Longer Essay #1: Feed’s Italicized Advertisements (And What They Mean)

I’m so null, unit. M.T. Anderson’s Feed exists to warn its readership of the implications of invasive, highly personalized technologies. The novel was originally published in 2002, a time before the Internet became truly invasive and highly customizable to one’s needs. However, its employment of a widely accepted technological phenomenon – the eponymous “feed” – that isn’t without its harsh criticisms still reflects the Internet age we live in today. Anderson realistically constructs his portrait around a culture highly reliant on a sort of e-commercial advertising model, where marketing snippets flash over one’s consciousness. The way readers are transported into the inner workings of this concept is through a smattering of italicized pages and passages which appear sporadically through the work’s chapters. Although each of these flashes of fictitious product placement seem innocuous and nothing more than superficial details, many of these moments add stock to one of Feed’s overarching questions: is a world bombarded by technologically-transmitted excess reshaping how humans perceive their world? Two of the first advertising snippets in Feed set up expectations for how the rest of the novel ultimately unfolds. A seemingly harmless commercial for a futuristic upcar rattles off a laundry list of specifications and statistics only to disclose it “will leave you something like hysterical” (Anderson 15). The way the advertisement is constructed leave much to be desired from the nonspecific pronoun – what exactly is left hysterical – the upcar, with its enormously high velocity and launch height, or the driver that pilots it? The answer to this question can be adequately answered through the character timelines of the book’s co-protagonists, Titus and Violet. Violet, a steadfast resistor to the “feed” and its messages, ultimately succumbs to a death propelled by the hysterical malfunction of the technology she so feverishly rebelled against. This leaves Titus to volley back and forth between states of mental apathy and anguish in response to her physical deterioration. In one case, you have the hysterical remains of a machine. In another, in fact the one that ultimately closes the novel, you have the hysterical remains of a man. Both of these instances showcase the destruction of human consciousness at the hands of a disruptive technology. Where one advertisement focuses its energies on the negative reconfiguration of the human experience, another less vague, fragmented example zeroes in on the deconstruction of the world that encapsulates it. If one views Feed as a shrewd satire of the consumption of digital technology, one can view Anderson’s introduction of “AMURICA: A PORTRAIT IN GEEZERS” as a critique of the larger adverse effects of that consumption (Anderson 94). Despite its farcical, comedic title, the quotations that follow the introduction of “GEEZERS” are written more akin to a documentary film than a whimsical parody. A disembodied viewpoint speaks of a time when “people walked outside more” to stand in “cities…full of wonders” (Anderson 94). Whereas many other Andersonian ads adopt the new-Newspeak eagerly spit out by the novel’s cast of characters – a pseudo-music video transcribed in the book’s early pages finds a song cooing “meg bad” over and over – this “portrait in geezers” adopts a lexicon more in tune with an earlier generation later branded by its offspring with unflattering titles (Anderson 16). Human consciousness and consequent environmental degradation seems to be a generational phenomenon resented by the older folk who remember time before the “feed” with a sense of somber nostalgia. This recollection, however bold and more cohesive than Anderson’s other italicized incidents, flickers to fruition and then disappears with little assurance of a reprisal in tone and message. However, if one looks earlier in the work, analogous sentiments from the younger generation to the ones broadcasted by the “geezers” creep up in other marketing schemes. An intimidating narrator introduces a “primetime event” that mulls over the concept of “Nature…vs. Nurture” (Anderson 26). A heated scene from a courtroom drama where a battered witness cries out that she’s “not a product, but a person” on the same page, which is quickly followed up by a segment which teases about “…an adventure in slouching…” (Anderson 26). The concept of “nature vs. nurture” isn’t a unique one to incorporate into fiction, as many dystopian novels have grappled with the issue. However, the sheer introduction of the conflict into Feed’s narrative creates a sharp critique of technology indoctrinated into human lives: is it a result of natural processes that humans accept these technology’s larger aims or is it a result of social conditioning? We’re presented with a rejection of the latter hypothesis in the courtroom scene, one that echoes feelings broadcasted by “Amurica’s Geezers.” The choice to identify with oneself rather than the “self” created through customizable and personal technologies seems like an obvious one – but in this universe which capitalizes on consumer goods and experiences, the audacity of the statement is greatly multiplied, but like many bold statements in Feed’s advertising metanarrative, comes and goes without much aftertaste. Anderson’s mention of “…an adventure in slouching…” flickers and fades with even more brevity. Yet, its contradictory elements – the very notion of excitement in such a passive activity, for example – offer a strong verdict that decides against the human agency explored in the virtual courtroom. The “feed” has its resistance – the late Violet and in inconsistent spurts, Titus – but definitely exerts its dominance over generations and the environments that hold them all. To supplement this, Anderson offers a dystopian conclusion to the novel in a form of an advertisement – the repetition of “Everything must go!” in smaller and smaller draws the curtains closed – that proves that despite any form of agency, everything but technology’s staggering impact on society loses its foothold.

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