To compare Philip K. Dick’s post-nuclear-fallout America with Victorian England may seem like complete folly—yes, penfield machines and hovercrafts are about as different from lace doilies and curios as it is possible to be.[i] These, however, are just symbols, not integral parts of the societal ideology. Both societies are highly industrial / technological, divided along class lines, are highly moral, and have colonies. Because of the similarities between the two societies, by looking at Dickisian Americans through the lens of Victorian prostitution and the Contagious Diseases Acts, one can further understand these foreign Americans, and by understanding, extrapolate as to the motivation behind the desire to kill the androids.
A Brief Introduction to the Victorians and the Place Prostitution Has in the Society
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.[ii] 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.’ The British middle class loved its morals, and this morality ties directly into their view of prostitution. 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[iii]—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.[iv]
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 will disappear and the Empire will flourish. 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 eighteen districts in Britain were 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 who had 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 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 actually 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, compared to earlier social investigators, 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, androids and prostitutes. 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—although they spread to many parts of the country, 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. The metropolitan 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. Neither the tools for identification nor the people who wield them are totally foolproof.
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 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 and because of this, neither the metropolitan police nor Deckard are 100 percent accurate in their dealings with the social evil.
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. The Victorians’ views on prostitution stemmed predominately from their moral system. One outcome of the comparison done in this paper is that there is an underlying cause for the hatred of androids. This reason goes beyond Mercerism; androids threaten life as it is known on Earth. When a family immigrates to Mars Colony, they are given an android and it is this association which prompts Deckard and his fellow Dickisian Americans to kill all the androids. Deckard and the Victorians have the same motivation for getting rid of their social evil—to ensure that their world does not decline and fail.
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. (London 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).
Need, Lynn, ‘The Magdalen in Modern Times: The Mythology of the Fallen Woman in Pre-Raphaelite Painting’ in Oxford Art Journal , Vol. 7, No. 1, Correspondences (1984),
Walkowitz, Judith, Prostitution and Victorian Society, Women, Class, and State, (Cambridge 1980)
[i] Although curios are quite similar to kipple...both multiply seemingly overnight.
[ii] Michel Foucault, Hurley, Robert, Trans, The History of Sexuality: Vol 1, (New York 1978). p 10
[iii] Lynn Need, ‘The Magdalen in Modern Times: The Mythology of the Fallen Woman in Pre-Raphaelite Painting’ in Oxford Art Journal , Vol. 7, No. 1, Correspondences (1984), pp. 26-37
[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