The Threats of Corporate Power and Constant Consumerism

[W]e shouldn’t think that there are any truth to the rumors that the lesions are the result of any activity of American industry. ... The people of the United States know, as I know, that that is just plain hooey. ... Okay, we need to remember that America is the nation of freedom, and that freedom, my friends, freedom does not lesions make.

This feed chatter, which concludes the chapter “undervalued truffle” in Part 3, focuses on a speech from U.S. President Trumbull, and reveals the extensive and almost complete reach of corporate power. It is clear that President Trumbull is in the pockets of corporate entities and that he is entirely willing to spread their propaganda. He lies to Americans that their red sores, or lesions, are not the result of any industrial pollution, and confuses the issue, thus hoping to diminish people’s concern, by evoking American ideals, falsely relating unchecked corporate power with freedom. President Trumbull’s poor grammar, writing “there are” instead of “there is” and his lack-luster word choices such as “plain hooey” also speak volumes. In a dumbed down society where most people don’t learn to read or write, even the president appears unintelligent and uneducated. If he is more educated than his people, he purposefully dumbs down the language he uses when addressing the public, knowing that if he sounds too smart, he will risk missing the mark. More likely than not, however, is that he is just as uneducated. Either way, because of the feed’s effect on Americans, it is likely that they will readily accept President Trumbull’s words, even as the truth about environmental destruction is written on their own skin.

I remember, as the last forests fell . . . at about that time, we would see hawks and eagles in the cities. People walked outside more, back then. The temperature usually didn’t get about a hundred.

The chapter “nudging” in Part 3 concludes with excerpts such as this from the feedcast “AMURICA: A PORTRAIT IN GEEZERS” that feel especially haunting. Throughout feed, readers learn that corporations have monetized and destroyed the environment. Oceans are dead, lake bottoms shine with advertisements, and land no longer naturally produces food. What is more, most of the novel’s characters don’t care. No one in Titus’s family is fazed, for example, when Titus’s father tells Violet that air factories and real estate are more valuable than forests and trees. In this incorrectly spelled feedcast, however, readers get a sense of an older generation that laments the loss of the natural world and an earlier time when America balanced on a precipice. It is clear, though, that despite the warnings about impending ecological destruction, corporations were allowed to continue their practices unchecked, and they did so, only adjusting their behavior to increase their profits. Like feed itself, readers can see this passage as a warning for our own time, and what can happen if immediate measures aren’t taken to prioritize the Earth’s health over corporate profit.

When you have the feed all your life, you’re brought up to not think about things. Like them never telling you that it’s a republic and not a democracy. It’s something that makes me angry, what people don’t know about these days. Because of the feed, we’re raising a nation of idiots. Ignorant, self-centered idiots.

In the chapter “the dimples of delglacey” in Part 3, Violet and Titus exchange a powerful chat that reveals a massive chasm between their education and awareness levels. Earlier, Titus praises corporate-run School™ for investing in the future and teaching students what he believes is meaningful material, including how to use their feeds and find bargains. Violet, who has been home-schooled and didn’t receive her feed until she was seven, however, knows better. Even in those seven years, Violet was able to learn a different truth than what is presented by the feed, and she learned how to think for herself, a skill most people do not have for if they did, they might disrupt the status quo. Here, Violet voices her disdain and fear regarding the entire situation. She reveals that she is acutely aware and concerned that the Earth is dying, that people are suffering, and that the problems stem from unchecked corporate power. She knows, too, that profit-driven corporations have duped so many Americans, particularly those who’ve had their feeds since birth, into constantly consuming while lulling them into lives of ignorance and complacency. In this scene, and throughout much of their relationship, Violet hopes to open Titus’s eyes and show him the truth.

The Loss of Individuality

Violet was standing near the fountain and she had a real low shirt on, to show off her lesion, because the stars of Oh? Wow! Thing! had started to get lesions, so now people were thinking better about lesions, and lesions even looked kind of cool.

This passage, narrated by Titus at the beginning of the chapter “lose the chemise” in Part 3, shows just how powerful and persuasive the feed can be. Even unique, intelligent, informed Violet, who is wise to the feed’s flaws, has been influenced by the popular feedcast Oh? Wow! Thing! and has forfeited part of her individuality as a result. What is especially striking in this scene is that Violet, and later, Titus and his circle of friends, follow the trend of allowing oneself to have a lesion simply because it is started by stars. They seem unable to recognize that a lesion is a wound, an injury that weakens the body’s health and integrity, something that in the past people worked hard to avoid and heal from. In the process, they also ignore how the lesions are caused, and how they affect their health. Given the corporations’ power, and effort to lie to Americans about causing the sores, it is conceivable that corporations influenced the feedcast’s stars to show off their own lesions in a positive light. It may sound far-fetched, but the scenario parallels the tobacco industry’s infiltration of Hollywood, in which stars were paid to smoke so viewers would associate smoking with wealth, power, or glamour and follow suit.

They try to figure out who you are and to make you conform to one of their types for easy marketing. It’s like a spiral: They keep making everything more basic so it will appeal to everyone. And gradually, everyone gets used to everything being basic, so we get less and less varied as people, more simple.

