Unless otherwise indicated, all citations are from Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story. New York: Random House, 2011.
Untitled, by Luna Sawan © 2015
Super Sad True Love Story is a dystopian novel set in a near unidentified future. One of the major issues the novel presents is the dependence on technology. Shteyngart presents the “äppärät” as the main venue of communication within a world that lacks meaningful connections and relationships. The “äppärät” exposes social paranoia and eradicates all elements of privacy, it makes individuals personal information available with the FAC “From a community” button, a button that allow people to judge others and be judged.
The “äppärät” is the only acceptable method of communication in Shteyngart’s dystopian world. When Lenny meets his friends after returning from Italy he describes Eunice as someone who “really listened … payed attention … and never looked at her äppärät” (93). Describing their relationship as one governed by conversation and attention decreases the “hits” on Noah’s show. People care about the “äppärät” and the abstract relationships it makes possible more than the concrete relationships they are capable of forming independently. When the “äppärät” temporarily stops functioning Lenny realizes its importance in their lives, to the extent that its rupture causes a feeling of disconnection. In his diary, Lenny writes: “I can’t connect in any meaningful way to anyone” (270). Their utter dependence on the “äppärät” diminishes these individuals ability to understand and make sense of their world on their own. Additionally, the absence of the preliminary information the äppärät provided made forming and maintaining meaningful relationships problematic. This dependence on the “äppärät” caused them to lose their ability to understand emotions and connect emotionally with people, a skill that is essential in maintaining meaningful relationships within the actual world.
Lenny confides in his diary how this rupture made people, namely four young individuals resort to drastic measures, and attempt suicide. Growing up in a world where the “äppärät” is the main source of communication made these youths choose death instead of attempting to function independently and verbally within the concrete world. Two of these individuals wrote notes explaining the reasoning behind their decision, saying “couldn’t see a future without the äppärät” (270). Individuals depended on the “äppärät” to know both their self identity and that of others to the extent that the loss of the “äppärät” means the loss of personal identity and he chance to know others. Lenny a reader in a world where books are only regarded as old artifacts, recognizes the poignancy in one of the notes which was written “quite eloquently” (270). The eloquent suicide explains that he attempted to “reach out to life” (270) and function in it without the “äppärät’s” help but was faced with “walls and thoughts and faces,” (270). In his dependence on the “äppärät,” this youth lost the ability to read and understand people independently. Forming impressions and interpreting people’s thoughts by reading their faces and getting to know them is a skill these youths had to surrender for the “äppärät.” Growing up with the “äppärät,” these youths never learned face to face communication skills nor the ability to think and construct conversations without a second medium. This suicide encountered several barriers when he tried to operate independently in the actual world. The faces he encountered appeared blank and inexpressive to him because of his inability to understand facial expressions and body language. The “äppärät” made them utterly dependent on it to the extent that they became socially handicapped without it.
Another important necessity the suicidal writer lost with the absence of the “äppärät” is the rankings that the “äppärät” provided “to know his place in the world” (270). Before the rupture, the Apparat ranked individuals according to their traits. This ranking indicated to individuals who they are at all times and the importance they have in the world. The absence of this “ranking” evoked a feeling of loss and disorientation. These rankings helped people understand their function within the world, and without it they couldn’t comprehend how to live and belong to their world. Individuals in Shteyngart’s world depended on the “äppärät” to know their identity, status and personality traits. For these people losing the “äppärät” meant losing their ability to understand themselves and relate to others around them.
Shteyngart uses the “äppärät” to warn individuals in the 21st century about the dangers new technologies pose on our lives. However, his depiction of this threat is very extreme. He presents the “äppärät” as a technological gadget that violates all aspects of privacy by stripping individuals of their humanity and exposing it to the public. Additionally, Shteyngart’s characters are so conditioned to being plugged in and connected permanently to the public that the ideas of privacy and attempts at social interactions are foreign concepts to them.
Mitchell, Marilyn Price. “Disadvantages of Social Networking: Surprising Insights from Teens.” Roots of Action.
Achieving Immortality in Super Sad True Love Story, by Katerina Gang © 2015
Super Sad True Love Story embodies at its core the “true subject of science fiction”, as it focuses on the main characters’ fixation on “not wanting to die” in their search for immortality amidst a dying American economy (217). Though the novel emphasizes the characters’ fear of dying and the perceived cosmic meaninglessness of a short life, it ultimately concludes by condemning the technological search for immortality in favour of the conventional form described with ironic intent in Lenny’s first diary entry: “the children are our future” (3).
