Feed: Because Thinking, Like, Meg Sucks!

Anderson, M.T. Feed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2002.

"We enter a time of calamity!"
Imagine a world where teenagers go clubbing on the moon, gaping lesions are sexy, and forests are destroyed to make room for more efficient air factories. Imagine a place where technology and advertising not only determine how we work or what we wear, but also take control of our most basic autonomic functions! This is the world that M. T. Anderson creates in Feed, a comical yet merciless satire about consumerism and the lives of American teenagers.

The main character and narrator Titus, cynically kicks off the novel with, "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to suck, (1)." While on this trip Titus and his friends meet a strange girl named Violet, an unconventional girl from a family that initially resisted the feed and is still skeptical about its merits. Violet, as Titus puts it, "is always looking for the decline of civilization, (147). Soon after meeting her all of their feeds are hacked. For Titus and his friends, this simply means a quick end to their somewhat boring vacation, but the consequences are much more severe for Violet.

After they all return from their trip Titus and Violet begin dating. Most of their time is spent hanging out at the mall, a location which allows Violet many opportunities to share her theories on the feed with Titus. One such idea is that her and Titus should confuse the feed about what their interests are by looking at a variety of unrelated products. It is in this portion of the novel that one can clearly see the satire on consumer culture. A banner sent to Titus through his feed encapsulates this satire with, " What we wish for, is ours. It is the age of oneiric culture. And we, America, we are the nation of dreams, (149)."

However it is not just a novel about consumerism. The story suddenly becomes much deeper when Violet tells Titus that because of the hack on the moon her feed is malfunctioning and will not be working much longer. Basically, she has cyber-cancer and very limited time to live. It is at this point that the story becomes one about dealing with the imminent death of a friend. The reader can see Titus struggling to be with Violet as her health deteriorates. Titus also does not understand why Violet feels she must preserve her memories or why she wants to experience as much of life as possible. In these scenes Feed deals with a difficult topic for many teens, that is accepting the reality of death when it is so prominent, as in the case of a terminal illness. This is a situation that many teens probably have or will have to deal with either directly or indirectly, so it could make for some very interesting discussions with teen readers.

A satire, a chilling tale of caution, and a story about confronting mortality, Feed begs students to ask such questions as "What role should technology play in my life?" "How far will we let the forces of consumerism, corporations, and pollution go?" "What really is 'living'?"

Recommendations for Teachers

Feed would make for an excellent book to teach in a classroom because it can help students move into the connective stage of engaged reading in a very interesting, thought-provoking way. One way this novel touches on the connective stage is by getting students to elaborate on the world of the story. Anderson presents a future which is somewhat frightening and a little mysterious. The book never directly tells the reader that the world in which the characters live is supposed to be a dystopia, nor does it explicitly explain why the world is the way Anderson describes it. All the reader hears is that everyone lives in bubbles, people's skin is falling off in lesions, and you can't go into the ocean without a protective suit that filters the smell. Without any clear explanation as to what happened to make the world this way, students must elaborate the story world and draw their own theories. This could make for some interesting class discussions about all of the different things that might have happened in the world of the book before the action of the book.

The novel also provides students with a great opportunity for connecting the literature to their own lives. While all of the the future inventions and actions in Feed are rather terrifying, they are not too far from what students have in their worlds. For instance, a student could easily relate the characters' heavy dependence on chatting with each other to the current trend of text messaging. It would be interesting to ask students how often they talk via text compared to vocally on the phone and then discuss what impact this has on communication. The feed itself is also similar to something like an iPhone. With a device like the iPhone and its counterparts, one can instantly access maps, information, songs, pictures, etc. just like the characters in Feed can draw up anything from their feeds. The nature of advertising in Feed can also easily be related to students' lives. In Feed, the feed remembers items in which you have shown an interest, and it develops a consumer profile for you, constantly recommending other items you may want to buy. This is happening in students' lives on Facebook. When a student enters something in their "Interests" section, Facebook will place ads related to those interests on the side of your profile. It would make for an interesting discussion with students about how far the "conveniences" of today would have to advance in order to become the annoying and creepy technology in the world of Feed.

Anderson's novel doesn't limit it's commentary to technology and consumerism; he digs deeper and shows us how humans can objectify each other. In a real world where competency and self worth are so focused on surface qualities, it is important to examine the true value of an individual human being. Feed does this extraordinarily well.

Feed is smart, contemporary, and beautifully written. The use of slang, references to pop culture, and familiar themes make it accessible to young adult readers and would serve as a great complement to other satirical works, including: 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

However, it should be noted that this is a book that does use profanity and some (im)mature situations. For this reason you need to be careful and mindful of the feelings of the students and parents. The offensive material is not excessive, but it is present and could offend some. It may be a book best taught in an upper-level high school English class because the students would be more mature about the language and mild sexuality, and would probably be able to think more abstractly about the book. In fact, there could even be some discussion about why the characters are speaking that way. Perhaps it is because they live in a world where "smart" words have all but disappeared.... If you can get the class to think maturely about certain situations and language in the book, Feed would make for an excellent read.

About M.T. Anderson
Matthew Tobin Anderson (1968 - ) is the author of both children’s picture books and young adult novels. Before Thirsty was published he worked at Candlewick Press, he was an instructor at Vermont College, and he wrote as a music critic for The Improper Bostonian.
His works have won a number of awards, including the 2006 National Book Award for Young People (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, vol 1: The Pox Party), and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book (Feed and Handel Who Knew What He Liked).
Anderson’s other novels include:
- Thirsty
- Burger Wuss
- Feed
- The Game of Sunken Places
- Whales on Stilts
- The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen
- The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, vol 1: The Pox Party

Source: "Matthew Tobin Anderson." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M.T._Anderson. 24 September, 2008.

Three podcasts "advertising" Feed can be found here.

Below is a review from the One Minute Critic, if you just want a quick take on the book.

Below is a scene from Feed made by some highschoolers for a school project.

Additional Resources

Candlewick Press Bio of M.T. Anderson A Short biography on M.T. Anderson with some information on his research while writing Feed.
"Children's Books in Brief: Feed" A book review of Feed published in The New York Times.
"Feed for Thought" A marketing article for Feed distributed by Candlewick Press.
"Like his protagonists, he's a character study." by David Mehegan A story from the Boston Globe on M.T. Anderson.
"M.T. Anderson: Eats Broccoli, Paces and Hums" A story from NPR's Novel Ideas by Melody Joy Kramer.
Mehegan, David. "Like his protagonists, he's a character study." Boston Globe, 12/19/06 A short interview focusing on Anderson's youth and inspiration to write.
Horning, Kathleen. "Patriot Games." School Library Journal. November 2006 Yet another great interview with Anderson.
Recently Banned and Challenged Books--2008 Ahh, there is nothing cooler than being banned.
Slashdot Review A review by a genuine geek site.
Satire A wiki on the elements and history of satire.
The Onion A satirical news site reporting on current events from around the world.
Postcyberpunk A wiki on the "Postcyberpunk" genre.
Consumerism A pretty wiki on consumerism.
Anir-Consumerism I think you get the idea.

--Reviewed By:
Daniel Pollert
Mark Beckwith
Kristyn M. Konal
Lonnie Spangler