Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Blog 4: Does Marcuse Have Nightmares of Electric Sheep?

            Philip K. Dick may very well have shared some of Marcuse's convictions about the dominating tendencies of societal norms in the 1960s. If he didn't, he certainly believed that the domination of a society after something like World War Terminus in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep would be an absolute reality. I'm not sure if Dick uses this repressive and numbing society to frame what he wanted his work to actually accomplish or if it is just another topic to consider in a complex novel. Either way, the reading of Marcuse's “False” needs can help us better understand just how dominating the society of DADES really is.

We may distinguish both true and false needs. "False" are those which are superimposed upon the individual by particular social interests in his repression: the needs which perpetuate toil, aggressiveness, misery, and injustice. Their satisfaction might be most gratifying to the individual, but this happiness is not a condition which has to be maintained and protected if it serves to arrest the development of the ability (his own and others) to recognize the disease of the whole and grasp the chances of curing the disease. The result then is euphoria in unhappiness (Marcuse, Chapter 1).

            Surely in DADES, there is a lingering “disease” that is being ignored. How else can we explain peopled living on a dying planet and chasing money to, at the very least, have the facade of owning an animal? Sure, animals are precious and rare things, but for the most part, the most prized animals are not of the life sustaining variety, they are for the social standing. Take Barbour's horse (9). The horse isn't being used in some life sustaining task, it is just for show, kept on the roof with everything else. The idea of owning an animal keeps people working at their mundane jobs while the world around them literally crumbles to radioactive waste. This is the equivalent to wanting to own that big house on the hill, except after a nuclear war.

            Let’s turn our attentions to the Penfield Mood Organ. First, let’s note that it is not just the mood organ, like it is just the empathy box; it is the Penfield Mood Organ, a developed and marketed product (3). This is actually taking what Marcuse was saying about “euphoria in unhappiness” and making it quite literal. The Penfield Mood Organ takes a suffocating wasteland, both physically and emotionally, and leaves the user feeling optimistic about the circumstances. Why act in a way that may better a terrible situation when a machine can take away the anxiety and fear? The fact that it is a name brand product means that corporations still have something to gain by keeping their customers content on a dying planet.

            Now on to the empathy box, which everyone seems to have regardless of their socioeconomic standing. Everyone from the “specials” to everyday people have the empathy box leading us to believe that they are either very cheap or handed out for free to every human. Either way we look at it, it is obvious that some group wants everyone to have one of these boxes. Although the box is used as a way to connect with other people and even bring people up out of suicidal moods, it is also another method of domination. Just like the Penfield Mood Organ, the empathy box serves as a distraction and a means of coping with the decaying world. Just like all of the other expressed “needs” it is a means to prevent searching, or perhaps even fighting, for a better existence.

            Finally, let’s take a look at the TV set. Again just about everyone has a TV. The characters of the novel listen to Buster Friendly constantly via either the TV or the radio (the notable exception is JR but that is only because his TV is broken and he still uses his TV in the same way). Buster does proclaim to give information and provide entertainment, but the TV is also used to prevent the characters from noticing just how quiet the world has become. Iran mentions the crushing silence without the TV and Rick notices it when he wakes up in the middle of the night (5). Even the Chickenhead JR is well aware of it (20). The TV, in this case, keeps the characters from consciously contemplating the world around them and just how desolate it is. It helps to keep them in line.

            In Philip K Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," the needs of people have changed quite a bit after World War Terminus. The world changed, but the ideas developed by Marcuse, around the same time as the publishing of DADES, in One Dimensional man about "False" or "Superimposed" needs still gives us an opportunity to see Dick's novel in a different light by analyzing the main "needs" of the characters in the novel. Using just this one idea of Marcuse, we can better understand just how dominating the control of the society is over the characters and just how badly that society doesn't want the characters looking for something better.


1 comment:

Adam said...

Your introduction seems a little long and convoluted - maybe the first two paragraphs could have been combined.

Just to play devil's advocate, could we argue that (at least for better, more perceptive people than Deckard) animals can actually play the role of art, as much as the role of possessions.

Good use of euphoria in unhappiness, although one must also point out that they are dealing with a literal wasteland - are they doomed to just seek a little comfort before dying?

Your discussion of TV and of the empathy box are individually fine, but you ignore the elephant in the room. It would seem (at least on a superficial analysis) that different forces (remember Isidore's discussions of this problem) are struggling for domination - broadly speaking, Mercer vs. Buster. You are correctly pointing out ways in which we can see domination of/through false needs through technology in DADES - but you need to attend to the elements of the book which provide challenges for your reading. So what do we do with the fact that, at least allegedly, there is not one pole (or dare I say, dimension?) in DADES, but two? A revision would need to put that problem at its heart, rather than ignoring it.