Here, in the chapter “lose the chemise” in Part 3, Violet sums up another major flaw of the feed: the loss of individuality among its millions of users. Corporations, she tells Titus, track users’ every move to create consumer profiles that, in turn, generate targeted entertainment and advertising. In the process, she says, people are reduced into simplified personality types and then behave accordingly. Case in point: Titus and his friends, who all act, dress, speak, and shop in the same way. The result is people fail to think for themselves, and corporations become richer by ensuring the public spends its money based on their feed’s input. For Violet, a true individual who understands the need to maintain her identity and intelligence, the process is especially unsettling, and as an act of resistance, she determines to create an entirely random consumer profile that can’t be marketed to. What makes her lines here especially powerful, and prescient, is that feed author M. T. Anderson wrote them prior to the rise of rampant data mining sites and apps.

‘DelGlacey Murdoch,’ said my mom, kind of smoothing things over. ‘That’s right. And we thought he was the most beautiful man we’d ever seen. So, after the movie we went right to the conceptionarium and told them, ‘We want the most beautiful boy you’ve ever made. We want him with my nose and his dad’s eyes, and for the rest, we have this picture of DelGlacey Murdoch.’

Here, in the chapter “the dimples of delglacey” in Part 3, Titus’s mom tells him the story behind his creation at the conceptionarium. In this world, natural conception isn’t possible due to high radiation levels, so people need assistance to procreate. Though Titus is having self-doubts and is bothered that he is not as smart as Violet, his mother tells him that he is exactly the boy that she and his father wanted. Her opinion, however, has little to do with any of Titus’s individual or earned attributes. Instead, his mother tells Titus that he’s the exact son they asked for because he was created in the likeness of the actor DelGlacey Murdoch, and this—not intelligence, not a compassionate heart, not artistic abilities—is all they wanted in a child. Titus, who has spent his entire life shaped by the feed to act, behave, and consume like others, it turns out, wasn’t even conceived to be an individual, but more to exist as a product and replica of someone else, someone his parents know very little about. What’s more, given DelGlacey’s stardom at the time, it’s conceivable that other parents also created their own sons in the actor’s likeness.

The Need to Resist

To all those who resist the feed.

This line represents one of the most powerful lines of feed. It appears in the author’s dedication, before any characters are introduced, or its plot is revealed. Author M. T. Anderson dedicates the novel to all readers who, like Violet, determine to open their eyes and see and think for themselves. It is a telling dedication and indicates that Anderson didn’t intend feed to be only a work of fiction, but also a cautionary tale of what could happen in our own world if we are not careful. His words are also assumptive and bold, as he is predicting or indicating that something similar to the feed that dominates the lives of so many characters in the novel, already or will exist in the reader’s world. Indeed, the rampant consumerism, data mining, unchecked corporate power, and environmental destruction that the characters of feed face in the future already plague the reader’s present time, a truth there if one is willing to see it. But avoiding their fate, Anderson hints, will require resistance. Characters such as Violet show readers how one might do just this.

‘Listen,’ she said. ‘What I’m doing, what I’ve been doing over the feed for the last two days, is trying to create a customer profile that’s so screwed, no one can market to it. I’m not going to let them catalog me. I’m going to become invisible.’

In this passage from the chapter “lose the chemise” in Part 3, Violet tells Titus how she plans to resist the feed. She is outraged by the destruction that corporations have caused the Earth and individuals, and here, she explains how she will undermine their effort to reduce her into a simplified consumer profile and sell her what she does not need. Violet and Titus then visit various stores and request to see random items such as searchlights and endoscopy kits but make no purchases. This is just one of Violet’s acts of resistance, however. She refuses to provide corporations a glimpse of who she truly is, and so leaves a trail of confusing crumbs that she hopes will make her invisible in the feed’s eyes. Throughout feed, Violet determines to stay informed about the news, despite censorship. Fueled by her knowledge, she then becomes a powerful dissident. She speaks out about the feed to Titus and tries to make him see that corporations have brought the world to the brink of destruction. Violet knows she can’t fight the resistance alone, though, and at the end of the chapter, asks Titus to continue resisting with her.

Violet was screaming, ‘Look at us! You don’t have the feed! You are feed! You’re feed! You’re being eaten! You’re raised for food! Look at what you’ve made yourselves!’ She pointed at Quendy, and went, ‘She’s a monster! A monster! Covered with cuts!’

In the chapter “our duty to the party” in Part 3, as Titus and his friends play spin-the-bottle, Violet grows angry and urgently asks if she can tell the group what she sees. She chastises them for playing games as their skin falls off and people starve. Driven to resist the feed, Violet decides she can no longer remain silent and withhold the obvious truth. Here, she screams at Titus and his friends, saying they aren’t merely connected to the feed and driven to consume by corporations, but that Titus and his friends are consumed by them. The play on the word “consume” is made clear here. All who don’t acknowledge the feed’s power will be eaten up and destroyed by its insatiable appetite. People’s blind consumption, she says, sustains corporations’ unceasing desire for profit, even at their own peril. As evidence, she points to Quendy’s artificial, and expensive, lesions that now cover her body. The outburst can be seen as Violet’s twist on the phrase “duty to the party.” Violet knows that the group has been living in a fantasy world but, for their sake and the world’s, challenges them to finally open their eyes.