audience that can appreciate them. I guess I read the book not as something Titus had literally composed, but as coming from a limited-omniscient narrator, who kept us inside Titus’ perspective, but could tell us more about what was going on in his head than Titus himself could.

    However, I re-read the ending, and I see what you’re getting at. It does seem that Titus has accepted Violet’s challenge to fight the system, and in beginning to tell stories to her, perhaps he’s finding his voice. Maybe we are supposed to understand that the novel we have just read grew out of Titus’ promise to keep on telling Violet’s story. But you know what? That interpretation pisses me off. So, Violet’s beautiful spirit is silenced, but at least her death has meaning, because it woke this guy up and got him in touch with his own voice? Ick. That makes me hate the book, a little. But, I admit up front that I identified with the wrong character; if I put myself in the shoes of someone who relates to Titus (i.e., the target market of this book, young adults), it does make for a more satisfying read.

  12. CountessZ says:

    A couple of things. First, I read the article that you metioned, Kai, and it was very, very interesting. Couple that with an article I read earlier in the day about global warming and its effects on the arctic landscape and you’ve got a heapin’ helpin’ of disaster no matter which way you look at it. Oddly enough, I found the article hopeful. Weird? Yes. I’m not sure if it was just the fact that there were people doing something practical and embracing a different way of life (an anti-Feed lifestyle, if you will) or if it was the little pep talk I had to give myself in order to feel like getting out of bed the next morning was even worth it, but I started thinking that running out of oil might be the best thing that could happen to us — in the long run that is. Short term, it’s freakishly nightmare-inducing. Also, it is worst case scenario, right? I mean, clearly there was even some disagreement amongst “experts” about the Peak Oil theory. And, of course, all movements need apocalyptic visions that get us moving in the right directions and help turn the tide. I often wonder if I’ll know its time to head off into the woods with a backpack and some supplies or if it will have gotten too late by then. Or will it never come to that? Hard to tell.

    Second, in response to the observation about the 1950s as the start of the Feed lifestyle, there is a really fascinating book called “Where The Girls Are” that discusses the role of marketing in helping develop a burgeoning sense of identity in young women starting in, you guessed it, the 1950s. It then goes on to discuss the conflicting messages that on one level conveyed to us that we were something more than wives and mothers, while more overtly telling us what we wanted most was to be wives and mothers. It is obviously a little more complex than that, but I would really like to go back and read that in light of my new feelings about the consumer culture, marketing, etc.

    Finally, Kai, back to the language — and the idea that the best character in the book died so some mildly decent character could learn a lesson. Indeed, if that was the case, ick. I went back and reread some of the book this afternoon and I’m pretty sure it was intended to be a first person point of view, and all the impressions and so forth really did come from Titus. So, the deeper thoughts (yes, in comparison to the others, admittedly) and reflections and observations and even the use of language were meant to be his — at least the sections that were written in first person. Obviously, there were news clips and feed items and song lyrics interspersed, but those were meant to give us a greater sense of the constant buzz that Titus was exposed to. In thinking more about Violet’s death, I don’t see that she died so Titus could learn a lesson. I see more that she died because these things happen — because of the culture, because of the way things are. She died because it is a screwed up world with inappropriate priorities. She would have died even if Titus never learned a lesson. But thank goodness for his own sake that he did. Did Quendy have the same capacity to get it? Maybe. How about Link? I’m less optimistic. Even thought Titus is absolutely maddening, I still think he was special. I think he was really quite smart. He just didn’t want to be. I knew guys like that in high school. They weren’t bad guys. But a lot of times, they didn’t want to be good guys. They didn’t want to have to think about things all the time. In a way, I don’t want Titus to be special, because if he is just another one of “them,” it means anyone can “get it” and change. But why did he see Violet was so special right from the start. She was different and he liked it. I think he liked it because he felt different and alone and he thought being with someone else would make that go away. It didn’t. He was so desperate not to be alone. That made me so sad. And that is why I felt some sympathy for him even though he did such awful things. I think at the heart of things here is not that Titus may or may not have been eloquent or in possesion of decent language skills, it is whether or not he is a sympathetic character.

