A Dark Look at the Near Future: A Review of Feed

It's the future.  The Internet has now become the Feed, an Inter-brain-net, and people surf the web, watch shows, and IM one another without lifting a finger. Advantages? Everything you could ever want is yours if you just think about it -- provided you have the money to pay for it.  Disadvantages? No one in America does anything -- anything -- but shop and watch.

Feed, by M.T. Anderson, is a dark look at what could very easily be the near future of the United States.  This dystopic glance at what's in store for our consuming culture centers on Titus, a high school student who, like his friends, spends his time thinking about cars, girls, and where to have fun on the moon.  He has never stopped to examine what rampant consumerism has done to the world, which is now toxic outside of the giant bubbles that shelter houses and businesses.  He has never wondered if there is more to life than new fashion and music trends.  He has never challenged the way everything is.  Until he meets Violet.

A great setting for an interesting dystopic sci-fi, right?  Yes, but that is kind of all it is: a setting.  The world that Anderson imagines is fully fleshed out with strange fashion trends (cutting gaping lesions into one's skin, for example) and a hyperactive version of being "plugged in" to media.  But the story kind of whizzes by as fast as the "upcars" that take the main characters from one place to another.  There is no character development, and the theme is shouted out all at once at the end of the novel, as if the author suddenly realized he was out of pages, and started frantically scrambling to make it all mean something.

One of the major problems with this work is that Anderson has attempted to show the sad decline of English in his future setting.  I'm completely on board with that: in a world where no one reads and where ads are our new culture, language would definitely deteriorate.  But the novel is narrated in first person, so that means we as readers are stuck with the limited vocabulary of the protagonist, whose favorite descriptive words are "like", plus two other four-letter words that I think you can guess.  It becomes very difficult to care about the characters, even as they undergo major life challenges, because their emotional capacity, as expressed in language, is so shallow.  It's not just the dialogue.  The descriptions sound as if they were written by an alien being who doesn't really understand or empathize with the humans around him.  Might be realistic, but it doesn't make for good literature.

What works? If this is the only book you read this year about the dangers of making consumption a core pillar of society, by all means read it!  Coming in at 300 pages and comprising mostly dialogue and IMs, this book is a quick read.  And its message is a very serious one: human beings are more than just shopping machines.  If you do read it, be forewarned that profanity abounds, and that there are some of what the characters in the book themselves describe as "PG-13" situations, which means that there are some mild sexual situations, and that both drinking and other ways to kill brain cells are depicted.  Recommended audience: high school.