YA Dystopian Fiction

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
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
 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
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:
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
 The role of dystopian fiction in contemporary YA
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
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
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
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
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
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.

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