  13. kaizerin says:

    Oh, no, I don’t think Violet died so that Titus could learn a lesson. Let’s clear that up, first. I think Violet died because she was a complicated person with conflicting impulses. If she’d been happy to be a misfit she wouldn’t have gotten the implant at all; if she’d been happy being a drone, she would have played along with the Feed. Unfortunately for her, like a real person, she was a little bit of both, and the ambiguity killed her.

    What I’m saying is, if you read the book like Titus caught a clue from Violet’s death and went on to grow and learn and eventually tell the story that this book contains, then Violet’s death is a plot point serving to get us to a hopeful ending. It gives you hope, as you say, that if one ordinary guy can do it, maybe more can, and will, and their civilization will slowly pull back from the brink. But the way I reacted (NB: emotions engaged!) was, “They’re all stupid and doomed, and they deserve to be.” In their heedless consumerism, they had eaten up their world and trod a fragile Violet underfoot. (I have to think her name was chosen very deliberately.) They didn’t deserve a happy ending.

    A hopeful ending cheats the “Warning! Watch out! Don’t let this happen to you!” message by holding out hope of redemption; some things, once lost, are irrecoverable, and in my assessment, that world has gleefully sped right past any point of return. I don’t want the ‘meaning’ in Violet’s death to be Titus’ salvation (and thereby, potentially, the salvation of his world); I want the meaning in her death to be “Cherish the delicate, the vibrant, the beautiful, the bright, the tender all around you—-in people, in nature, in yourself—-or else you will lose it.”

    Note, please, that I’m not saying that’s what the author wrote. You’re probably right about what the author intended the book to mean; I’m just telling you what it means to me. The “Violet leads Titus to get in touch with his inner poet, and he’s a better man for it” angle grates, probably because I’m no fan of Beauty and the Beast stories. Why is it always the female who has to look past ugliness and cruelty to reach the inner worth of the male?

    As far as sympathy for Titus, well, I’ve already copped to being jealous of him and not properly identifying with him as the hero of the story. Which doesn’t make him an unsympathetic character, so much as it makes me an unsympathetic reader.

  14. CountessZ says:

    I agree — a more hopeful ending would cheat us out of the warning. And I too hate those stories where the woman suffers untold misery and torture so some man can learn a lesson (and, of course, marry us and make an honest woman out of us finally—blech). I guess that’s why the ending here was really a minor victory, since it was merely a personal one and the world is still doomed — one person isn’t going to be able to turn the tide anymore, except for ourselves. I think we were supposed to have mixed feelings about Titus and his changing (too late!). Talk to me on another day and I’ll be right there saying the little creep deserves none of our pity 😉

  15. kaizerin says:

    The Feed in action, in a recent Salon article on consumer debt :

    Travis Plunkett, legislative director of the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, puts it this way: “Debt has gone from something long term to the short term,” he says. “It’s the difference between a washer and dryer and my weekly groceries.”

    Credit card companies catalyzed the shift about a decade ago. Two men started the trend: Richard Fairbank and Nigel Morris, former consultants who took over the reins at Capital One, a credit card issuer, decided to personalize plastic. Instead of offering one card at a set rate, they experimented with multiple cards and all kinds of offers. Bonus APRs, balance transfers, “lifestyle cards” imprinted with yachts, sports teams and college logos — Capital One pioneered all of those ideas. And whenever someone with, say, a Jeep responded to a gold Visa card imprinted with white-capped mountains — as opposed to a forest scene — it made a note of it, creating an associative database that formed the basis for more mailings. (my emphasis)

    And on the other hand, I’ve been bonding with Titus a little: I ordered some pants online yesterday, although not to the extent of emptying my account.  First I got the “thanks for ordering!” e-mail, then the “your order is in process!” e-mail, then the “we shipped your order!” e-mail…and each subsequent e-mail makes me feel like I can feel the pants flying toward me in the dark. 

  16. Dani says:

    One of the sites I looked at said that Feed “makes you want to punch stupid people in the head”. I totally agree! After reading Feed, I really wished I could go into the book and punch Titus in the head!
    That’s how good Feed is. It’s so depressing and sad, but it’s still amazingly written. The characters, the plot, the style that it’s told in… It’s a hard read, because it makes me want to cry and laugh and stomp my foot in anger all at once. I thought that the ending was too unfair, and I re-read it a couple times, looking desperately for any glimmer of hope. But no, Violet really died! Ugh. It’s just unfair.

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