While protagonists Lenny and Eunice go off in search of youth and immortality, circumstances ultimately see them immortalizing their parents by becoming them. The Russian Abramovs and the Korean Parks left poor, war-torn countries for a chance at prosperity in America, but eventually end up fighting for survival alongside their children “in a world whose cruelties gradually begin got mirror those of [their] childhood[s]” (328). Despite going back and forth between love and hatred for family, both characters begin to realize that “family matters most” (281), and begin making financial and emotional sacrifices to care for them. In the end, they become exactly what is expected of Russian and Korean children. Furthermore, it is only by “keep[ing] quiet” and not “act[ing] out Politically” (300), as their ancestors did, that Lenny and Eunice are able to survive the Rupture. By following paths that mirror their parents’, Lenny and Eunice end up successfully propagating the notion of legacy which they found so laughable at the start of the novel.
In the novel, characters who wish to step outside the natural cycle of life and death see a fall from grace. Joshie, Lenny’s boss, ends up poisoning himself with the nanotechnology he was using to prolong his life. This resulted in his slow and painful decline as “the tremors started and the organs failed,” along with the loss of his prestige and career (329). Furthermore, Lenny’s non-procreative and popular Media friends, Noah and Amy, also meet an untimely death aboard the John F. Kennedy ferry. However, not all modish characters in the novel are condemned, provided they follow traditional paths. Like Noah and Amy, Lenny’s friend Vishnu is involved in Media culture; he partakes in Noah’s Media streams, “crowd[ing] around a table, (…) speaking into [his] shirt collar” and engaging in trendy conversation (83). But Vishnu and his fiancée Grace are distinct in their conventional reproductive interests. They are “hardwired for marriage” (93) and are “the only people (…) giving birth” at this point in time (236). By partaking in the traditional form of genetic immortality through reproduction, they are spared in the novel.
Despite not having children, Lenny (and by extension, Eunice) achieves an attainable form of immortality through the publication of his diaries. Ironically, it is only by making the “major decision” that he is eventually “going to die”, and ending his diary, that he allows his immortality to begin (304). Despite the events of the diary occurring “so many decades ago”, through its publication, it will endure (327); two movies based on his diaries were already being made. Despite Lenny’s claims that the characters in the diary are “dead”, they will never be; they will live on as they begin to “find a new generation of readers” (327). Like the “genius Tchaikovsky” who had brought Lenny’s father “so much joy” (288-289), or “the battered volume of Chekhov’s stories” that Lenny had found “most helpful” in seducing Eunice (35-36), Lenny’s literature, and thus his experiences, are likely to long outlive his body and consciousness.
The novel ironically points out that those seeking unfamiliar forms of immortality are the ones least likely to achieve it. Genetic immortality, the fulfillment of family cycles, the repeating of history and the enduring nature of art seem to be the only ways in which an individual avoids complete nullification. The characters who were awarded with “immortality” were only those who unwittingly became “the future” that their parents always envisioned they would be, and that they tried so hard to evade (3).
The novel’s reproductive endorsement comes with inevitable consequence. The novel equates genetic reproduction with survival, security and progress; such ideological commitments come at a price. Theorist Lee Edelman maintains that “reproductive futurism”, placing heavy focus on reproduction and “The Child”, results in all social efforts being directed towards the future. Such thinking allows us to ignore the problems of the present and put little effort towards presently needed solutions, in favour of making “that Child (…) the fantasmatic beneficiary of every political intervention” (Edelman 3). This emphasis on “the children” can lead to the trivialization of the current generation, something clearly felt by both immigrant families in Shtenyngart’s novel, who sacrificed their quality of life for the future benefit of their children.
Nonetheless, the egoism of Joshie and Media individuals, and the need for technological advancement and life extension, depicted in the novel is far from desirable. As American society implodes on itself, Shteyngart effectively demonstrates the dangers of technology, immortality and the selfish need, on both an individual and societal level, to “spread and stretch and colonize and build until there’s nowhere left to stand except on someone else’s shoulders” (Crace 40).
Crace, Jim. Being Dead. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.
Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.
A Feminist Intervention: On Stereotypes and the Objectification of the Female Body in Super Sad True Love Story, by Sophie Thiebault © 2015
YOUNGSOPH TO ENGLISH-246
By drawing on existing stereotypes and the objectification of the female body, Super Sad True Love Story illustrates some implicit and explicit manifestations of sexism and racism. For example, there is a reference to the beloved “mammy,” a problematic black female archetype. “Mammy” is a perpetual caretaker who unquestioningly looks after white children. She is typically robbed of having her own needs and feelings because she exists for the sole purpose of caring for others. In this instance “mammy” manifests as “bossy older black women…who called [Sandi] ‘honey’ and ‘sugar’ and sometimes ‘baby’…[making] him feel calm and at ease, as if he had momentarily won the love and mothering of a complete stranger” (55). This implicit reference to “mammy” exposes the idea of the consumable “Other.” In other words, this socially constructed stereotype serves the Subject’s needs; in this case, a man’s desire to feel taken care of regardless of who is doing the caring.
Implicitly speaking, the paradoxical metaphor of the “Onionskin jeans” points to double bind that women find themselves in. The irony in calling see-through pants “onionskin” is at least twofold. The term “onionskin” speaks to the translucent nature of the pants in question while divorcing the “skin” of the onion from its larger substance or layers. The onion is a symbol often used to denote “layers.” The implication of which means that there is something to peel, that there is more than the eye-can-see but the material used to construct these jeans are “sheer,” see-through or skin-deep leaving less than nothing to the imagination. This metaphor points to the objectification and sexualization of the female body or rather it makes visible the ways in which women as subjects are reduced to their body parts regardless of what or how little they wear through the male gaze.
To some degree, the use of “Onionskin jeans” also illustrates the ongoing phenomenon of women as property. At one point in the novel, the protagonist Lenny Abramov states, “Others would see her little landing strip and think highly of me” (209). The sexual objectification of Eunice Park is used to enhance Lenny Abramov’s status. Women are not only constructed as “Other” but their purpose is to bolster men’s socio-economic status. Between the use of “mammy” and “Onionskin jeans,” Super Sad True Love Story shows the systemic and pervasive perception and treatment of women as perpetual bodies carefully and conveniently crafted to suit men’s viewing pleasure or emotional needs.
The Old Versus The New in Super Sad True Love Story, by Kateryna Klymchuk © 2015
Gary Shteyngat’s novel constantly battles between Lenny’s influence by his conservative parents and old school mentality versus the constant hunger for youth of the society he lives in. He has a love for unfashionable items and he insists in reading actual books that are compared to prehistoric fossils in the novel. In consequence, he has quite a collection of them, stored in his apartment. Respectively, loving books in a world where you can simply “stream” them and listen to them being read to you, is perceived as square and outdated. He also understands the importance of family and incorporates those values in his life demonstrating his Russian-Jewish upbringing. He evidently struggles to fit into the reality he finds himself in, which is a tormented and bankrupted America. The United States is constantly borrowing money from the Chinese. In fact, Shteyngart imagines a currency called the “yuan-pegged” dollars. In other words, the United-States of America is not portrayed as a powerful and leading country in the world. Furthermore, Leonard is considered to be an older man when compared to others, who crave youth amongst anything. However, he is only in his forties and spends every day struggling to adapt into a society striving to preserve youth. He enjoys the little things in life; the little joys of the world we live in, but these little pleasures seem lost in Shteyngart’s projection of our society. By remaining truthful to his beliefs in tradition and culture, Lenny tries to maintain his dated values. He sees them as an essence of his being; it was simply the way he was brought up. In other words, his parents’ roots had an impact on his development as a child growing to become a man. It also impacted his views on politics and education, society in general. Unfortunately, his peers perceive him as a nerd and a geek because he is has an old-school mentality. His boss shames him on his lack of knowledge of their new “äppärät”, a smarter version of our modern smartphone. This device allows constant access to social media and continual reports from various news stations. Inevitably, his colleagues tease him tremendously by things such as, “Remember, he’s an OG” (68). In other words, this meant an old guy. Perhaps Lenny Abramov had liberal beliefs, his character was definitely a representation of the dying out cultural values and traditions of today’s society.
