Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2284
M. T. Anderson’s Feed is the story of a failing futuristic society that is controlled by large corporations. People are taught to value objects, money, and entertainment over everything else. Almost all of the characters have computer-like devices called “feeds” installed in their heads. This allows them to communicate with...
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M. T. Anderson’s Feed is the story of a failing futuristic society that is controlled by large corporations. People are taught to value objects, money, and entertainment over everything else. Almost all of the characters have computer-like devices called “feeds” installed in their heads. This allows them to communicate with each other instantly and look up any information they want, but it also sends them a constant stream of advertisements.
As Feed begins, Titus goes to the moon for a spring break trip with his friends. They have dinner and try to get into some college parties, which they usually manage to do because his friend Calista “can do this sorority-girl ice-princess thing” and his friend Link is “that kind of old rich that’s like radiation,” which makes people do what he wants even though he is ugly. However, nobody lets them into the parties today. They look greasy and sleepy from their flights, and they all have the strange lesions that everyone seems to get lately. Titus feels annoyed and decides the moon sucks.
The kids drift to other forms of entertainment. They are playing a ball game in low gravity when Titus notices “the most beautiful girl, like, ever.” Titus watches her, and when his friend Quendy begins complaining about the unsightly lesion on her face, the girl, Violet, joins the conversation. In a confident voice that is free of the filler words and slang that pepper everyone else’s speech, Violet says that Quendy’s lesion frames her face. Violet and the other girls rearrange Quendy’s hair to show off the lesion.
Violet is alone, so she joins Titus and his friends. She hangs back when they try to get drunk and looks uncomfortable when Link suggests trying a drug-like experience called “malfunctioning” through their feeds. However, she accompanies them to a club, where mostly college kids are dancing and having a good time. An old man appears among them, shouting, “We enter a time of calamity!” When he does something to the kids’ feeds that forces them to broadcast this message over and over, Titus realizes the old man is a hacker. The police arrive and beat up the hacker, then they switch the kids off.
Titus awakens in a hospital, where his first thought is that he has no credit for buying anything. Then he realizes that his head is quiet and he is disconnected from feednet. Titus finds life boring without the constant input. He reflects that when feeds were first invented, people were excited at their educational value because they allow people to look up any information instantly. Now everyone who has a feed is “supersmart,” but the educational value is not the feed’s main attraction:
Everything that goes on, goes on on the feed.... But the braggest thing...is that it knows everything you want and hope for, sometimes before you even know what those things are. It can tell you how to get them, and help you make buying decisions that are hard.
Everyone knows the corporations that run the feed do bad things, but there is no way to stop them. They run everything and employ everyone, so as far as Titus is concerned there is no point getting upset about how bad they are. He is far more upset that he is disconnected.
Titus and his friends are stuck in the hospital and annoyed at their predicament. Titus’s dad arrives and says, “Dude, this is some way bad s**t.” The other kids’ parents come too, except for Violet’s. She acts withdrawn, and although she does not complain as much as the others, she seems extremely upset. Still, she joins in when the others go stir-crazy and invent a game of blowing hypodermic needle tips at an anatomy diagram. The doctor gets angry about this, but the kids’ parents defend them, saying they are stressed out and need to unwind.
Violet and Titus bond in the hospital, and she shows him an old, cracked terrarium she finds leaking air. Later, he learns that she knows how to write with a pen. Nobody writes on paper anymore, so he calls her “a funny enchilada.” When the technicians are sure there is no permanent problem with their feeds, they reconnect everyone. Messages and advertisements pour in, and everyone goes insane with relief. It is as if they can feel like themselves again. Titus and Violet hold hands and dance in happiness.
The kids return to earth and spend the rest of spring break taking it easy. At the end of the week, they have a party. Violet is homeschooled, so she does not go to School™ as Titus does. Her social life is not normal, so she has never been to a party and is excited to go. The kids watch movies and chat, and Titus tries to prevent Violet from finding out when some of his friends malfunction. Violet confesses that her feed is still damaged from the hacking incident.
A few days later, Violet invites Titus to the mall to help her with a project. She says that cameras are watching them, and the feed is marketing to them based on what catches their attention. Marketers always try to make everything appeal to everyone, so their offerings get simpler and simpler. Titus just shrugs off her explanation, saying, “That’s the feed.” She catches his attention only when she explains that she is trying to create a customer profile for herself that is so weird nobody can properly market to her. They go from store to store, asking for odd objects like searchlights and home endoscopy kits. Titus enjoys himself and drops her off at the feed doctor’s on the way home.
Violet is really smart, and Titus worries that he is not smart enough for her. He does not do well in School™, even though School™ is not as bad as it was when his grandparents were kids and schools were run by the government. Back then people had to learn about dates and chemicals and other details that were not useful to life. Now people learn about how to access information, how to use new technology, and how to get jobs—but it is hard for Titus anyway. He is surprised when Violet tells him that more than a quarter of Americans do not have feeds and that her parents almost refused to get her one. They waited until she was seven, when her brain was almost too developed to accept the technology. She says the feeds cause people to be “ignorant, self-centered idiots.” When she realizes Titus thinks she is talking about him, she apologizes. He feels bad anyway.
