Forms of Societal Control
Marcuse wrote a brilliant passage three-quarters of the way through chapter one of One Dimensional Man. In this passage he discusses how “products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood. And as these beneficial products become available to more individuals in more social classes, the indoctrination they carry ceases to be publicity; it becomes a way of life.” This idea of people as consumers who unthinkingly indoctrinate themselves into a certain lifestyle is scary- products become a means of control that prevent “against qualitative change.” In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? there are numerous examples of products that socially control society and regulate the population.
Almost immediately the reader is introduced to a technological product that acts as a societal control. The inhabitants of Earth and Mars have the ability to “dial” their moods. The device, a Penfield, allows people to change, choose, and regulate their moods. When Iran, Rick’s wife, wakes up grumpy, he tells her to “dial” to a better mood. Instead, she tells him how she was finally able to find a setting for “despair.” This device is not only abnormal and creepy, but also a perfect way for the Government or Other Entity to control the populations.
For most humans, it seems simple. Why would you want to be unhappy if you could simply dial a three-digit code and you would feel any other positive emotion you wanted? Although it doesn’t specify, I think the reader is to assume Iran is an aberration, and most use their Penfield to avoid depression or unhappiness. But by never being unhappy, humans have never any reason to evaluate their current situation or life and decide to make a change. There is even 888- a setting that makes the individual desire to watch TV.
This leads directly to the TV/radio show prevalently mentioned throughout the first half of the book: “Buster Friendly and His Friendly Friends.” Clearly extremely popular, Isidore is perplexed when his new neighbor does not know it. Even in the real world, TV has been analyzed as using mindless entertainment as a tool for population control. The book states this it no uncertain terms. The population, drugging itself on artificial happiness, tunes into un-stimulating, stupid humor that provides asinine amusement. A curious element to this entertainment is that “Buster” and his guests are obviously not human. The author gives us a hint when Isidore notes “How did they keep talking… their remarks always witty, always new, weren’t rehearsed. Amanda’s hair glowed, her eyes glinted, her teeth shone; she never ran down, ever became tired…” (pg.72). In a world where Androids are hunted down and “retired” it seems odd to be showcasing them.
But again, this is another form of control. Control is achieved by using products like the Penfield, the TV, and the very Androids themselves to create a society where people are at least content. If people are controlled in causal ways that seem harmless, society is less likely to question the future, or demand change in their lives. As Marcuse states, “It is a good way of life--much better than before--… [however] Thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior” (Chapter 1). It is within this one-dimensional behavior that we see a general “false consciousness” exhibited by the characters in the novel.