As all literary works aim to make an argument to persuade the readers, dystopian literature are distinct from all other genres in that it displays a devastating state of society where the problems are magnified infinitely to an unrealistic extent. In this hyperbolic form, dystopia serve as a warning to its readers, stimulating them to initiate certain changes in the society to prevent its fall to dystopia. Dystopian literature thus appears to me as an extreme approach through which the authors let out their cry against certain aspects of contemporary society. But, is it true that all dystopian authors feel that strongly about the social problems, that is, do they really believe that the problems can cause dystopia to form as depicted?
This question came to me when I finished M.T. Anderson’s Feed and his own afterword “On Feed.” (Since Feed is specifically set in the US, the following analysis will be focused on the US exclusively.) The US has long been a capitalistic society where free economy and consumerism dominate. It has already gone through the Jazz Age, the hyper-materialistic stage of consumerism, and the substance-short period of the Great Depression. It has given birth to numerous new technologies and huge companies, from Coca-Cola to Apple. With environmental issue brought into focus since the 1960s, most people are able to view consumerism critically, acknowledging material as necessary but not the most important element of life. So does Anderson really fear that consumerism can lead us to such a degraded environment and brainless society in Feed?
In the afterword, I found Anderson very honest about his views: “For me, the key to the discomfort — and the exploration — is how much I love some of it [the hyper-marketed world in Feed], how much I still do want to be slick like the people on the tube, beautiful, laughing, surrounded by friends…It is the anguish of indecision that animates it.” I have seldom seen authors thoroughly explaining their own thoughts on the themes of their work, and even fewer (none, I think, actually) presenting a conflict and their own mental struggle. Feed is a very unique work in that it does not advocate completely against consumerism, the deadly cause of the dystopia, but rather inflates its negative impacts to the greatest extent and simultaneously presents some of its fascinating features, leaving an open question to its readers: since we need a free market, how can we act as well-informed, intelligent and conscientious consumers that help preserve both the society and the natural environment?
I have, therefore, decided to research dystopian authors’ view about the social problem presented in their work through the lens of consumerism in dystopia. Through analyzing the ways in which the deadly flaws are presented and studies on the social impacts of consumerism, I will try to answer to question “do people really believe that consumerism is dangerous enough to lead to dystopia?” from a sociology perspective.