“ ‘You’re feed!’ ” cries Violet to a cut-covered Quendy and some other kids, the equation capturing the one around which M.T. Anderson has built the title of his book. In Anderson’s digital dystopia, feed is not only the technology that enables people to easily access excess, but also the excess’s human vessels, the people that act and talk upon the gadget’s advice. While the feed provides people with excess, has it, in its control of many mental faculties, morphed this ideal into that which is disgusting and degenerate instead of merely satisfying?
When Titus takes Violet to the party at Quendy’s house, he witnesses his friends “going mal.” After declining to do so himself, Titus watches as “they spread out their arms and closed their eyes…doing the quiver.” (88) This two-sentence description uses the plural proper noun of “they” or its variants eight times. Jamming all of Titus’s entranced friends into this one noun synchronizes their mal-induced movements. The continual reference to “they” strips the kids of their individual identities, this and the coordination of their actions robotizing their movements. The rendering of such digital, collective action to humans, whose individual attributes usually make them the epitome of uniqueness and distinction, comes across as disgusting and unnatural.
In this passage, the sentence structure of “they…first,” “and then,” etc. fits an order to the synchronized motion, as though it were a dance. At first glance, this element lends the excess present in going mal a pleasurable connotation, but upon examining the steps to the mal-dance, the degenerate quality of the excess can be observed. Titus describes his friends “getting the shudder first,” “big stumbling,” and “doing the quiver.” The first movement, shuddering, is the body’s natural reaction to something fearful, disgusting, or otherwise antagonistic whereas the second motion links coolness or hipness with clumsiness. But the third dance step is the worst, as it likens, through use of “doing the,” a phrase typically attached to popular dances, a motion reminiscent of epileptic seizure to a famous dance technique. The oxymoronic linking of a fear-induced response, clumsiness, and a debilitating sickness to a jovial pastime is simply sickening and emphasizes the debilitating nature of the feed.
The atrocity underlying going mal is also magnified when Anderson finally notes one of its individual victims. This is none other than Link, a teenager, “whose tongue came out.” (88) While this passage describes an individual, the trend of no individuals taking action continues, as Link’s tongue performs the action of exiting the mouth. Anderson’s continued separation of individual from action subordinates humanity to the mechanisms on which it relies (i.e. the tongue and the feed). The tongue is a mechanism of the body; the performance of an action, of its own accord, by such a mechanism represents, in Feed, the subtle dominance of tools over the humans that once controlled them, this inversion being made easier when the descendants of the feed’s creators are drugged into a blissful ignorance.
But empathy is evoked when the victims are identified as the youth, something which is done when Link’s tongue is described to be “purple from candy.” (88) While candy is a food almost exclusively associated with children, purple, being the hue of a bruise, connotes an injury received from this pleasurable treat. Created here is a metaphor that likens Link’s bruise from a treat to the Feed society’s injury from excessive gratification via the feed. While candy and the feed may be scrumptious to the senses, the excessive consumption of each is unhealthy.
Such excess has crippled conceptions of significance, leading Titus to say “ ‘I’d like to have this…sense overload’ ” (145) when asked, by Violet, how he would like to die. In his response, Titus’s verbal superfluity juxtaposes the excessive physical nature of his preferred means of dying with its actual “shallow”ness, as Violet later describes it. While the typical conversational filler of “like” is used thrice, “just” is employed equally as often, these words filling the void of expressionlessness with that which lends no meaning or further substance to what is being said. Anderson’s verbal interplay here ironizes Titus’s desired death; just like “just” and “like” strive to replace a lack of intelligence and imagination in a culture saturated with digital resources that can be called upon instantly, the intensity of Titus’s death seeks to compensate for a lackluster life in which “going mal” is one of the only forms of actual pleasure.
This desperation for intensity is perhaps best reflected with the exaggerated use of maximal diction, words that connote extremity. Almost every line of Titus’s description has words/phrases such as “every one,” “mile a second,” and “just jammed.” Particularly striking is the line of “every one of my senses all of them so full up.” Here, redundancy is utilized in Titus’s reference to his senses as both “every one” and “all,” as well as in the phrase of “so full up.” In this latter piece, all three individual words connote excess, the use of all of them implying that no single one of them, alone, can communicate the intensity for which Titus yearns. When whimsically wielded by Titus to describe his preferred death, these words of excess and greatness become weak and superfluous. The necessity for both death and words to be excessive represents a watering down of these concepts, the instant gratification that the feed gives requiring each to be exacerbated to achieve any real significance.
While the feed is represented as that which dehumanizes and debilitates when Titus’s friends go mal, it is also, when Titus describes his desired death, portrayed as that which undermines the significance of pleasure and language. Although the feed is able to provide short-term gratification, it ultimately undermines this concept, desensitizing its human vessels to pleasure. This is captured not only in the first sentence of the book, in which the moon, travel to which and experience of which would usually be the epitome of adventure, is said to “completely suck,” (3) but also through the boredom and dejection with which Titus and his friends associate many things. In short, Anderson’s feed feeds off of the human capacity to have fun and find resonance in the world outside of the appalling apparatus.