On the other hand, Shteyngart presents the reader with Eunice Park. Being from Korean decent, she is equally brought up in a more cultural and traditional way, which is a great example of immigrants in the western world and reconditioned values. Nonetheless, Eunice seems to be very much drawn into this technology obsessed and sex crazed culture, in hope for a better quality of life. In fact, her mother’s immutable reminders annoy her. “You older sister, you have responsibility” (112), would say her mother. In the Korean culture, the eldest child becomes responsible for the family. It is in his or hers obligation to ensure comfort and protection once the father has to retire. Throughout the story, Eunice attempts to run away from her Korean roots. This is often demonstrated in her conversations, which are presented to the reader in the exact outlay and format as the actual website, “Globalteens”. A social media website that could be vaguely compared to what we know as Facebook. This detail allows the reader to have a more personal sense of interaction with the novel. Despite her attempts to deviate from her culture, she finally accepts her obligations and underlines this by eventually choosing Joshie over Lenny. Additionally, Eunice regularly teases Lenny by calling him “nerd” (149) in regards to his attachment to old things and lack of knowledge on modern technology. She perpetually judges him and finds it difficult to understand his nostalgia. Whatever Lenny perceives as normal and ordinary, Eunice finds ridiculous and incomprehensible. She lives in a bubble created by her father’s former large estate. Nonetheless, an abusive and controlling father responsible for Eunice’s mental problems. In spite of it decreasing at a concerning paste, she seems more preoccupied by shopping for designer clothing instead of focusing on her LSAT. Her thoughts are superficial, filled with anxiety and anguish when it comes to responsibility. If Lenny represents the “old”, Eunice represents the “new”. Particularly, portraying her as the product of our society’s influences.
Finally, Shteyngart projects a world that isn’t very different from our own. Of course, it is mildly exaggerated yet not very far from our reality. Already, cellphones surround our society and invade our privacy. In fact, cell phones have become our privacy. Applications for multiple social media websites installed onto them and checked on a constant basis. Conjointly, the mention of hyper sexualized fashion with things such as “onionskin jeans” pants that fully reveal private parts. This is already a reality with fashion statements like Rihanna’s “naked dress” for the CFDA awards in 2014. Expressly, he highlights society’s preoccupation with sex and accentuates our mania on knowing everybody’s personal life. Super Sad True Love Story ridicules today’s society and critiques how shallow human nature has become. Hinting on how much technology has taken over and is slowly transforming us into machines.
Civil Disengagement and the Rise of Spectacle in Super Sad True Love Story, by Matthew Polinski © 2015
In Super Sad True Love Story technologies and social media venues have drastically advanced during the two decades between Lenny and Eunice, changing the way people communicate, what they communicate, and how they engage with society and their government. People spend most of their time occupying/entertaining and distracting themselves with their apparats in complete self-absorption while an economic, social, and authoritarian crisis is underway. Some people, such as Noah and Amy, only integrate those events into their lives for some type of personal advantage such as a larger following while live streaming or gaining more viewers so they can make more from their advertising spot rather than covering events to raise awareness or promote social justice.
Midway into the novel Eunice meets Lenny’s closest friends at a bar in Staten Island. At this time a riot breaks out in Central Park. The Central Park Massacre presents a severe situation where most people would express empathy and concern but instead Noah and Amy first demonstrate fascination and then selfishness knowing that they are unlike those LNWIs (Low Net Worth Individuals) victimized and use the event for their own gain.
