Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review: Feed - and vague thoughts on YA dystopias

The other night I finished Feed by MT Anderson, which was a tremendous novel, if highly disturbing. I can't remember how I first heard about it, but it was already on my pile from the library when NPR published its list of top 100 YA novels (where it ranks as number 88).

It was a quick read, but I wouldn't say it was an easy one. It's an Aldous Huxley dystopia, a la Brave New World, in which control is acquired through pleasure rather than repression.

In the highly believable world Feed creates, at every moment the feed implanted in your brain from childhood is selling you things, gathering data on what you purchase to further discern your demographic, and selling you more based on that information. Each chapter ends with some of the ads coming through on the feed, disrupting your own thought processes as you watch clips of pitches of products pass by. It isn't our world, but it is way too easy to imagine a world like that. It was like looking at current society in a distorted and magnifying mirror and realizing the essential parts of you were still being reflected in it.

I looked up MT Anderson as I was reading the book and can't say I was super surprised to learn that his mother is an Episcopal priest. You know he was steeped in something when you get a sentence like this:
The sun was rising over foreign countries, and underwear was cheap, and there were new techniques to reconfigure pecs, abs, and nipples, and the President of the United States was certain of the future, and at Weatherbee & Crotch there was a sale banner and nice rugby shirts and there were pictures of freckled prep-school boys and girls in chinos playing on the beach and dry humping in the eel grass, and as I fell asleep, the feed murmured to me again and again: All shall be well...and all shall be well...and all manner of things shall be well.
In Feed, people young and old are lulled, mollified, and plied with treats. Contrast this with (or compare it to) The Hunger Games, another YA dystopian novel, only in The Hunger Games it is want and scarcity that drives the plot, and rather than being entertained, the young protagonists are to be the entertainment.

All of which has got me thinking about how many dystopian novels seem to be geared toward teens. I don't remember this being the case when I was young. Aside from The Lord of the Flies, the dystopias all involved adults--and Lord of the Flies (though we read it in school) wasn't considered a YA novel.

So why is it that there is so much dystopian literature for youth nowadays? Is it because the youth are the ones listening? Or the ones the authors think need to hear it? Or is it because that's the way to sneak this message out there to old and young alike? Because one thing's for darn sure in both Feed and The Hunger Games: the dystopia ain't the young folks' fault.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So is MT Anderson related to MD Anderson of the cancer-killing fame? #badjoke #couldntresist