Lecture on M.T. Anderson’s Feed Violet: “I was sitting at the feed doctor’s a few days ago, and I started to think about things. Okay. All right. Everything we do gets thrown into a big calculation. Like they’re watching us right now. They can tell where you’re looking. They want to know what you want” (96-97). M.T. Anderson on Why He Wrote Feed “It is out of the memory of my anger as a teen at the bullying maneuvers of “youth marketing” that I wrote the book – but also out of the knowledge that even now, I’m part of this system of desire. I still can’t get out of my head the images of who I’m supposed to be. (For my current age: the picket fence; the lawn; holding some daughter up toward the sun; strapping my tykes into the SUV.)” Dr. Tarbox’s Feed Experiment The last time I taught Feed, I wanted to replicate the experiment that Violet carries out at the mall by trying to confuse a system that was attempting to cater to my desires while also drawing me further into a marketing situation. The closest example of such a system that I use on a regular basis is Pandora™, the music genome site that provides listeners with the opportunity to craft their own radio stations and to make sure that they are always listening to music that they like (with the idea that they will use the provided links to purchase it). Dr. Tarbox’s Feed Experiment I programmed Pandora™ with a very, very gloomy song from my youth: The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?”http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=JrvRlI4hlBE Dr. Tarbox’s Feed Experiment Over a two hour period of time, I clicked “like” only when a somewhat cheerful song was played and “unlike” when anything really sad was played. Most of the songs were from the 1980s “new wave” period, but at the end of two hours, Pandora™ decided that what I really wanted was: http://www.youtube.com/watc h?v=MKHFUKZ-IXE Key Lecture Points In today’s lecture, I want to touch upon 3 points related to Anderson’s Feed: The way that readers are encouraged to relate to the characters and the author of the novel The significance of the indeterminate ending in YA literature The role of dystopian fiction in contemporary YA literature. Reader Identification In her essay on Feed, Clare Bradford asks readers to think about how M.T. Anderson depicts the narrator, Titus: “A key narrative strategy is that Titus is presented as an unreliable—and at times unlikeable— narrator, so that he does not readily invite reader identification” (131). Engaging Narration? Remember earlier in the semester when I introduced you to the concept of “engaging narration”? I noted that when readers lose themselves in a narrator’s world, they may be less likely to call into question the ideologies that are being put forward in the text. Notice that M.T. Anderson creates Titus in such a way that you, the reader, will be less likely to fall under the spell of engaging narration. Instead, he asks readers repeatedly to call into question Titus’ behavior and the sort of world in which his behavior would be considered normal. Bradford’s Argument On pages 131-133 of her essay, Bradford demonstrates, using the Coca-Cola episode of Feed, the different subject positions that readers are asked to observe: Titus’ embarrassment regarding Violet’s outspoken critique demonstrates how he will damage his relationship with Violet in order to “fit in.” Violet’s potential use of Titus to experience things makes it possible to see her as a “user,” even though her critique hits home. Bradford’s Argument The other kids’ responses to Violet demonstrate their unwillingness to face the corporatization of every aspect of their lives – they are not necessarily characters with whom the reader would identify. However, Bradford suggests that by developing a scene in which the reader is better able to make a cultural critique than the characters in the novel, Anderson might be engaged in manipulation on another level – making the reader “feel good” about his/her ability to understand more than the characters so that s/he will (somewhat unthinkingly) accept Anderson’s own ideology. Bradford’s Argument Extending the idea that Anderson might be flattering his readers so that they will be more accepting of his ideological aims, Bradford explores the way that Anderson portrays himself on his author webpage: “A noticeable feature of Anderson’s website is his deployment of narrative and linguistic strategies that seek to persuade readers that he is on their side; that he understands them and shares their preoccupations” (133). Screen Shot of M.T. Anderson’s Website The Take Away When reading YA literature, it is important to consider the various layers of information that readers receive from: The characters The narrator The author By positing a narrator to whom the reader might feel superior, Anderson may be encouraging teen readers to critique the character’s actions, but he may also be coopting them as allies. Either way, authorial/adult intentions are never far removed from the reading process. The Indeterminate Ending The typical plot pattern that most Western readers have grown up with involves this schema. The