Androids as a Metaphor
The 1960’s were a time of great triumph and also great defeat for America. The 1960’s saw huge achievements in technology but, the Vietnam and Cold Wars were both in full effect in the 60’s (Oxford). In 19608, Philip K. Dick wrote “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and in this novel there are clear metaphors with many things happening in society at that time period. Some examples of this include the empathy boxes, chicken heads, life on Mars, and life on Earth. These are metaphors for drugs, disabled persons, and the rich and poor people respectfully. It is clear that there are many metaphors in the novel but perhaps the most important metaphor that Dick makes is about the androids. The androids are a metaphor for the lack of empathy that many believed characterized America's leaders during their involvement in the Vietnam War. More specifically, the androids are a metaphor for the government officials who were in office making all of the decisions during the Vietnam War.
Philip K. Dick was a brilliant man, he graduated high school and attended the University of California-Berkeley but he dropped out after only one year (Philip K. Dick). However, Dick’s studies did not end there; he continued on his own and after a short time became a writer. Dick tried to write mainstream fiction but after having little success he soon went on to become a very successful science fiction writer (Philip K. Dick). The fact that Dick had trouble writing mainstream is very appropriate with the theme of his life of always being in the counterculture. In fact during the Vietnam War, he protested by placing his name on the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing not to pay taxes in protest of the ongoing conflict (Philip K. Dick). Knowing who Dick was as a person helps make the metaphors he makes in DADES clear to the reader.
In DADES, Dick illustrates a world in 2021, World War Terminus has ended but not until it killed millions of people. The survivors are forced to make a decision, go live on Mars or continue life on Earth. The androids first come into the picture as inventions to be servants for families on Mars, but through time androids are developed by the Rosen Association to become more and more like humans. The androids, especially the Nexus-6 model are identical to human beings in just about every way imaginable. The androids are able to speak, eat, work, have sex, for their own societies, and just completely blend into society on Earth. However, androids lack one important aspect that humans have; empathy. Empathy or the lack of emotions is the only difference between humans and androids. In DADES the main character, Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter in charge of killing the escaped androids on Earth. Deckard searches for and tests androids to see their levels of empathy, and if they are too low he eliminates the android. This emotionless sense is what the people against the Vietnam War believed the Vietnam supporters were like. The emotionless sense in the androids is not the only connection between them and government officials however. The connection that the androids were in control of society similar to the government officials can also be made.
In order to make the argument that the androids are actually in control of society some characters need to be analyzed. One character that stands out in DADES is Buster Friendly. Buster Friendly one of the most well-known figures on Earth, he runs a television show that just about everyone tunes into to watch on a daily basis. Through his humor and rhetoric, Buster Friendly shares news and brings guests on to his show to talk about a variety of things for days and even weeks at a time. Not only does Buster Friendly run a television show, but he also is in charge of a radio station where he is able to communicate with people when they are not in front of their televisions. Both the television channel and radio station run for twenty three hours a day, which means that Buster Friendly broadcasts for forty six hours each and every day. Forty six hours where nearly every person on Earth listens to him for a period of time, allowing buster to have a huge impact in society. Society allows for this to happen because they look at Buster Friendly as a god like figure, they look to him for hope, and they believe everything that he says. This is very similar to how people view the president of the United States and other prominent government officials. But, where there are many supporters for Buster Friendly, there are also some skeptics, and these people have another character to look to for guidance. Wilbur Mercer is the other prominent leader in DADES. Mercer is the leader of Mercerism, which is the idea that everyone must work together to climb a hill and reach the top. This goal is said to be in the interest of feeling empathy towards all people and will better the society as a whole. When someone reaches the top of the hill however, all that happens is that they get start over climb the hill all over again. This goal is contrived, in an infinite loop, and seems to have no practical benefit to its participants but Mercer is able to use it as his tool to control society. The only way to access Mercer is through an empathy box which everyone, even the chicken heads own. This means that Mercer too can be reached at any point of the day for any desired length.
Throughout DADES there is little to no competition between Buster Friendly and Mercer until the ending of the novel when Buster Friendly announces his big news. Buster Friendly states and he has the information to back it up that, “Mercerism is a swindle!” (Dick 209). This comes as a shock to the world and undoubtedly leads people to favor Buster Friendly over Wilbur Mercer. The fact that Buster Friendly proves Mercer is a fake is a huge gain for the androids. This is because some people start to catch on to what Buster Friendly really is. In fact, characters such as Mr. Sloat and JR Isidore state, “Buster is immortal…it’s true. They’ve never admitted it, of course” (Dick 76). Now that it is known that Buster Friendly is an android and that he proved Mercer a fake shows how much power not only he but the androids as a group have over the human society on Earth. The androids have similar power over society as the government officials did over the American society during the Vietnam War.
Similarly to how the androids had control over society in DADES; the United States government officials were using their own powers to control the U.S. population. The government used propaganda to promote the Vietnam War similar to how Buster Friendly used his programs. The government also went to war in order to eliminate the spread of communism across the world. A connection can be made between Buster Friendly eliminating Mercerism and the United States government eliminating communism. When looking at the details, the similarities are quite startling and it is amazing how Philip K. Dick could incorporate these metaphors into DADES.
Dick a member of the antiwar movement himself clearly believed that the Vietnam supporters especially the government officials were in complete control of society, just as the androids are in DADES. Dick does a phenomenal job in making metaphors out of many things in society during the 1960’s. It is clear that this book has a deeper meaning than what appears in the text. As the androids become more like humans, they are able to take over the leadership roles in society. However, they lack empathy making them very similar to the government officials during the Vietnam War. Overall, as Dick writes DADES, in a very unique way. He makes just about every object a metaphor for something in that current time period and the most prevent metaphor is the androids as empathy lacking corrupt government officials.
Dick, Philip K., and Philip K. Dick. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Ballantine, 1996. Print.
Oxford, Tasmin. "6 Technologies to Thank the 1960s for." TechRadar. TechRadar, 17 Nov. 2009. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.
"Philip K. Dick - Biography." Philip K. Dick. The European Graduate School, n.d. Web. 01 Oct. 2013.