Through a gap of almost 200 years and around the barrier between literary and life, the link between the Victorians and prostitution can be found between the humans and androids in Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This is an ideological link. These two societies may seem drastically different on the surface—lace doilies and curios compared to penfield machines and hovercrafts—but they are really quite alike; both are technological societies, for example. It is important to note that ideologies are not EXPRESSIONS of beliefs—such as, I agree with this, but not that; this is opinion—but are instead a set of beliefs that acts as a way to ORGANISE one’s thinking about one’s social system or way of life. These beliefs are anchored by core values which, in turn, structure other ideas. If one does not have strong core values, one is not particularly ideological. Also, ideologies ‘carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions.’[i] However, Dick’s fictional world is fairly flat, especially compared to real life, but there are many writings, both primary and secondary, about the Victorians. By using the Victorians and their views on prostitution, with the Contagious Diseases Acts as a frame of reference, and comparing it to Dick’s humans and androids,—prostitution and androids being the Great Social Evil of their respective times— it is possible to postulate on the driving forces creating the ideology behind the life of Dick’s Americans of 2021.
THE THREE PILLARS OF VICTORIAN IDEOLOGY: Empire, Class, and Morals—All Intertwined
Before looking at the Dickisian Americans, it is necessary to first understand the basis of the Victorian ideology. The Victorian era was one of great change. To fully understand all that was going on, it is important to start in the middle of the 18th century with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. A direct result of the advent of industry was the creation of two new social/economic classes. The first, and more influential, was more of an expansion. Since the early modern period, there have been ‘middling sorts,’ but with the Industrial Revolution came the industrial middle class, and, as the country became more industrial, this group, too, became stronger and stronger. The second class that was created was the working class. It is these two classes that are important for this analysis.
The core of the British national identity is made up of two ideas, the first of which is Empire. Empire has been part of the cultural ideology since Britain started to colonise India and the Americas in the 17th century, the First Empire. This cultural ideology only strengthened with the Second Empire and the colonisation of Africa, the creation of the East India Company, and the loss of the American Colonies. The Empire was at its height in the early and mid 19th century, but by the second half of the century, it started to gradually lose power and control of its colonies. Despite that, the British Empire was still the hegemonic power of the world, and the years between 1815 and 1914[ii] are referred to as the Imperial Century.
Additionally, to understand British culture, it is imperative to remember that class plays a large role. However, around the time of the Industrial Revolution, the Aristocracy, which relied on agriculture for its money, started to decline. At this time in history, one needed a large amount of property to vote, and thus the government was run by those who had a vested interest in agriculture. Because of this, the Corn Laws were passed, causing the price of grain to rise, putting more money into landholders’ pockets. The practical effects of the various incarnations of the Corn Laws[iii] were that food—mainly bread, the staple of the diet—became quite expensive, especially if one lived in the city and was not able to supplement one’s diet with vegetables grown in a small cottage garden. Most of the day’s pay went to housing, and the rest went to food, neither of which was cheap in the cities. This created a poor working class, and it was from this group that the majority of prostitutes came.
The Victorians are stereotyped as being sexually repressed; however, this is not entirely true. One way of thinking about sexuality is that it is a social construction. Seeing Victorian culture through this ideology, Michel Foucault sees that Victorian society did not repress sexuality, but instead regulated it into modes or practices that were seen as respectable and non-respectable.[iv] The pure woman and the fallen woman; the Madonna and the Magdalene; the worthy and the unworthy.
‘Morals are for the middle class,’ someone once said. ‘The poor can’t afford them and the Aristocracy doesn’t care,’ and the British middle class loved its morals. The construction of a public morality was a large part of Victorian culture. This was done by shoving the women into the Cult of Domesticity. It was seen as proper for her to care for the men in her life: husband, son, and father—actions that Marcuse would see as being ‘prescribed attitudes and habits.’ One reason morality was so important to the Victorians is tied up with the idea of Empire. The Empire was what made Britain great, and the threat of its total decline was traumatic for its citizens. The Victorians decided on a bottom-up campaign to strengthen the Empire, believing that, with a strong foundation, the Empire would continue to expand and reflect the inherent greatness of the British people. For this, their strong foundation was the family. A moral, upstanding family will perpetuate the Empire, they thought, and it was the woman’s role to impart morals to her family.