The first images of the riot are posted online and shortly thereafter video is streamed live from the site. Reading this we get the sensation that a show is beginning. A show is beginning, both their streams in which they include the unfolding events. Amy Greenberg begins streaming her live show shouting “Hey, girlfriend, gots muffintop?” (158). This moment of crisis displays how the characters use social media to interact with each other and how disengaged from issues in civil society they have become. In her show she talks about body image issues and her relationship with Noah interspersed with updates from the riot, “Eighteen people dead!”, then moves on to talk about how glad she is to have Noah because she “just cannot handle this anymore” (159). Amy praises her “so Media” boyfriend and goes on to melodramatically list the faults of her ex-boyfriend. Meanwhile Noah is streaming more significant content, he gives news updates and critical comments on the unfolding events, though rather than earnest political discussion he speaks of Rubenstein “He’s dropping bombs on our moms like Chrissy Columbus dropped germs on the redman, cabrons” (158). Noah sensationalizes his feed using humour and making light of the riot which belittles the reality. Lenny considers the situation in a more serious way posing questions about what is really transpiring and asking himself how his friends are practically and emotionally engaged in the events. Lenny has been trying desperately to keep up with new technologies and behaviours however timid, uninterested, and uneasy he may be with the new preoccupations of everyday life (62). His difficulty to adapt is the perfect perspective for readers to begin to view the society depicted in the novel. Lenny recalls “Once, I reminded Noah about how The New York Lifestyle Times used to have actual correspondents who go out and report and verify, but he just gave me one of those ‘Old man, don’t even,’ looks and went back to hollering in Spanish slang into his camera nozzle” (159). Lenny wondered whether the excitement in Noah’s voice was from genuine shock and concern or simply because he found it sensational to be witness and streaming. Noah gets a major thrill from the spectacle but has no direct involvement in the riot or meaningful engagement with his viewers(159). Although the riot is an essential part of their streams they only use it to boost their shows without caring about what is actually happening in society. Their physical absence from the Central Park riot and the socioeconomic gap between them and the victims affects their level of subjugation, personal interest, and civil engagement. They are not completely indifferent, they felt horror by the violence but they continue to watch from a detached view point (159).
Lenny’s friends make this event into a spectacle by incorporating it into their live streams in order to capture the attention of viewers and sensationalize their feed to grow their minor celebrity status. This belittles the actual events and people involved, and does nothing to counter the authoritarian oppression. As their society spirals into a crisis they do not meaningfully engage their audience. The riot is not a news story of civil importance instead it is simply a spectacle.
Technology and Digital Privacy, by Stella Kossivas © 2015
In Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart presents a near-future dystopian world in which the information that we would normally regard as private is in fact available for public consumption. This information is accessible through the use of an “äppärät” device where one is able to gauge a vast amount of information on a person. Shteyngart’s dystopian future also has “Credit Poles” that “[register] your Credit ranking as you [walk] by” (54), and then publically display the number for those in your immediate surroundings to see. This immediate access to personal information is crucial in Shteyngart’s world. Where we might use body language and conversation to interpret someone in our world, the abundance of social information available on the äppärät is essential to interacting with another person and understanding who they are in Shteyngart’s dystopia. Additionally, the implications of such a transparent device in relation to a person’s privacy results in certain social norms and interesting consequences when these devices shut down for a period of time.
In Shteyngart’s novel Lenny comes into contact with a man who “registered nothing…he didn’t have an äppärät, or wasn’t set on ‘social’ mode” and Lenny further explains that, “from the moment [he] saw him [he] was scared” (34-35). There are many possible explanations for Lenny’s fear, one of which is that the man was wholly different, and “did not conform to the standards of [their] time: was weak, helpless, despicable” (40). Lenny doesn’t quite fit into modern society the way Eunice does, as seen early on in his struggle with abbreviated language (22), and as such identifies as being different and aged in a society that obsessively centers on youth. Lenny’s difference allows him to identify similarly to the stranger on the plane, where he even goes so far as to project his interests of literature onto him (35). In seeing the way their society treats those who are different, Lenny fears for his own safety. This becomes apparent in that for a majority of the novel Lenny is continuously concerned about his self-preservation, as seen in his long-term goal of immortality and his purpose for working at Post Human Services.
Another reason for Lenny’s unease of the stranger without an äppärät is that almost every aspect of a person’s life is available to the public, and in not making this information publically available the stranger ceases to be part of their society. The stranger is a blank slate in a society where interactions are built upon this notion of transparent information, and this lack of transparency is fearful. Eunice complains when one of the men she’s seeing “[turns] down the community access on his äppärät so that [she] wouldn’t know where the fuck his mind was” (44). This implies a certain dependency on the äppäräti in order to understand others and their intentions. In turning down the community access on his äppärät, Ben limits Eunice’s understanding of his behavior. Their society relies so heavily on the äppäräti that when the devices shut down for a period of time “four young people committed suicide in [Lenny’s] building complexes, and two of them wrote suicide notes about how they couldn’t see a future without their äppäräti” (270). This shows how äppäräti are an integral part of their society to the degree where people can’t live without them. It is so integrated within every aspect of a person’s life that the device becomes necessary rather than complementary. This dependency on the äppäräti is perhaps a commentary that Shteyngart attempts to make on certain technological dependencies in our world.