Titus’s parents are worried about him after his experience on the moon, and they decide to buy him his own upcar. Violet, who is not as wealthy, is amazed that his parents will buy him something so expensive just because he was in the hospital. She tells Titus that the police beat the old man hacker to death. At dinner that night, he insists that his parents tell him about it, and his dad gets angry. He says Titus should be happy to have his own upcar and otherwise leave the issue alone.
The next day, Titus takes Violet on a trip to a beef farm. He drives his upcar to her house and meets her father, a weird guy with no feed. Titus cannot understand him when he talks because, as Violet explains, “He tries to speak entirely in weird words and irony” to prevent people from simplifying his ideas. They drive an hour out of town to a peaceful fillet mignon farm, where beautiful paths stretch through wide fields of marbled meat. Titus finds it fascinating to watch the plastic tubes carrying blood to and from the meat tissue. After taking a walk, he and Violet play in a beef maze the farm has set up for tourists. They climb an observation tower to look out over the fields of meat, which stretches for miles, perfect except for a few places where the genetics went awry to make “a horn or an eye or a heart blinking up at the sunset.” Titus feels it is the perfect day.
For their next date, Titus and Violet attend a Coke party. The Coca-Cola corporation is giving out free Coke to anyone who talks positively about Coke to their friends, and they want to take advantage of the deal. Violet, who prefers resisting corporations, finds it impossible to play along. She makes weird comments and uses big words nobody else knows until Titus’s friends start acting surly toward her. She asks Titus to take her home. In his upcar, he takes his friends’ side, and he and Violet have a fight. She confesses that her feed still is not working properly. It is part of her brain, so the doctors have no way to remove it. They do not know how to fix it, and it might kill her.
The lesions everyone has are becoming popular, and people now buy fake lesions to look cool. Callista gets one to impress Link, and Quendy tries to outdo her by getting her entire body covered in little, plastic-capped cuts so people can see through her skin. When she arrives at a party, Titus and his friends argue about it; some people say it looks cool and others say it is disgusting. Some of the kids start a game of spin the bottle to change the subject, and when the bottle turns to Violet she turns white and starts shaking. She shouts:
We are hovering in the air while people are starving....We’re playing games, and our skin is falling off.
She screams that everyone is making themselves into monsters. She falls to the ground in a seizure.
An ambulance takes Violet to the hospital. A while later, she wakes up and finds that all her memories from when she was six years old have disappeared. When she sees Titus, she apologizes for her behavior at the party, but she also admits that it felt good to scream. She is dying, and she knows it. Her feed’s warranty is expired, so she and her father ask FeedTech for free repairs. Their petition is rejected because Violet does not spend enough money through her feed and because she is too confusing a customer to be worth helping.
Violet’s troubles are too much for Titus to handle. She begins sending him long messages full of memories, musings on life, and lists of things she wants to do before she dies. He has trouble listening to them, and he does not respond. He gets wasted, avoids her, and erases many of her messages then tells her afterward he did not receive them.
One day Violet arrives at Titus’s house and asks him to run away with her. He is feeling bad for erasing her messages, so he agrees to go. They go to a hotel in the mountains. She explains that she wants to have sex before she dies, but Titus cannot bring himself to do it. When she asks what is wrong, he says, “I keep picturing you dead already....It’s like being felt up by a zombie, okay?” He realizes how terrible this sounds, and he apologizes. He also breaks up with her and explains that just because she is dying does not mean he should be forced to stick with a relationship that is not working anymore. She attacks him for his ignorance of the world, telling him that the world is dying and moving toward war while he runs around being young and having fun. He drives them home. He feels guilty but unable to find words to speak to her anymore. The silence bores him. To fill the time, he buys a jersey.
The next day, Violet messages Titus to say she is not sorry but that she loves him and thinks he is smart, the sort of person others could learn from if he decided to change the way he lived. He ignores her and slides back into his usual life, where he mostly manages to ignore the fact that everyone is losing hair and getting increasingly disgusting lesions. However, he cannot ignore the fact that his friends do not accept rides in his upcar. For some reason he cannot understand, it is not cool enough.
Months later, Titus receives a message from Violet’s father, saying that everything has stopped. He drives to her house and finds her in bed, immobile and possibly unaware of him. Her father shouts at Titus to go back to playing his silly little games and ignoring the real world. Titus tries to apologize for breaking up with Violet, but as usual he does not know what to say. He goes home and does not know what to do, so he buys pants. He buys pair after pair until his credit runs out. He uses his feed to watch them moving toward him through the delivery system.
Titus knows he has failed Violet somehow, and he cannot quite live with this. Two days later, he returns to her house and sits talking to her unconscious body. He cannot quite be the person she saw in him, the dissident who would help her fight the feed, but he is also unwilling to let go of her memory. He promises to think about her and tell her story. As the novel ends, he is sitting by her bed, holding her hand and describing her story as if it is an advertisement for a movie.