In this time, prostitution was seen as prolific and as a threat to domesticity and, thus, the Victorian middle class and ultimately the entire Empire. However, it was not the only threat to the middle class, but because of its visibility, it was a scapegoat of sorts; all of the fears and anxieties of the British middle class were tied up together in the idea of prostitution, the thinking being that, with prostitution gone, the threat to middle class moralities would disappear. From this thinking comes the idea of the Great Social Evil.
THE CONTAGIOUS DIESEASES ACTS: What they were
This analysis will focus on the Contagious Diseases Acts (1864, 1866, 1869) and the motivations surrounding them and how this relates to Philip K Dick’s novel. The Contagious Disease Acts were designed to control the spread of venereal disease among enlisted men in ports and garrison towns. With each successive act, more parts of the country were under the jurisdiction of the acts and by 1869 there were eighteen districts in the country thusly affected. Under the acts, any woman could be identified as a ‘common prostitute’ by plain-clothed police officers, and once so identified, she had to submit to a biweekly internal exam[v]. If the woman was found to have gonorrhoea or syphilis, she would be admitted to a lock hospital—a special hospital for those with contagious diseases with locked wards to prevent the spread of disease. The acts had a broad, very vague, definition of what a ‘common prostitute’ was: basically, any woman who had sex outside of marriage was considered a prostitute according to the C.D. acts.
The women who were accused of being prostitutes were able to refuse the examination, but she would then have to prove to the magistrate that she was not prostitute, which, because of the vague definition used in the acts, meant that she had to prove that she was virtuous and did not go with men, paying or not. One reason that this was a next-to-impossible endeavour was because of the stigma associated with prostitutes, and the poor working class in general, as being unrespectable. The working class was described as ‘residuum’ and the ‘Great Unwashed.’[vi] Not only were the C.D. acts an outward portrayal of the Victorian’s opinion of a group of women referred to as, in a general sense, fallen women, but it ‘crystallised and shaped many...social views’ towards prostitutes and prostitution,[vii] says Judith Walkowitz
ACTON AND THE VOIGT-KAMPFF TEST
The policy put forth in the acts was influenced by findings from William Acton in his study titled, in short, Prostitution.[viii] William Acton claims that the purpose of Prostitution is to prove that most prostitutes manage to escape and to better themselves and those experiencing degeneration and death are exceptions. However, his work instead conveys ‘Beware the Prostitute.’ Initially, Acton admits to the Prostitute is a ‘bogie’ man—something meant to incite myth-based fears in outsiders—which he claims arose from Puritan thought’s driving of prostitution underground and an unwillingness to address the problem. [ix] Whatever the reason for Acton’s biases, he argues that disease is not the large cause of death which it is believed to be, and that despite myths surrounding prostitution, it is possible for a woman to escape the world of prostitution. However, this writing has overtones of religious disapproval and a general wariness towards prostitutes.
In the early part of the Victorian age, there was a craze for collecting statistical and empirical research, and Acton was a part of this movement. This type of work was social science and Acton was a social investigator. Acton, as a later social investigator, still saw prostitution as a ‘social evil,’ but one that could be contained by a system of police and medical supervision.’[x] Acton’s findings, in effect, influenced, and acted as a type of litmus test for the police officers enforcing the acts: This woman is out on the streets alone; she is gaudily dressed; she must be a prostitute.
In Victorian England, ‘recognition entailed a social identification of the prostitute,’[xi] and the Voigt-Kampff test is Deckard’s way of identifying androids in Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The test is used to test the empathy of an android and, although it is not as much a social identification as racial one, the lack of empathy in a creature enables Deckard to recognise an android when he applies the test. To Deckard, the lack of empathy is the only way to visually asses if that person is a human or an android.
The Voigt-Kampff test is sufficient to segregate the T-14 androids from the humans, but it is not as effective with the Nexus 6’s. Deckard, while talking about the Nexus 6, says, ‘we had better just accept the new unit as a fact of life...every police agency...clamoured that no test would detect [the T-14’s] presence’[xii] However, the Voigt-Kampff test did detect the T-14, just as the C.D. acts ‘detected’ prostitutes. Both the acts and the Voigt-Kampff test act as a way to segregate and fix the problem of their time’s great social evil.