The Corrupted World, by Elizabeth Rivett © 2015
The quote from Herbert Spencer, “The survival of the fittest” (Hornstein, 2005) describes the theme of the novel Super Sad True Love Story superbly. The dystopian futuristic world has no place for the weak and poor. Joshie, a well-respected man and leader of the elite group called the Wapachung stated, “Relocate them. This town’s not for everyone. We have to be competitive. That means doing more for less” (Shteyngart 257). His statement was targeting the people with lower credits. In order to get the best from life is to strive for the best, and those who cannot live up to the expectations won’t survive. Joshie is like a human god; he inspires people and they follow him. To recall the statement from Joshie, he’s basically saying the best society is solely made from his expectations. He’ll save people who are the healthiest, richest, and smartest. Joshie’s expectations are set too high and are unrealistic. The traits: health, money, and intelligence all have one flaw and it is unpredictability. No one knows when the expiry date would come. The body could be effected by viruses, cancer, and permanent physical damage. Money can be stolen by hackers, thieves, and scams. Memory and knowledge could be damaged with a blow to the head or Alzheimer’s disease. When that power disintegrates into the ground, what will the person be left with?
The game of chess metaphorically represents the novel’s theme. The chess pieces represent the hierarchy of the characters. The people with a lower credit are the pawns, the king is Joshie, and the people with a higher credit are the other pieces. The point of the game is to kill the opponent’s king, because the king holds the highest value. When he falls so does the empire. The pawns on the other hand are the weakest and simplest pieces. In order to win the game, sacrifices have to be made. Players are more willing to sacrifice their pawns. Then when all the pawns are finished the higher-ranked pieces are at risk. The chess pieces are manipulated and moved to the king’s advantage. When he’s in danger, the other pieces are needed to protect him. So, when the ‘best-of-the best’ strive for the greater good for themselves. The lower classes get treated like dirt. The characters were shunned, executed, or shipped away because they are considered unimportant. “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” (Hayes, 2002).
Super Sad True Love Story demonstrates the danger of consumerism and power. However, there is a small passage that demonstrates humbleness and passion; Boris Abramov’s short essay on playing basketball. “… But win or lose, what’s important is the spirit of this beautiful game” (Shteyngart 138). A small passage in the story but a powerful one. Basketball to Ambramov was just a game. To him winning wasn’t important. He just wanted to play because he enjoyed it. Basketball is a simple game requiring very little: a court, two nets, and a few friends. Perhaps the best thing to get out of life is not to expect too much from the world, and to become humble.
Hayes, B. (2002). Follow the money. Computing Science, 90 (5). doi: 10.1511/2002.5.400
Hornstein, Donald T. “Complexity theory, adaptation, and administrative law.” Duke Law Journal (2005): 913-960.
Untitled, by Shania Gharagozlou © 2015
I’ve always believed that there was strong correlation between a Dystopia and Murphy’s Law. According to the Oxford Dictionary, “a Dystopia is an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad […]”. Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong: Murphy’s Law. Although this Law states that it is “a supposed law of nature”, a Dystopia is anything but natural. This usually totalitarian state has become natural to its inhabitants by force. They are imposed emotions and feel as though their society is a natural part of life. It is a very bleak existence. Over the centuries, authors have written novels in which they depict the hardships of their societies as statements, as warnings.
Gary Shteyngart’s novel is a Dystopia, although it is not as alarming as his literary predecessors’ own Dystopias. Lenny Abramov, the protagonist of Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, is an old soul, he enjoys reading books or “printed, bound media artifacts” (310) as the new generation calls them, he writes in a physical journal not a virtual one and most importantly, he still believes in people. Eunice however is a wired young woman, she grew-up in a society that thrives on frivolity and consumerism. She is her older lover’s opposite, she is pessimistic and dubious. The reason people are compelled to read Super Sad True Love Story is because it is so close to reality we can almost understand Lenny’s predicament. Georges Orwell’s 1984 is and always be, in my opinion, the most frightening Dystopia in modern literature. Orwell’s use of Big Brother, the tele-screens, Oceania the Superstate, the Party in power and the Newspeak were all very surreal and chilling. This extremely advanced novel became a cautionary tale for future generations. What was Orwell warning his readers against? The rise of technology and capitalism in the world. In the end, he warned us but no one could prevent it. What is Shteyngart warning us about? The rise of technology and its impact on our capitalist society.
