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Kyle Bjorem ENGL3840 Lahaie 11/29/11

Rebellion in the One Dimensional Society: Egological Consumers vs. Ecological Citizens in M.T. Andersons Feed

In M.T. Andersons dystopian novel Feed we are presented with a future in which humans have taken one of two basic identity sets and Andersons goal is to make the choice between the two a conscious moral decision for the reader. One, which is exemplified by Titus and his group of friends, I call Egological Consumers. They are shown as being intensely selfcentered in their thinking and mode of being. Their entire consciousness has been co-opted by the feed itself, an implant, which bombards their brain with constant advertisements geared towards them specifically and encouraging them to consume goods in order to keep up with trends (to be brag) and not be seen as uncool. This is the majority of the American population in Andersons vision of the future, but rebellion is not unheard of. The identity set that I contrast Titus and his friends with are those I call Ecological Citizens. These are people who have not been entirely co-opted by the feed and represent a resistance to the vacuous consumerist culture of self-imposed ignorance. The three main examples of the Ecological Citizen are Violet, her father and the vague entity of the Global Alliance. The divergence between these two groups rests upon who has and who has not been transmogrified into a One-Dimensional Man (or woman). The concept of the One Dimensional Man is explicated in Herbert Marcuses OneDimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society, published in 1964 and hailed as one of the canonical texts of the New Left emerging at the time. Marcuse himself was a member of the Frankfurt School of critical theorists, also including Theodor Adorno and Max

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Horkheimer, though he emigrated from Germany to the United States earlier in his life to escape Nazi-ruled Germany. One-Dimensional Man examines the political, social and cultural controls that reduce the dimensions of individuals in an industrial capitalist state. Marcuse perceives the association of capital and technology as constituting new forms of social control and domination. An extensive prosperity satisfies basic wants and the satisfaction distracts people from argument from observation and critical analysis: Independence of thought, autonomy, and the right to political opposition are being deprived of their basic critical function in a society which seems increasingly capable of satisfying the needs of individuals through the way it is organized (4). But is a society such as this inherently dangerous? What are the things that some people are propagandized and blinded by consumerism into not seeing and how are they blinded? Marcuse, along with Elizabeth Bullen and Elizabeth Parsons, share similar thoughts: [] we are confronted with the fact that advanced society becomes richer, bigger and better as it perpetuates the danger. The structure makes life easier for a greater number of people and extends mans mastery over nature. Under these circumstances, our mass media have little difficulty in selling particular interests as those of all sensible men. The political needs of society become individual needs and aspirations, their satisfaction promotes business and the commonweal, and the whole appears to be the very embodiment of Reason [] (11). Bullen and Parsons, speaking more to the nature of the danger itself, state that: We have now reached a stage of techno-economic progress in which the social production of wealth is systematically accompanied by the social production of risk.

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Scarcity is no longer the most significant problem in the West; in its place capitalist expansion is creating chemical, nuclear, ecological and lifestyle risks as well as political hazards like terrorism [] The individual is politically disengaged and, instead, co-opted into the ideology of the market, currently associated with [] corporate capitalism, rampant consumerism, and a raft of social and environmental side effects (128). Chemical risks (everyone sprouting legions), ecological risks (the last forest destroyed for the sake of an air factory; toxic lakes) and lifestyle risks (the banality of life; the emotional deadening) are all perfectly apparent in the world of Feed, though only a few seem to have eyes to see. Those who have not become completely politically disengaged and co-opted are relegated to obscurity and ridicule at the hands of ignoramuses such as Titus and his friends. Titus et al. strike me as the kind of people who would populate the Capitol in Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games. Perhaps not the elites of the Capitol, but rather the bourgeois. The consumers must live a life of ignorance and subliminal rationalization of the costs to the Districts that their lifestyle requires. They do not think, for instance, of where the coal comes from that they use for energy. The sign of a true egomaniac or narcissist is that they simply do not take into consideration the consequences of their own actions, or take responsibility for the harm their lifestyle may be inflicting on others. Titus and his friends feed on the rest of the world for products (who makes them all?) and natural resources (what is all of this crap made out of?). Another way of looking at the title would be that Titus and his friends are themselves the feed, what the corporations feed upon, the economic generators, the people who buy the superfluous high-fashion (hip styles change by the hour) and other nonsense. They are pure consumers and their only purpose is to make money for the corporations that constantly inundate them with advertising. Even their slang is a symptom, as Bradford points out: The term unit [] signals