DECKARD AND THE METROPOLITAN POLICE: The Implementations
Deckard and the police are an obvious connexion. Both are police, and yet, not. Also, both are responsible for dealing with the problem group, the people involved in the Great Social Evil. The plain clothed police officers were actual police; they were part of the metropolitan police, but were working outside of their usual geographic jurisdiction. This is because the C.D. acts came from the Admiralty—the acts were originally for port and garrison towns—and in due to the 1960 Metropolitan Police Act the metro police had jurisdiction of Portsmouth and Devonport, England’s two naval bases. Therefore, these new police officers did not belong to the local police organisation; they were outsiders. Deckard, as a bounty hunter, is also an outsider in his police department. They patrol the same areas, but have different jobs and are part of different institutions, if it can be said that the bounty hunters have an institution.
Additionally, there are similarities in the ways, the metropolitan police and Deckard, and bounty hunters in general, enforced their rules. While Deckard is talking to Rachael, she mentions police dragnets[xiii], out to catch androids. This is similar to what the metro police did. As plain-clothed officers, they would roam the streets prostitutes were likely to be, and if they saw someone suspicious, that person would be arrested. However, as mentioned before, the definition of what a prostitute is was very vague and often women who were not prostitutes were accused of this crime, just as the Voigt-Kampff test can identify humans with ‘underdeveloped empathetic abilities,’[xiv] as androids who are then killed, Eldon Rosen says.
Also, Eldon says that the police and bounty hunters’ are ‘morally bad,’[xv] which is a similar accusation hurled at the C.D. acts which were condemned for being morally unfair.[xvi] The condemnation was partly because of the invasiveness that characterised the physical exams. These exams can be compared to the bone marrow tests used to definitively determine the status of a being as human or android. If a woman was said to have a venereal disease of some sort, it was assumed that she was a prostitute. This is because of the belief that ‘excessive sexual intercourse’[xvii] caused syphilis, and therefore, if one had a venereal disease, one was therefore a prostitute. However, according to a one Mr. Moore—a medical officer in the Plymouth magistrate court— and many others in society, when queried as to whether venereal diseases can exist in couples who are faithful, yet have ‘excessive intercourse,’ the answer is ‘I should not think it probable.’[xviii] These medical diagnosis, just like the Voigt-Kampff test fears, are not particularly reliable.
EMPATHY AND MORALS
Empathy and morals play the same role in both Dick’s 2021 American society and that of the Victorians. These entities are a vital part of their religions, Mercerism and Evangelical Christianity. Mercerism, through the empathy box, creates a social consciousness and those without the ability to join in, those without empathy—androids — are the other. Deckard says that, according to Mercerism, there exists ‘an absolute evil [that] pluck[s] at the threadbare cloak’ of society and that ‘a Mercerite is free to locate’ that evil other and kill it.[xix] Evangelicals believed in the patriarchal society in which men and women occupy different spheres. The cultural mores associated with these spheres are expressed by the morals which are being embraced and practiced.
The Evangelicals held very moralist beliefs. One such belief was in the sanctity of marriage, and they saw the prostitute as a threat to this. Because of the high importance placed on the sanctity of marriage, ‘their demand for the purity of sexual relations was uncompromising.’[xx] Anyone who threatened this was considered to be evil. Additionally, because this is a patriarchal society,—and therefore, men are so obviously of a higher importance—the woman is blamed for being a ‘source of pollution and a constant temptation to the middle class sons.’[xxi]
William Tait, and evangelical writer, would fully support Deckard in his quest to banish androids from Earth. He, and writers like him, branded prostitutes as ‘public enemies, criminals, and outcasts’[xxii] and used Parent-Duchatelet’s phrase with which he described Parisian prostitutes as women who ‘“abandoned the prerogatives of civil liberty”’ to classify prostitutes, indicating that they were less than human. Similarly, Deckard believes that, since androids are evil according to Mercerism, they do not need to be considered in the same way that humans are: to Deckard, androids are not part of productive society; they are evil and thus he is following Mercer thought when he kills them.[xxiii] In Dick, androids are simply a threat to humans, Earthlings, a general threat. But for the Victorians, prostitution was a more specific threat, both to the family and to the individual. Empathy and morals, set in their respective religions form the societies’ Great Social Evil.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is only 220 pages of a fictional world, and because of this, we, as readers, do not know much about the society and culture therein. The one fact that links the together the Victorian and Dickisian societies is that they are both industrialised nations, and this industrialisation created both the android and the prostitute. Both societies’ Great Social evil is an affect of the Industrialisation. Because of the similarities between Dick’s 2021 America and the Victorians, we can use the later as a pattern card for understanding Dick’s society. As mentioned before, the three pillars of Victorian ideology are Empire, class, and morals. These do not line up exactly with Dick’s Americans, but they are still valid.