Indeterminate Ending In most cases, the resolution of a work of YA fiction involves what we call “the happy ending.” Readers are so conditioned to expect a happy ending that when one does not occur, anger can ensue. One of the best known examples in early children’s literature involves Louisa May Alcott’s decision to end Part I of Little Women with Jo March’s refusal of Theodore Lawrence’s proposal of marriage. Readers had been led to believe that they were reading a tradition romance and when Alcott provided them with an alternate ending – one in which Jo chooses to pursue her writing career instead of marrying Teddy, there was (and continues to be) an angry response. The Indeterminate Ending Alcott’s choice to upend the marriage plot that characterized most 19th century girls’ fiction allowed her to put forward the radical idea that young women might wish to pursue an education and a career. However, by the end of Part II of the novel, Jo marries an eccentric, but loveable academic, providing readers with a happy ending, albeit one that was a bit unconventional. The Indeterminate Ending Over the last two decades, some authors of YA literature have gone beyond providing a happy ending to providing what is known as an indeterminate ending – one in which the outcome is either unclear or is bleak. Trites' claim that YA literature tends to focus on the progression of a protagonist from youth to adulthood assumes a somewhat optimistic trajectory. In Disturbing the Universe, Trites quite convincingly argues that readers usually respond enthusiastically to texts in which progression is implied. The Indeterminate Ending Therefore, if an author deprives the reader of the satisfaction of experiencing a happy ending in which progression is implied, the action deserves our contemplation. During the problem based learning and discussion segments of our work with Feed, we will be considering why Anderson may have chosen to end his novel in an indeterminate manner. YA Dystopian Fiction Farah Mendlesohn has noted that when a YA dystopian novel presents the future in a negative manner, it usually offers as an antidote “some kind of return to a world just like ours. Where we are now is the best we can ever be” (151). In other words, some critics point out that dystopian fiction can be socially conservative because it encourages readers to privilege either some agrarian past or even a contemporary world over a technology-based future in which human society has devolved. YA Dystopian Fiction Critic Noga Applebaum writes that: “Despite the obvious opportunities for personal and social development which technology offers young people, adults often view it as a threat to children’s innocence” (18). As such, technology comes off as the villain in many contemporary YA science fiction texts. YA Dystopian Fiction In their edited collection on utopian and dystopian children’s literature, Carrie Hintz and Elaine Ostry define the terms “utopian” and “dystopian” in this manner: "We use 'utopia' ... to signify a nonexistent society that is posited as significantly better than that of the reader" and ‘dystopia’ as a society "in which the ideals for improvement have gone tragically amok" (3). YA Dystopian Fiction In a recent essay on YA dystopias, Abbie Ventura suggests that in Feed, “Anderson…formulates commodity culture in a way that strips any semblance of subjectivity and redemption” (92). Ventura continues: “Throughout the novel, Anderson suggests that the fruition of human progress and the technologies of the twentieth century are dehumanizating. Here, located in a not so distant midtwenty-first century, human subjectivity is erased and the identity of the consumer is the only available space to occupy” (92). YA Dystopian Fiction Ventura concludes: “Like many young adult literature authors of futuristic and dystopian narratives, Anderson explores the destructive effects of capitalism’s ‘progress’” (94). “Anderson writes Violet as a revolutionary subject intent on unmasking this destruction or, as Benjamin phrased it in The Arcades Project, awakening the collective consciousness from the dream-state of capitalism (BuckMorss 253). Though violent in his act, the revolutionary who infects Titus, Violet, and their friends with the message ‘we enter a time of calamity’ is also aware of this degradation of culture” (94). YA Dystopian Fiction “Anderson’s pessimism regarding Violet’s failure can be read as not only a critique of a wasted culture but also commentary on the failure of the lone youth revolutionary” (94). Works Cited Applebaum, Noga. Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People. New York: Routledge, 2010. Hintz, Carrie, and Elaine Ostry, ed. Utopian and Dystopian Writing for Children and Young Adults. New York: Routledge, 2003. Mendlesohn, Farah. The Inter-Galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children's and Teens' Science Fiction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. Works Cited Ventura, Abbie. “Predicting a Better Situation? Three Young Adult Speculative Fiction Texts and the Possibilities for Social Change.” Children's Literature Association Quarterly, 36.1 (2011): 89-103.