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how individuals are envisaged by Feedtech Corp. as revenue generating components in a global economy (129). However, one cannot wholly blame them for their blindness, as they have been conditioned from birth to be part of a system, a system in which one of its functions is keeping each piece of itself ignorant of the rest of it. Bullen and Parsons explain this function in this way: Socialization into consumer capitalism reduces political consciousness. The characters awareness of this outcome of predatory capitalism is limited by the parasitical relationship corporate capitalism in the novel, the Feed Corporation has with the consumer (132). In other words the only world Titus knows is the illusory one that the corporate media has produced for him. Marcuse explores this theme and its consequences thusly: The needs of the OneDimensional Man are pre-conditioned. The preconditioning is subjected to additional indoctrination by a standardized media. The media teaches to behave and consume in accordance with the advertisements [] social interests impose false needs. The false needs can gratify the individual but they perpetuate toil, aggressiveness, misery and injustice (7). Titus is (though unaware) constantly communicating throughout the novel what it is like to be a member of a society in which this techno-capitalist logic has taken complete control and been amped to the extreme. Titus states that It was like I was buying things to be cool, but being cool was always flying just ahead of me, and I could never exactly catch up to it (293). He can never catch up to it because it is a chimera, nothing but a false need concocted by the corporations. Bradford describes the society as a system of desire (133). This is not some small matter, this is the method by which the entire society is allowed to exist, and ones entire existence within it is a lie. This is not unlike the Matrix films in which humans are reduced to fuel and given an entirely illusory existence that they are not aware of as being illusory.

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In contrast to the Egological Consumers who have been co-opted into one-dimensional thought, are those I refer to as Ecological Citizens. Bradford states that The you people of Feed [exist within] a state of emptiness where [they] are offered consumerism as a substitute for citizenship (129). The line is now drawn between being a consumer and being a citizen. If I were to give a short definition of the difference it would be that a consumer is disengaged from the realities and processes of the society that he/she feeds off of, while the citizen is engaged and aware and exercises some attempt at change. The Egological person is self-centered and is only concerned with how things affect themselves, their own personal desires and interests. The Ecological person is concerned with the interconnected global community in all of its aspects (ecological need not be relegated only to environmental degradation type issues) and is ruled more by compassion and a depersonalized ethics. Violet, who becomes Titus girlfriend (though the relationship carries a much more significant weight for her as she is still more fully human than the emotionally bankrupt Titus), has not had the feed since birth and the model she did have implanted when she was seven was a discount model. Because of this, as well as having an erudite father who has always been recalcitrant in relation to the feed, the feed has not taken complete control of her consciousness,. When a forest is annihilated in order to erect an air factory, Violet begins to give an alternative view to blind acceptance but is met with eye rolls: They cut down Jefferson Park? That is so like corporate My father nodded and smiled at her with this meg condescending smile (126). Thinking and questioning are not necessary when you rely on the feed and are seen as something antiquated or pretentious. Life has been made simple for the elite and the bourgeois, they do not have to care about consequences and so they do not. Violet cares about history, language, and other cultures. She is finally unable to live with the cognitive dissonance between herself and