Empire is not important to these humans, but colonialism is. This is because America is no longer the power; it, and the entirety of Earth is on its way to becoming completely obsolete and extinct; the real power centre is on Mars—presumably. However, in a desire to compel people to emigrate to Mars, the government provides android servants as incentives for picking up and leaving Earth. If it were not for the androids, there would not be this social evil plaguing the country. For this reason colonialism, which is tightly associated with the idea of Empire, forms an important aspect of Dickisian American Ideology.
As explained earlier, morals, in the guise of empathy, shape how these androids are viewed. It is through this lens, and Mercerism, that Deckard knows how to deal with androids...kill them—think Marcuse and prescribed actions. Just as morals dictated that prostitutes were a threat to the family, empathy, and the fact that androids do not have any, dictates that they are evil, not human and must be removed.
Class, while important to Victorian ideology, is not a major influence of the Dickisian ideology in regards to androids. All that is important is that humans are above androids in the cultural hierarchy. However, this does not invalidate the other two aspects as important foundations of the Dickisian ideology. Empathy and Colonisation have ‘prescribed attitudes and habits,’ and these are shown through Deckard’s actions and thoughts. By finding similarities between two cultures, it is possible to extrapolate aspects of the more well-known one to deduce facts about the second. However, issues arise when the biases and prejudices of one of these societies, or in this case, a third, society is falsely attributed. Because this is fiction, and there is no definite answers as to the nature of the ideology, this is just one possible explanation behind the beliefs expressed in Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Acton, William, ‘The Career of Prostitutes,’ Prostitution, Considered in Its Moral, Social, & Sanitary Aspects, In London and other Large Cities. With Proposals for the Mitigation and Prevention of its Attendant Evils. (1857).
Dick, Phillip K., Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (New York 2007).
Foucault, Michel, Hurley, Robert, Trans, The History of Sexuality: Vol 1, (New York 1978).
Walkowitz, Judith, Prostitution and Victorian Society, Women, Class, and State, (Cambridge 1980)
[i] Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society, (Boston 1964). Chapter 1
[ii] These years, between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the Great War were years of peace in Britain, however, not so much for the colonies. The closest problem was Ireland and its fight for Home Rule. Despite this, the peace on the island made it possible for the Industrial Revolution to fully take hold in the cities creating a metropolitan society, as opposed to an agricultural one.
[iii] First enacted in 1815. Incidentally, it was not the working or middle classes that enacted the repeal of these laws in 1847, despite that many of the middle classes men became enfranchised in 1932, but the Famine in Ireland. However, it was a case of too-little-too-late, because even with cheap grain being imported, the Irish had no money to buy the grain.
[iv] Michel Foucault, Hurley, Robert, Trans, The History of Sexuality: Vol 1, (New York 1978). p 10
[v] Earlier, before the acts, an attempt was made to require the men to undergo scheduled exams, but the officers feared it would ‘lead to the demoralization of their men.’ However, it was ok to do this to prostitutes because they, obviously, had no self respect. Judith Walkowitz Prostitution and Victorian Society, Women, Class, and State, (Cambridge 1980) p 4
[vi] Walkowitz (Victorian Society) p 3, 4
[viii] The entire title is Prostitution, considered in Its Moral, Social, & Sanitary Aspects, In London and other Large Cities. With proposals for the mitigation and prevention of its attendant evils.
[ix] William Acton, ‘The Career of Prostitutes,’ Prostitution, considered in Its Moral, Social, & Sanitary Aspects, In London and other Large Cities. With proposals for the mitigation and prevention of its attendant evils. (1857) Excerpt 1
[x] Walkowitz (Victorian Society) p 32
[xi] Walkowitz (Victorian Society) p 44
[xii] Phillip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (New York 2007). p 25
[xiii] Dick, (Do Androids?). p 46
[xiv] Dick, (Do Androids?). p 48
[xvi] Walkowitz (Victorian Societly) pp 40
[xvii] Walkowitz (Victorian Societly) p183
[xix] Dick, (Do Androids?). p 27
[xx] Walkowitz (Victorian Societly) pp 33
[xxi] Walkowitz (Victorian Societly) pp 34
[xxii] Walkowitz (Victorian Societly) pp 39
[xxiii] Dick, (Do Androids?). p 27