Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Blog #3 Prompt #1

Forms of Societal Control

Caia Caldwell

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.


Adam said...

As a focused, straightforward reading of the novel using Marcuse's comments, I have absolutely nothing bad to say, and many good things to say. While I think there are individual moments which are problematic (just because Buster friendly's guests aren't fully human doesn't mean they are androids - think in terms, e.g., of computer animation here...), this is a compact explication of how social control is instituted through technology in the novel, along the lines (but further along!) that Marcuse describes.

If you revise, there is a lot more to do, of course, simply following these themes through the rest of the novel - in particular, you would need to do more with both Buster Friendly and with Mercer. I'm also curious whether you think there is ever any form of "true" consciousness in the novel - in other words, does "negative thinking" emerge at any point? And, if it does, is it (or can it ever be) effective?

But more to the point - you are already touching on the ways in which PKD's novel functions as a Marcuse-esque critique on our own society as it was in the 1960s. It would be interesting to see you *respond* on this level. Does this critique apply to us? Does it need to be altered? Is it false? In other words, does the novel function, in your eyes, as a critique of our world, in Marcuse's vein, or not?

That's just my way of putting it, and there are other ways of phrasing those types of questions. What I'm getting at here is that this is a good, focused reading of both authors - what I'd like is more of your vision, or your voice.

RJ said...

1) Question
Do you think Marcuse's criticism applies only to MEDIA as a method of thought control (TV, radio, etc) or is it larger? What else can we see in his terms?

2) Most effective
This essay brings the issues presented in Marcuse into direct contact with the novel very clearly. The argument that Marcuse and Dick were getting at very similar things almost down to a one-to-one connection between certain of their ideas is presented very well.

3) Least effective
More specificity is needed about the content of Buster's show and what the effects of its particular stupidity are - not just that the content is vapid but what kind of ideology it is instilling in people esp. in relation to Mercer. I think more elaboration on false consciousness would be good as well since it only comes up at the very end and isn't really explained.

Brian Moeller said...

How does Mercer and the empathy box also play a role in societal control while remaining outside of the realm of entertainment? Also, what are the ramifications for someone who resists being controlled through these methods?

I think this essay is well presented and draws from a good theme in each work. The strength of your essay is in your comparison to Dick's futuristic entertainment mind control to our own TV obsession. I think a greater comparison could potentially even be drawn between the government TV station in the novel and the conglomerate media we have today and their ability to spin or censor stories as they see fit.

Brandon said...

Question: Where does the desire for happiness come from? Media? Government? Longing for the antebellum world? How are happiness and media connected for these? Are people being given an artificial desire for happiness by the media, or is media simply filling a hole to provide people with the happiness they need to continue living?

The most effective quality in your writing is your use of examples. You use great examples and use them to develop some awesome ideas, but what would be even better is if you focused on a select few examples and analyzed them in depth. There's nothing wrong with being succinct, but don't let your writing get too narrow.

Something ineffective is that you introduce lots of ideas and ignore many of them. You mention that it's "odd to showcase androids", but don't elaborate on it, even though it could make an awesome body paragraph. The same applies for the question of whether or not artificial happiness is good or bad and Iran as moral aberration. Spend time developing these ideas and the essay could be incredible.