Posts Tagged ‘MT Anderson’

“Baby-Making” as Critiques of Capitalistic Society

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

If nothing else, in recent years, American society has become more familiar with ideas of reproductive assistance– from surrogacy to in-vitro fertilization to hormone injections and everything in between. Dystopian literary endeavors seem to have taken these ideas and multiplied them, representing the fears around fertility issues and the medical establishment’s involvement in reproductive assistance– representing fears around literally making babies in removed environments. Some of these representations don’t hinge on the medical; instead, “baby making” is used as a vehicle for a criticism of capitalistic society. The commercialization of reproduction and the way that it is branded, advertised and marketed towards dystopian societies reflects a criticism of capitalism in the most basic way… if these theoretical societies condone the blatant ‘selling’ of the creation of human life, what remains?

In MT Anderson’s Feed, Violet messages Titus with a long backstory of her life, as she knows she’s dying. She talks about her mother and father being together and writes, “I always thought it was strange that they decided to have a kid at a conceptionarium. I guess they really wanted to have me freestyle. They talked about it a lot. Well, I mean, they’d only been going out for a few months, but, you know, a lot for that. Anyway, the ambient radiation was already too bad by then for freestyle. So they went test-tube” (225). The idea of “freestyling” as code for having a child and the prevalence of the conceptionarium in a society made sterile by ambient radiation, so that freestyling becomes a choice or a resistance movement speaks deeply about the highly capitalistic society Anderson gives us. In Feed, the feeds implanted into the wiring of the human mind allow instant communication and provide a constant stream of advertisements, in addition to information and social media. Violet’s parents resist the feeds and opt out for themselves, but her father eventually chooses to allow Violet to get a feed (which leads, ultimately, to her death). In their case, once freestyling fails to produce a child, they have no other option. The parents of Titus, however, recount their decision to have Titus to him as one based in superficial desire; they choose his features based on a little-known actor and add in specific features from their own genetic pool. The making of baby Titus emphasizes consumerism and the aesthetic choices that informed the decisions of his parents, whereas Violet’s narrative underscores the fact that reproductive assistance was so necessary because of environmental factors that even those interested in ‘bucking the system’ were left with no choice.

In the much darker Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, the main character Jimmy/Snowman tells about the downfall of human society when science and capitalism become too intertwined. His stepmother, Ramona, marries his father and they immediately tell him that they want a child. Atwood writes, “Ramona would write him chatty, dutiful messages: no baby brother for him yet, she’d say, but they were still ‘working on it.’ […] If nothing ‘natural’ happened soon, she said, they’d try ‘something else’ from one of the agencies– Infantade, Foetility, Perfectababe, one of those. […] She was doing her ‘research,’ because of course they wanted the best for their money” (250). The competitive baby-making industry represented here, once more contingent on the desperation of a couple who wants to conceive, is even more explicit with the titling of the “agencies” and the marketing that these names represent. Furthermore, Jimmy’s narrative spends time imaging his father and stepmother creating a child in ‘trial runs’ that would allow them to have the perfect child and then load up the child with ‘bloated expectations’ but admits that he secretly envies the unborn child for the advantages that such a creation could give him– including the admiration and support of his father, which Jimmy felt denied of as a child.

Perhaps the most scathing critique of capitalist society is represented by Megan McCafferty in her novels Bumped and Thumped. These books present a world in the wake of the creatively-titled Human Progressive Sterility Virus, known as HPSV. At this point, most people become sterile around the age of 17 or 18, as the virus sets in, and rely upon the adoption of children birthed by teenagers, who are taught from a young age that reproduction is desirable, sexy, and profitable. The book opens by talking about the two twin sisters, Harmony and Melody, in a store called “Babies-R-U”– full of t-shirts that simulate different “sizes” of pregnancies, ‘You-Glow-Girl! stretchmark cream, and other items meant to convince young girls that pregnancy-for-profit is desirable and ‘fun’ as well as necessary. One of the narrators converses with the saleswoman about her pregnancy-simulation, and McCafferty writes, “’And you’ll note the tiny, tasteful stretch marks,’ [the saleswoman] continues, lifting my brand-new expandable-contractable MyTurnTee” (20). Shortly after, the sisters run into newly pubescent girls running excitedly around the store and they notice a girl’s shirt: “The front of the redhead’s T reads: DO THE DEED. As she hops around in excited circles, I catch the phrase on the back: BORN TO BREED. Indeed” (25). The opening of the book with this scene, along with the eventual resistance that the sisters offer to a world full of “reproductive professionals” who are sought out by future parents to get the ‘best’ for their money and infants being auctioned off to desperate, sterile adults, places emphasis on the consumerism inherent in this dystopia. Baby-making by teens becomes necessary– condoms are made illegal– and the purchase of infants as valuable and relatively rare commodities only spurs a capitalistic society towards marketing and selling a fantasy of pregnancy to young women.