Eunice’s youth is completely different from Lenny’s. Eunice grew up in a society obsessed with imagery and appearances. Shopping has become more of a necessity than a luxury. So much so in fact that Lenny works as a Life Lovers Outreach Coordinator (5) where they sell the ability to extend one’s life. Shteyngart also emphasizes the fact that technology is very present in their lives. This technology-obsessed youth the novel depicts is truly terrifying. They have a great fascination for their Smartphone/iPhone/Blackberry/PDAs, or äppärät. This device invented by Shteyngart captures their lives and contains every aspect of their personalities. We notice the strong use of the device throughout the novel starting at page 8. Their over-use of the äppärät is a parallel to our Facebook/Tumblr/Twitter obsessions.
I believe Lenny plays an important role for the reader, he is an anchor, he keeps the reader grounded and doesn’t let him/her forget that there is always a solution. Nothing is ever as dark as it seems. Shteyngart warns his readers that society is never set, it mutates, it morphs, changes and forgets the past. I felt nostalgic while reading Lenny’s diary entries, he remembers New York as it was, not as it is. “Remember this … develop a sense of nostalgia for something, or you’ll never figure out what’s important” (23). Lenny says. Thanks to Eunice however, he is able to enjoy his city once again without worry of the economical and governmental issues that threaten the world they live in. China’s warnings are threatening them, the War in Venezuela is threatening them, the Nonnuclear Electromagnetic Pulse is threatening them. Everything is crumbling around them, military, government, economy. The country is in debt, its resources are running low and the government is corrupt. How could one possibly live in such a state? Murphy’s Law is enforced once more. Somehow they manage to find love in a world where nothing seems bright anymore.
Shteyngart’s futuristic America depends solely on technology, it is a way for the new generation to forget their problems and ignore the imminent threats against their country. In 1984, Orwell used technology to scare the citizens of Airstrip One; in Super Sad True Love Story, Shteyngart uses it to comfort New Yorkers. One question popped into my mind mid-novel: would you rather have a brand new pair of Louboutins, or someone’s whole browser history revealed? It’s a tough decision, superficial yet existential. Although it may seem like an unnecessary inquiry, the world Shteyngart depicts fits within the frivolous and the virtual. Nothing else seems to matter. Gary Shteyngart is warning us to lift up your eyes from our devices once in a while because the resolution on the world around us is far better than the one on our screen.
“äppärät”. Urban Dictionary. 2015. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=äppärät.
“dystopia”. Oxford Dictionaries. 2015. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/dystopia
“Murphy’s Law”. Oxford Dictionaries. 2015. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/Murphy%27s-Law?q=murphy%27s+law
Untitled, by Nada Zakkout © 2015
Having read Super Sad True Love Story for the first time, the main theme that surfaces from this satirical work is the materialistic and consumerist dystopian America. From the very beginning of the story, Gary Shteyngart presents the readers with a “post-literate” America obsessed with social media and technology among other things like money and health. Shteyngart uses advanced technology in this epistolary novel in order to portray what his dystopian world looks like. Although this world offers a new level of technological advancement which we still don’t have in our day, it seems to have a chilling similarity to our own. This world resembles our own in the same way that the population is addicted to their electronic devices. Moreover, both our society and the book’s are losing touch with the real world as opposed to the world they’ve built on their social network.
Let us begin by briefly describing how this novel is set in a “post-literate age”. For starters, not a single person reads books let alone the newspaper. Instead, people overuse their äppärät rather than the “old fashioned” pen and paper. Meanwhile, every person has an account on the social network Global Teens, even though most characters are past their teens. They also use their äppärät to “FAC” (“form a community”) (88) as opposed to doing so without an electronic device. Lenny Abramov, the main character, writes in one of his blog entries that his äppärät “isn’t connecting” (270) and that it has been almost a month since his last diary entry. Since he refuses to use a book or a sheet of paper to write, he continues by stating that “he cannot connect in any meaningful way to anyone” (270) now that his äppärät won’t function- which goes to prove to what extent people are now detached from the “real world”.