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the nightmare she is forced to exist within and becomes fully detached after exploding Can I tell you what I see? We are hovering in the air while people are starving. [] Were playing games and our skin is falling off (201). The person with the clearest vision of reality is the madman in this culture and finally cannot operate within it. Violets father is a professor of ancient languages, which to this future society are computer programming languages like BASIC. He never had a feed implanted and only periodically uses an old back mounted version. As a result, he speaks an outdated version of English (free of slang, filled with academic vernacular) and reads constantly. He is the one, thankfully, to finally give Titus his comeuppance near the end of the novel. Violet is deteriorating away to a vegetative state after being tossed off by Titus as an inconvenience (just another consumer product to throw in a landfill and forget, the unfashionable last years model) and her father confronts him: Why dont you go play your games? [] Go out and take whats yours. [] We Americans are interested only in the consumption of our products. We have no interest in how they were produced or who produces them. [] Go along little child. Go back and hang with the eloi. (290-291). Here, Titus is condemned for living in a totally Egocentric personal universe where his only responsibilities are to himself. The Eloi is a reference to H.G. Wells The Time Machine, which envisions a future in which humanity has evolved into two species. One is the Eloi, who live a banal and leisurely life, while the other species (Morlocks) toil endlessly in providing the Eloi with what they need to remain idiotic and satiated without need of labor or thinking. Echoes of Marcuse: The false needs can gratify the individual but they perpetuate toil, aggressiveness, misery and injustice (7). The last entity that I consider Ecological Citizens is the Global Alliance. They are a sort of rebel group based outside of the United States who is fed up with the current exploitative

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nature of U.S. late-capitalism dominance/repression. They issue a statement that includes the declaration that the physical and biological integrity of the earth relies at this point upon the dismantling of American-based corporate entities (243). In contrast, the U.S. President, in his dealings with the Alliance, is quoted at one point as calling their leader a big shithead (119). Theres no argument, the Global Alliance seems to be residing in reality and the other in the egocentric fantasy world of their own concoction, with the feed keeping them completely oblivious to how their lifestyle could possibly be affecting people other than themselves. Though there are many parallels between the world of Feed and our consumer-driven late capitalist society, the most important lesson to be gleaned from this novel may just be how we treat the people who have the courage to take responsibility for their actions. Violet and her father are outcast because they can see the reality underlying the illusion, they can think in more than one dimension, and are not frightened of owning up to their part in it. Instead of rallying behind the glory of the so-called free market or calling dissenters unpatriotic, everyone must realize that we are ultimately all in the same boat. Bullen and Parsons illustrate the importance of this when saying that The novel makes clear that the bystander does not escape the tragic fate of the activist, but rather he will also die in the way that a frog immersed in gently heated water is boiled before it realizes its danger in time to escape (133). On the horizon for Titus is the continued physical deterioration of the environment and along with this the continued physical deterioration of the human animal in the form of leprous legions. On the horizon for Titus is a world in which the cure for emotional distress is to buy more and more useless garbage until an eventual mental breakdown (which I believe he seems very close to by the novels end). On the horizon for Titus is what looks to be a revolution headed by the Alliance, a World War III in which the technology is so great the only possible outcome would be global devastation.

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What the book is promoting is that one must choose between two modes of existence. I have given these modes the names Egological Consumer and Ecological Citizen, and the boundary between them is correlative with how much of ones consciousness has been shaped and colonized by the One-Dimensional Society of blind, easy, comfort-inducing consumerism pumped into our minds at a constant rate by the corporate media. The truth is that the universe is not one dimensional, it has an infinite number of dimensions. Everything is interdependent with everything else and every action you take effects something else. The rise of technology like the internet can bring these facts to life, if one chooses to. Or, one can use the technology (in the case of the feed) as another set of blinders, another method of control. What every person with access to this technology then has in front of them is a decision that carries a moral imperative. In the words of sociologist Zygmunt Bauman: Let us note that in the age of universal accessibility and instantaneity of information, the I did not know type of excuse adds to the guilt rather than brings absolution from sin. It carries a connotation of selfishly, for the sake of my peace of mind, I refused to be bothered, rather than of the truth has been guilefully hidden from me (204).

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Works Cited Bauman, Zygmunt. Society Under Siege. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2002. Print. Bradford, Clare. 'Everything Must Go!' Consumerism and Reader Positioning in M. T. Anderson's Feed. Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Culture. 2(2) (2007): 128-137. Print. Bullen, E. & Parsons, E. Dystopian Visions of Global Capitalism: Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines and M.T Anderson's Feed. Childrens Literature in Education. 38(2) (2007): 127-139. Print. Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. Print.