Dialect and Slang as Rhetorical Power in Feed and A Clockwork Orange

Monday, March 4th, 2013

That’s one of the great things about the feed– that you can be supersmart without ever working. Everyone is supersmart now. You can look things up automatic, like science and history, like if you want to know which battles of the Civil War George Washington fought in and shit” – Titus, in Feed (47).

Dialect and slang can define culture– especially youth culture. Dystopian fictions often represent class difference through changes in dialect, but in the case of novels featuring young adult or teen characters, often it is the language that used that reinforces their youth. Feed by M.T. Anderson and A Clockwork Orange by Andrew Burgess are both characterized by language, as they are written in dialect. Feed features Titus and his friends and family, who have less of a use for language after the implantation of a “feed” directly into their neurological wiring. They communicate via chat with each other and are influenced or directed by advertisements wired directly into their brains. A Clockwork Orange‘s dialect, Nasdat, is used almost exclusively by the violent youth culture– especially the story’s narrator, Alex, who changes up his speech patterns based on the people around him…and whether he wants something from them.

In Feed, everyone appears to use the same type of slang– even the President of the United States is quoted as having called another head of state a “shithead” in a speech, which some desperate government official attempts to cast as a compliment, given the fertilizing power of manure. The exception here appears in Violet, the love interest of Titus, and her father. Violet’s father is a professor of dead languages, which she explains to Titus are those that “were once important but that nobody uses anymore. They haven’t been used for a long time, except by historians” (37). The dead languages that she references appear to be variations of computer code, and when she writes examples for Titus by hand, he’s impressed by the fact that she knows how to write with a pen. Physical words– written words– seem to have all but disappeared from the world of Feed, leaving only the digitally communications transmitted via the feed behind. When Titus meets Violet’s father for the first time, he sees their house and notes that “the place was a mess. Everything had words on it. There were papers with words on them, and books, and even posters on the wall had words” (135). Titus and his generation associates written words with sloppiness, with clutter, with trash not yet disposed of. In response to this rejection of language, we see Violet’s father– a man so obsessed with the preservation of language that he is no longer understood when he speaks. Violet explains to Titus that “[my father] says the language is dying. He thinks words are being debased. So he tries to speak entirely in weird words and irony, so no one can simplify anything he says” (137). But when he actually speaks, his language is also telling– he combines slang and word usage from different eras, as if they bleed together as one in the history of language.

Language represents, then, the deterioration of culture as a whole in Feed. In A Clockwork Orange, we can read the use of slang in a similar way– except that it pertains exclusively to the youth culture in the story. Alex knows when to lapse into Nasdat and narrates the story in it, but has a grasp that older generations and those in official positions warrant a shift in tone and dialect that he refers to as his “gentleman’s goloss.” In speaking with the prison charlie, Alex says, “Sir, I have done my best, have I not?” before making sure to tell the reader that “I always used my very polite gentleman’s goloss govoreeting with those at the top” (62). This “gentleman’s goloss” appears at many other points in the novel as well– generally when Alex attempts to deceive or trick people into allowing him into their homes or speaking to his parole officer to try and convince him of his innocence and reform. It stands in contrast to the Nasdat slang that he speaks in the company of his gang or fellow prisoners in Staja (State Jail). Alex’s language is used as a tool, as manipulation– when asserting authority over his gang or over fellow prisoners, his Nasdat is flawless, but when he realizes that he has no power in the conversation, he attempts to manipulate people by showing him that he, too, can speak like an educated and polite ‘gentleman.’

Both stories immerse the reader in their dystopian context by writing the narrative in dialect, but Burgess and Anderson both reinforce the fact that the language of the story is not always the language of every character. In fact, the divergences from the dialects used by youth in the narrative seem to be powerful rhetorical moves that comment on authority, education, and willingness to participate in sometimes oppressive cultural norms– like the rampant consumerism and capitalism of Feed or the problem of youth violence in A Clockwork Orange.

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