Friday, October 4, 2013

Revision 1: Androids as a Metaphor

Androids: The Communist Spies
Philip K. Dick was born in 1928 and lived in a world dominated by two superpowers for the majority of his life. His book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, was first published in 1968, in the midst of the Cold War. This conflict was a century long standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States, which included rampart spying and paranoia. These countries are still in existence in the book’s world which has obviously been devastated by nuclear war (Dick 15,28); something that never happened in our world but was very much a possibility. The androids that populate Earth are a metaphor for the spying that occurred in the U.S. and the hysteria that came along with it.
McCarthyism is a term used to describe the efforts of Senator Joseph McCarthy to oust Communist spies living in the United States. He handed out accusations left and right and led investigations of many celebrities. Although he could not prove most of his accusations, it still fueled fear among Americans that spies have infiltrated the United States and could be controlling everything around them (Miller). The characters in the book feel this sentiment as well. Just as many celebrities were accused of being spies, such as actor Charlie Chaplin and Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes; prominent opera singer Luba Luft is accused of being an android (Dick 89), and is later retired (Dick 134). McCarthy’s allegations even spread into the Truman administration when McCarthy accused over fifty members of the State Department of being part of the Communist Party in a telegram to President Truman (McCarthy). Spies in a position of power in the United States’ government can be compared to androids being in power of the Rosen Association. Rachael Rosen is a higher up of the company and an android herself(Dick 59-60). Androids controlling the production and programming of other androids could be deleterious to humans living  on Earth. With each generation, the Rosen Association makes the androids more human-like, making them harder to detect. What if the androids in charge of the company are purposefully doing this to deceive humans? Communists in the United States government certainly were not looking out for the United States’ best interest, such as Klaus Fuchs, a German physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, and fed the Soviets information on constructing a hydrogen bomb (Klaus Fuchs). Spies or androids in a position of power in any situation is not good for the society they working against.  With all of these investigations happening in the United States, mass paranoia hit the American public. If Communists are able to wedge themselves into the government, what was to stopping them from simply living alongside average citizen? This hysteria that anyone could be a spy can be felt in the Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Anyone in the book could be an android and we would have no way of knowing unless they were administered the Voigt-Kampff test. This test, like polygraphs that would have been used on suspected Communist spies, has its legitimacy called into question many times (Dick 52-53, 119). Androids acting so much like humans, thanks to the Nexus-6, and the supposed flakiness of the Voigt-Kampff gives the reader suspicions that an American would have had of other citizens during the 1950’s.
The hysteria surrounding not knowing who is a spy or android isn’t the only detail that relates the Cold War to the book. Bounty hunters can be viewed as American spies trying to find and kill Soviet spies. Both androids and bounty hunters seem to have specialized weaponry (the laser tube) (Dick 106) like a spy would have specialized gadgets. Bounty hunters work for a police department, which can be likened to the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The androids even have their own secret police (Dick 123), which is unknown to most humans. This secret police is similar to the actual Soviet secret police, the KGB, which launched many infiltrations into Western nations. In the time leading up to the book’s publishing, there had been suspicions of brain washing prisoners of war (which include caught spies) to accept communist regimes (Hunter). This can be seen as a metaphor of androids having memories implanted in their pseudo-brains (Dick 122), or going a step further, a metaphor for Phil Resch. Resch is a human who works as a bounty hunter for the android secret police  (Dick 114) but whole-heartedly believes he is working for the good of humans. We have no knowledge of Resch’s actions before Rick shows up, but being under the direction of Garland, another android, he couldn’t have been doing anything productive like going after actual androids.
It’s evident that androids are a metaphor for Communist spies and what they represent, but what in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep represents the actual ideology of Communism? Buster Friendly certainly fits the bill. Buster, who is allegedly an android himself (Dick 211), uses propaganda through attractive women and other guests to try and win over his audience. He is playing on television essentially twenty-four hours a day and is intolerant of other ideologies such as Mercerism (Dick 206-207). Androids, such as the Baty’s and Pris, are captivated by him and can’t get enough (Dick 203-204). Communism during the Cold War was a profound user of propaganda to mislead its people. Even today, the Communist regime in North Korea forces it’s people to listen to state radio that cannot be turned off, only turned down (Gordon). The Soviets were also known for being intolerant of any religion. They were determined to make their populace more scientific and literate rather than religious (Shepler). Religion in the book is personified as Mercerism. Mercerism is all about empathy for Wilbur Mercer and coming together with fellow humans. Mercerism, along with the religions in our world, inspires humans and brings them together for worship. The Soviets obviously didn’t want a separate entity existing within their communist state that could pull people away from their ideology as Buster Friendly wouldn’t want another ideology pulling viewers away from his show. The counterpart of Communism is capitalism. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep does not have a direct metaphor for capitalism, but it can still be indirectly discerned from how humans live their everyday life. Rick and most humans are attached to material possessions in the book. Brand names are attached to items he and his wife use around the house (Dick 1), he carries around a pricing book everywhere he goes(Dick 10), and androids are continuously going obsolete (Dick 57); all of these details point to consumerism which is a main facet of capitalism. Whereas the Soviets were concerned about hard work and making their share of money while contributing to the state, Americans were and are very much today materialistic. Animals in the book are treated as that shiny new Model T every man wanted to own in America. Humans in the book also are able to feel empathy and worship Mercer. Most capitalist societies did and do not today  put restrictions on religion and their people are free to worship at they please. Knowing the metaphors for religion and these ideologies is important in understanding how the androids can exist as a metaphor for Communist spies.
An ongoing theme in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is the unknown. The reader doesn’t know which animal is fake or real, if the Voigt-Kampff test is legitimate, or who is an android and who is a human. These unknowns can lead to fear and assumptions as to who the actual androids are, otherwise known as hysteria. This is exactly what happened during the time period it was written. Fear of the unknown was a big issue for the United States when Cold War tensions were at their height. United States citizens did not know what a Sputnik was flying around Earth beeping at them, they didn’t know when or if the Soviets would ever use their nuclear weapons, and they didn’t know who was a spy. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, androids attempt to infiltrate and blend in with the human, and metaphorically capitalistic, society just as Communist spies would have done during the Cold War. The societies and details of the Cold War and the book are an allegory, and it is easy to see the environment that Phillip K. Dick grew up.