To relate this dystopian world back to our own society, people nowadays have already started behaving that way by using social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on their phones or tablets. To press on the fact that they are a “post-literate” society, they constantly use slang terms and abbreviations while writing. Although the use of most abbreviations like “JBF” (113) and “CIM” (143) are replacements for hyper-sexualized words which most people today have yet to use in everyday speech, the author is plainly demonstrating how people communicate nowadays as well. He is essentially being satirical towards today’s society and its resemblance to his dystopian world.
Slowly but surely, we are losing touch with our literary knowledge and becoming increasingly attached to our technological devices. Although this society is rapidly heading towards destruction at a faster rate than our own, this book could be anticipating our inevitable future. It seems ironic that everyone is obsessed with technology yet, they are trying to extend their life span and potentially reach immortality much like Lenny, who thinks that he “will never die”(1). Considering the fact that no one actually gets off of their äppärät and makes a significant change in their lives, it makes one question why they would want to live forever.
Untitled, by Alex Andes-Gascon © 2015
Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story tells of the love story between a middle-aged man, by the name of Lenny Abramov and his young love Eunice Park, a twenty-something experiencing a quarter life crisis of sorts. Set in a dystopic future that is perhaps not too far on our horizon, the novel questions our own values and obsession with consumerism, technology, youth and the effects these values have on the general population. Shteyngart illustrates how a society ruled by these values becomes ignorant and superficial. Most, if not all, the characters are obsessed with their outward appearance. I cannot help but draw parallels from the book to modern western society, which speaks to Shteyngart’s effectiveness at making his audience look at the world critically. The äppärät’ that everyone has in the novel are eerily similar to our smartphones, smartwatches, and growing list of ‘smart products’. Lenny’s boss Joshie is an archetype for the appearance-obsessed persona that is present in the novels dystopic society. This is illustrated through his multiple skin revitalization treatments to make him look deceptively young.
Wearable technology and advanced phones has become the new fad amongst consumers and shows no signs of slowing. While this technology does have its many benefits, the novel portrays äppärät’ as a commodity that makes its users passive and shallow. Eunice Park can be used as an example of the passiveness that is born out of this technology. Her diary quotes her as writing “but this Tolsoy guy was a thousand pages long BOOK, not a stream, and Lenny was on page 930, almost finished” (144). Reading a dense book like that can be seen as impressive even in our own society, but it is her remark that it was “not a stream” that portrays her as being passive. It seems that literary culture would have to be spoon-fed to her in order to make an impression on her mind. The characteristic shallowness that is prevelant in Shteyngarts novel is clearly demonstrated when Lenny and his friends are ‘Forming a Community’ (FAC). Using their äppärät, people in this dystopic world are able to rate others nearby. These ratings are based on the extremely shallow values of ‘fuckability, personality, and anal/oral/vaginal preference” (89). It almost sounds unbelievable but there are similar applications present in our own world. Tinder and HotorNot are popular apps among youth that allow users to swipe left or right based on photos and a short description of oneself, which most people fail to ever read. Essentially, this is an app that enables an individual to hook-up with those that find you attractive. It can be argued that this type of behavior was present in past generations but Shteyngarts novel insinuates that this behavior is completely normal and the preferred method of interaction.
To express the obsession with being youthful, Shteyngart uses Lenny’s bosh Joshie. Joshie is a perfect representation of a money mogul who shies away from aging and cant come to terms with the idea of human impermanence. He can be seen as the poster child for someone who refuses to age. Joshie is described as “younger than before. The initial dechronification treatments – the beta treatments, as we called them – already coursing through him. His face unlined and harmoniously still” (63). In Lenny’s diary, he writes “Joshie Goldmann never revealed his age, but I surmised that he was in his late sixties” (Shteyngart, 63). Through these short snippets the audience is able to see Joshie for what he is, an old man not content with living as he really is. Lenny can only imagine that his boss is in his late sixties though Joshies face says otherwise. To further reinforce the eternal chase for youthfulness I quote the name of the company Lenny works for and of which Joshie is the boss, which is called “Post-Human Services” (59). The name is an oxymoron. It implies that they are trying to capitalize on human life, and prolong it indeterminably. However, characters like Joshie cannot wrap their heads around the fact that there is no ‘post-human’. The very nature of a human is to eventually die.