Androids as a Metaphor
The 1960’s were a time of great triumph but also great defeat for America. The 1960’s saw huge achievements in technology but, the Vietnam and Cold Wars were both in full effect (Oxford). In 1968, Philip K. Dick wrote “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and in this novel Dick incorporated many real life happenings. There are numerous connections in DADES and events surrounding the Vietnam War, but perhaps the most important metaphor that Dick makes is about the androids. The androids represent the lack of empathy that many people believed characterized America's leaders during their involvement in the Vietnam War. More specifically, the androids are a metaphor for the government officials in office making all of the decisions during the Vietnam War.
An important question is why would Dick write about the Vietnam War and the United States Government in the first place? It helps to know who Philip K. Dick was as a person. Dick was a brilliant man. He graduated high school and attended the University of California-Berkeley but 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 he soon became a very successful science fiction writer (Philip K. Dick). Which is when his life started to get very interesting. He started to have run-ins with the FBI regularly; his first run-in was after he got married for the second time. He and his wife were approached by the FBI and asked to spy on local radicals (Butler). The couple declined but that was just the start of Dick’s unusual run-ins. Then the relationship with the FBI shortly took a turn for the worse. In November of 1971, Dick’s car broke down and no one helped him fix it, when he finally returned home he found that his house had been broken into (Butler). Again, not even the police helped him and when the crime is looked into farther it appears that some of Dick’s manuscripts were stolen (Butler). Many believe that the FBI had something to do with the break in. It is from here on that the FBI continuously watched over Dick and his actions. Dick soon became very careful of his activities and upon receiving a letter which was a photocopy of a socialist newspaper, he immediately sent it to the FBI (Butler). For the latter part of Dick’s life the FBI was very suspicious of him altogether. These insights into Dick’s relationship with the government explain why Dick included many negative metaphors into “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”.
In DADES, Dick illustrates a world in 2021. World War Terminus has ended, in which millions of people died. 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 servants for families on Mars, but they soon become very dangerous to the human race. Through time, androids become almost identical to humans in every manner except one: empathy. It is this lack of empathy where androids can be compared to government officials during the Vietnam War. Many people believe that the Vietnam War was a very unnecessary and perhaps the most negative American conflict in history to date. How the government officials lacked empathy can be seen from facts. First off, the start of the United States involvement in the Vietnam War was completely unjustified. American ships were fired upon by the North Vietnamese because they were in international waters; a fact that was not release to the public until much later (Vietnam). The government told the public that the U.S. ships were in South Vietnamese waters. Because of this, over three million innocent American soldiers were sent to Vietnam. Many of these men were sent unwillingly through the installment of the draft which many people thought was against their rights and boycotted. American Troops were in Vietnam for about ten years during which 58,260 soldiers were killed and 75,000 soldiers wounded (Vietnam). The average age of soldiers sent to Vietnam was only twenty-three (Vietnam). The United States Government tried to stop the spread of Communism in south east Asia, but in doing so killed many innocent Americans. Many people including Dick even believe that in the end America lost the War and all those innocent lives were lost because of the government’s actions. The emotionless sense in the androids is not the only connection between them and government officials however. An argument can be made that the androids were in control of society similar to how government officials are in control.
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, runs a television show that just about everyone tunes into to watch on a daily basis. Buster Friendly’s television show is in many aspects similar to the news shows in real life and the huge role that they play on society. Even during the Vietnam War news programs played a very important role in showing Americans live footage from Vietnam. This footage made many citizens strongly against the war helping the antiwar movement. News programs during the Vietnam War did it through repeatedly showing sad and disturbing video clips where as Buster Friendly brings his news 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. A connection can be made between the guests whom Buster brings on his show and actual news reporters. The guests bring first hand experiences of what is happening in the world and on mars; exactly what news reporters gave to the American public from Vietnam. On page eighteen of DADES one guest talks about the differences between Mars and Earth and how she feels much safer on Mars. Similarly on how you can imagine people would feel about being in America verses Vietnam.
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 program 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. People look to them for guidance and to understand important events happening in the world. 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 to start over and 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 can be reached at any point of the day for any amount of time. When looking at Mercerism more in depth, there are significant similarities between Mercerism and Communism.
Communism’s goal is to eliminate classes and get society to work together, very similar to Mercerism. Also, Mercer appears to be in the position of a dictator, very similar to most Communist nations. Mercerism can even be looked at as the less important or “underdog” leadership power in the novel, exactly how Communism was in America around the time of Vietnam. During the period of the Cold War, Communist supporters started to appear in the United States, with an ultimate goal of overthrowing the government. The Communists were never able to overpower Democracy exactly how Mercerism never gained more support than Buster Friendly. Keeping the similarities between Mercerism and Communism in mind as the book continues, the similarities only grow.
In 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. Here is where a comparison can be made that Buster Friendly represents Democracy and Mercerism represents Communism. During the 1960’s and 70’s, many Americans were afraid that communists were on the verge of taking over the United States government from the inside. The government soon put a stop to these worries by questioning suspected communist affiliates and dealing with them accordingly. Buster Friendly, similarly to the United States Government destroyed his counterpart and only gained more support in doing so. But how does Buster Friendly gaining many Mercerism supporters help the androids and connect back to the emotionless government officials?
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. With Mercerism significantly weaker than before, Buster Friendly and the androids now have a golden opportunity to control society even more than before. The androids have similar power over society as the government officials did over the American society during the Vietnam War. The government took time to find the communists and America and destroy and attempt to overthrow democracy. Buster Friendly also took his time to investigate Mercerism and make sure that it would never compete for the top power in society again. With the androids in the same position as government officials, it makes it very easy for them to easily control society, putting the androids in a similar position to the government officials.
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 connections to the government officials, democracy, and even communism. 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 key leadership roles in society, but lacking empathy is what makes the androids very similar to government officials during the Vietnam War. Overall, Dick writes DADES in a very unique way, he makes just about every object a metaphor for something in that time period. The most prevalent metaphor is the androids as empathy lacking corrupt government officials.
Butler, Andrew M. Philip K. Dick. Harpenden, Herts [England: Pocket Essentials, 2007. Print.
Dick, Philip K., and Philip K. Dick. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Ballantine, 1996. Print.
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