The world that M. T. Anderson creates in Feed is a frightening one. This is not simply because his vision is meant to reflect our present culture to some degree, but it is because each and every character – disregarding Violet and her father – is profoundly lonely, trapped in isolation from fear. Their conception of friendship, intimacy, family, self-worth, life, and death is twisted and deformed, revolving around the shared delusion that happiness is pleasure and that love and acceptance is easily obtainable as long as one acts predictably. I cannot describe how much this novel disturbs me.
For this blog, I will focus on the world’s absence of art as the general public’s means to promote an abject ignorance and escapism from necessary mortal struggles.
Technology becomes a means to avoid fears of loneliness and death, and to escape sorrow. According to Sigmund Freud, art is created as a result of repression. An overflow of desires and questions means that intimidating notions such as death and the unknown often become the subject of thought in art and literature as a way of coping. Our fear and fascination drives us to pursue answers, thus artists create art while viewers look to art to fulfill their own desires. The artist’s expression becomes a way for viewers to connect with the rest of society and breach common individual fears.
However, in Titus’s bent world, there is hardly any mention of such expression; instead, the role that art takes in providing society with a coping mechanism is replaced with technology like the Feed, bombarding them with advertisements and transient pleasures to distract from vital thought.
True art – that is art that makes one ponder life’s qualities and sorrows – is entirely avoided, when mentioned. At the same time, some other art forms like music and film are no longer used to approach these heavy topics; rather they exist to extinguish them.
At the hospital on the moon, there is a painting of a boat with sails up, but devoid of people. Although this painting is most likely just an image meant to relax patients and not necessarily a masterpiece in itself, Titus exclaims how boring and pointless it is and how little he sees happening in the image. He says, “I couldn’t figure out even the littlest reason to paint a picture like that” (Anderson 45). His initial reaction of boredom dissolves into “pissiness” as he is forced to stare at the painting and begins to notice how “there was no one on board to look at the horizon” (49). Titus has tried to reject the painting by playing games and connecting to the Feed, but due to his condition he instead is forced to see this generic painting of a boat. His ability to see the absence of people is a reflection of his own fear, while his frustration at how boring it is is his attempt to flee the thought of loneliness and emptiness.
The notion of self-expression and the search for any deeper meaning of life is so far removed from Titus that he calls it “stuff” (66). When Violet shows Titus that she can write and read, Titus is shocked and even demeans its value by asking about its inconvenience, “Doesn’t your hand get all cramped up?” (66). His concern is of ease of practice, and he is blind to the expansion of the mind one could experience through literature.
Art through film is severely lacking, as we learn only about the very popular show Oh? Wow! Thing!, involving “these kids like us who do stuff but get all pouty, which is what the girls go crazy for, the poutiness” (48). The title itself is testament to the obligatory brainlessness the society buys into.
Art through music seems to be rather hopeless as well, as they are created not through emotion or the pursuit of sending a message, but to “get thirteen-year-old girls screaming” (101). Like a marketed drug, songs like “I’ll Sex You In” are perversely catchy and clearly only about temporal, physical pleasures (51). Just as Violet predicts, there is “no difference between a song and an advertising jingle anymore” and songs are simply another thing to get consumers hooked on and talking about (101). Titus, who desperately attempts to withdraw from his fears and discomforts, even notices how distracting the music is as he enjoys his time with Violet. In a rather dark scene, Violet and Titus enjoy the perfect night and look back inside to “see people moving to nothing” (88). This picture is the manifestation of this society’s escapism: they move to nothing and for no purpose other than to delude themselves into thinking they are having a good time and living life to its fullest.
By using technology to avoid and become uninterested in penetrative art, we see that art – which is supposed to be a way to relate to other viewers and confront the struggles of life – becomes unneeded, completely replaced by the Feed. The Feed feeds its users an excess of pleasures to overwhelm and distract. The dismemberment of the viewing society in understanding crucial questions involving mortality is the reason why fears are not dealt with, instead drowned out by loud noises and sexual innuendo. The absence of art in this society becomes the mirror to this society’s shallowness and empty desires.