Works Cited
Dick, Phillip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. New York: Random House, 1968. Print.

McCarthy, Joseph. "Telegram from Senator Joseph McCarthy to President Harry S. Truman."National Archives. National Archives, 09 Feb 1950. Web. 4 Oct 2013. <>.

"Klaus Fuchs." FBI Records: The Vault. FBI, n.d. Web. 4 Oct 2013. <>.

 Gordon, Daniel, dir. "North Korea: A State of Mind." BBC: . Web. 4 Oct 2013. <>.
           Link to actual video on YouTube (1:43):

Shepler, Ryan. "The Bolshevik Campaign against Religion in Soviet Russia: 1917-1932." Diss. Ohio State University, 2008. Web. <;jsessionid=5CD14ACD0F84F6BCB18C49C3D1D14E8D?sequence=1>.

 Miller, Arthur. "McCarthyism." American Masters. PBS, 23 Aug 2006. Web. 4 Oct 2013. <>.

 Hunter, Edward. Interview by Richard Arens. "COMMUNIST PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE (BRAINWASHING)."COMMITTEE ON UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITIES. 13 Mar 1958. Mar . Web. 4 Oct 2013.

1 comment:

Adam said...

There's something awkward about the transition from the first part of the first paragraph and the thesis statement itself. This could have been improved.

The second paragraph is long and clunky. Your discussion of McCarthyism is perfectly reasonable (the prose is occasionally awkward, but at least efficient). Your claim that the novel is about McCarthyism, though, at least initially seems overwrought.

I say that not because it's absurd or uninteresting. I simply say it because McCarthy was long since gone when DADES was published. The novel is self-evidently concerned with paranoia, and McCarthyism is one form (arguably even the most important form) paranoid had taken in the U.S. during Philip K. Dick's lifetime. And yet, you're making a leap by claiming that the novel is focused upon it. Why McCarthyism rather than Vietnam and the internal conflicts surrounding it, for instance?

You have some bad moments, where you simply make huge leaps: "Bounty hunters can be viewed as American spies trying to find and kill Soviet spies. Both androids and bounty hunters seem to have specialized weaponry..." This is implying that spies=James Bond, without bothering to work through the details. However, you have some good moments too. The discussion of brain-washing, although brief, is *exactly* the kind of thing that can pin down this novel as being about cold-war paranoia and spying (and yet, where is McCarthy?).

The paragraph about Buster Friendly & Mercerism is painfully long. It would have benefited greatly from being split up and edited - a paragraph about BF, a paragraph about M, a paragraph to bring them together, for instance. This long discussion has its own good and bad moments. You still really struggle in an attempt to show that BF - running a commercial radio program with advertisements, full of Hollywood Starlets - should be understood as representing communism. Even if we agree that he's intolerant, so is Mercer (he endorses killing all the androids!)

You handle the communist persecution of religion well (I think it's a point in your favor, certainly), but ignore the elephant in the room (the so-common-it-gets-cliched claim that communism really operates as a state religion - see the cult of Lenin or of Mao!). There's also a second peculiar elephant in the room - you do a good job exploring the relationship between faith and commerce in Mercerism. Good! But it's extremely odd, after doing this work, that you basically see the novel as an indictment of communism immediately after you explored the corrupt commerce at the heart of its religion! That, at least, demanded more work.

The paragraph about the unknown doesn't really do anything - you'd have been better off finishing a different thread of thought.

Overall: Your research is solid, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that you do have interesting, well-thought out insights into the text (Mercerism & commerce is good; the brainwashing is short but good). But you wander too much - the whole long discussion of McCarthy, for instance, dragged you down. You would have been better off moving to the Mercerism-as-capital and BF-as-communism thing and really trying harder to prove it in detail. It's a tough but interesting argument - you need(ed) to focus more relentlessly on it to really make it work.