Saturday, June 01, 2013

“We have met the zombies and they is us.”
A book review of M.T. Anderson's FEED

The following text is from pages 202 and 203 of MT Anderson's Feed.

Violet was screaming, “Look at us! You don’t have the feed! You are the 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! She’s a creature!”
And now I was going, “Violet—Don’t. Violet! She’s not a—she’s not a goddamn monster. She’s—” but Violet screeched, “You too! Fuck you too!” —and she tried to slap me—I grabbed her by the arm—and she tried to scratch at my face, but her hand wasn’t working.
She had broken somehow, and she was broken, and, oh fuck, she was sagging and I grabbed her to help her, and she was shaking, and her eyes were all white and rolling around, and she couldn’t talk anymore—
—she was choking—
I grabbed her and tried to wrap my arms around her. There was a long line of spit coming out of her mouth. Her legs were pumping up and down. She was broken. She was completely broken.
…and the feed whispered to me about sales, and made all these suggestions about medical lawyers and malpractice, and something happened, and I was sitting beside her in an ambulance, and suddenly I realized, The party is over. The fucking party is over. (202, 203)

“We have met the zombies and they is us.”

Feed is a sophisticated cross-genre (zombie/vampire/horror) novel, which subverts the conventions of science fiction to create a post-apocalyptic narrative told from the zombie point of view. Popular culture memes pose zombies as a metaphor for the destructive results of our consumer society, especially affluent, western consumers. M.T. Anderson flips the implicit metaphoric relationship, creating a tale featuring popular consumer culture as an inescapable, all-powerful character; simultaneously forcing the reader to recognize the novel’s teenage, human characters, including Titus, the narrating voice, his family and friends and Violet, his love interest, are either zombies or undergoing zombification as their dead end society drifts, inextricably, toward its inevitable destruction. Anderson creates a zombie narrative without identifying any characters as zombies, or giving his characters the classic post-George Romero trope of cannibalistic flesh-eater. Instead, by naturalizing and glorifying their deadened, aggressively consumerist behaviors, and afflicting them with a flesh eating disease called “lesions,” the reader realizes the novel’s characters are the unspoken embodiment of zombies.

Introducing the process of naturalizing lesions, Quendy complains to her friends that hers has spread, making her comparatively unattractive. “‘If they don’t know you,’ Marty said, ‘they’re not going to know what you normally look like’” (21). Marty doesn’t compare Quendy with idealized beauty, but with her former self. Marty’s response is reasonable, as all the main characters have lesions. The self-consuming feed-culture has turned its fleshing eating disease into an aesthetic attribute: “The girl’s lesion was beautiful. It was like a necklace. A red choker” (22). Thus, on Violet, the flesh-eating disease becomes a desirable signifier of belonging to the zombie community. Necessarily the cause of the disease is mysterious (otherwise their status as zombies would be self-evident), progressively debilitating, and without a cure (they’re zombies!). Through constant propaganda projected directly into their “virtual reality” the zombie culture comes to see the flesh-eating disease as natural and desirable. Taking the corporate-controlled messaging to its “natural” extreme, Quendy inflicts expensive prosthetic lesions upon her body to gain attention, not unlike adolescent self-cutting. Her prosthesis create an interesting response from her main rival when Calista us sarcasm to draw attention to the hideous and frightening results, undermining the corporate/cultural message: “‘That’s right, Quendy,’ said Calista, ‘because seeing what’s inside you, all your guts, is just so sexy” (200). Calista’s comments are not hyperbole, “You can see her like muscles and tendons and ligaments and stuff,” (199) mind-chats Titus to his friends. Their corporal deterioration is exemplified in the extreme as Titus describes his mother: “… you could see her teeth even when her mouth was closed” (284). This only makes sense if they are zombies, not humans.

Another stereotype of the post-apocalyptic/zombie/vampire/horror genre which Anderson perverts is the “final girl theory.” Of the novel’s characters, Violet is the most empathetic, most chaste, and most concerned about the direction her culture is going. She even has the “abject terror” response when she screams at her friends: “Look at us! You don’t have the feed! You are the feed! …She’s a monster! A monster! Covered with cuts.! She’s a creature” (202). Against the horror and post-apocalyptic genre stereotype, Violet succumbs to the zombification process. She’s not dead. She’s non-responsive due to profoundly reduced feed input. Similarly, zombies are non-responsive to human concerns due to profoundly reduced empathy. In Feed, human concerns have been supplanted by corporate, profit-based concerns, resulting in a death-like state. “She was completely calm. She didn’t move” (289). Violet has completed her journey, she is the living dead.

Importantly, Violet’s “death” informs the reader there will be no savior, no survivors, no happy ending. Violet’s death is antithetical to the genera if Feed is to be read as traditional post-apocalyptic tale. Alternatively, as Feed is told from the zombie’s perspective, total destruction is inevitable. The human race must survive and “everything (zombie) must go” (299-300). Repeated five times, “everything must go” are the novel’s final words, and that statement is definitive: The fucking [zombie] party is over.

Works Cited
Anderson, Matthew T. Feed. Cambridge: Candlewick Press. 2002
Clover, Carol. Men Women and Chainsaws, actually from conversations with Joann Conrad, Ph’d Anthropology and Kendra Dodsworth, MFA, discussing Clover’s final girl theory in popular culture, horror, in conjunction with the concept of the “monstrous feminine.”

©Dec. 12, 2012


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