Sunday, September 29, 2013

Gaming Instructions

I have created a quick set of instructions for setting up Portal and Dear Esther, available here.  Please review as soon as easily possible; everyone should be clear on whether or not they will be able to run the games themselves before class on Wednesday.  I am also looking for any problems in the instructions, so they can be corrected before they cause problems.  Please post any questions or problems to this thread, or email them to me.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Comments & Questions on Marcuse & Modern Times

Post your questions/thoughts as comments to this post.  Again:  a paragraph is fine, or a couple if you feel so moved.  You are posting on a question, problem or topic of your choice.  Citing a particular passage is recommended but not required.

Remember - you can find Modern Times at the library, on Amazon (rental or purchase), on Itunes (rental or purchase), or even on youtube (probably low quality, but also free).

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Munch Paintings to Discuss

Puberty
The Scream

Essay for Workshopping Today

As is often the case, movie adaptations of classic literature can often be anything but faithful representations of the novels that form the basis of the plot. Ask anyone who has not read the Mary Shelley original what Frankenstein's monster looks like and the response is almost invariably the stuff of cheesy Halloween costumes: square, flat head, green complexion, and neck bolts. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of watching the 1994 Kenneth Branagh film "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" which is one of the more faithful films. Even so, it still has glaring differences from the 19th century novel. One of the biggest differences between this movie and the book was the character of Professor Waldman. The depiction of Waldman served to distort some of the complexities of Shelley's novel, particularly the main character Victor Frankenstein.

First of all, Waldman's appearance differs greatly from what is described in the novel. Shelley presents to us a distinguished man in his 50s with black hair touched by gray, with excellent posture, a look of benevolence and "his voice the sweetest I have ever heard" (41). In the movie, we are presented with a somewhat wild looking man with long gray-white hair and a somewhat gruff voice. I find this difference to be significant because of Victor's nature. It is made very clear that Victor does not take to Professor Krempe because of his appearance and voice. I doubt that the Victor of the novel would have taken such a keen interest in the teachings of the professor portrayed in the film after his write off of the "little squat man (Krempe), with a gruff voice and repulsive countenance" (40). This more accepting version of Victor may not seem like such a big deal, but it changes Victor's character completely. Mary Shelley's Victor is rich, spoiled, privileged, sheltered and very judgmental. Growing up, he is his parents' "plaything and their idol... the innocent and helpless creature bestowed on them by Heaven..." and "so guided by a silken cord that all seemed but one train of enjoyment..."(24). This spoiled and privileged upbringing gives us a Victor who is unable to deal with consequences of actions and passive to the point of inaction even in dire circumstances. In other words, the fact that he is a spoiled, judgmental, megalomaniac brat is a major driving force of the entire story. To remove some of that through his acceptance of this wild and uncouth Professor Waldman is to remove some of the fabric of the novel. It takes someone who sees himself as a a endowment of Heaven to us lowly creatures here on Earth to contemplate creating a race of super-beings who would look to him as a God.

The ambitions and professions of several of the main characters change in this film. In the novel, Victor is sent to school in Ingolstadt for nothing more explicit than to "be made acquainted with other customs than those of [his] native country" (35). In the film, however, Victor is going to Ingolstadt to become a doctor just like his father. Consequently, Waldman is no longer just a professor of Chemistry, but a medical doctor involved in his own research and even in the preservation of the health of the town. This takes some of the mystery and intrigue away from Victor's character. Instead of learning to apply his education on his own, we see him, instead, learning how to dissect cadavers under the skilled tutelage of Professor Waldman. Instead of a vision of Victor alone in his apartment contriving of the means to create life through the use of dead tissue and some arcane "spark" of life, we have a student trying to complete the last step in a research process his teacher just didn't have the hardihood of nature to complete. Waldman is almost a Frankenstein-lite in his portrayal. In the film, Victor is introduced to the idea of electric current in the reanimation process by the professor and even shown that it works through the reanimated arm of some primate creature. The professor is also shown to aid Victor in the formation of his theories. This thinning of Victor's great intelligence and creativity also served to thin Victor's character as a whole. It has to be Victor creating the monster in seclusion using his own vast intelligence. It has to be Victor Frankenstein, not only because his megalomania drives the story, but because of the impact that his character, as written, had on the very archetype of the mad scientist. "Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Moreau, Dr. Cyclops, Dr. Caligari, Dr. Strangelove, Dr. Rukh, Dr. Bluthgeld" and a host of mad scientists owe their fictional lives to Victor creating that monster on his own (Haynes, 245). It is much harder to believe that these fictional giants would have turned out quite the way they did if instead of a lone mastermind alone in his lab toying with nature, we had a student, fulfilling the culmination of his mentor's work.

The motivation for the creation or restoration of life is described to us in the novel as being a mix of wanting to feel what it is to be a creator and the renewal of life where it has departed. "No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs. Pursuing these reflections, I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in the process of time... renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption" (49). The arrogance and grandiose plans of creating a race of beings is completely left out of the film. After his mother dies in child birth, not from Scarlet fever, Victor chooses to devote his study at medical school to preventing another of his loved ones from ever dying and finds, as I have already described, a mentor in Professor Waldman. However, the director decided to use the expanded role of the professor in another way as well: as another catalyst in Victor's passion. While attempting to prevent an outbreak of Cholera in Ingolstadt, the professor is stabbed by a vagrant, who doesn't want anything to do with the doctor's needles, and dies while Victor tries in vain to save his life. This episode leads Victor to attack his work with even more ardency than before. The loss of the god-complex in his endeavors made Victor far less intriguing to me. Sure, the death of his mother was definitely a catalyst but, as I have already described in some detail, Victor's megalomania is a, if not the, driving force behind the entire novel. Removing the desire to become a benevolent creator destroys yet another part of this force. Here we lose a Victor who hikes through the Alps imagining the mountains as grand structures and as the homes of omnipotent creatures and seemingly placing himself among them (100). A man who thinks of himself this way is absolutely necessary to maintain Shelley's complex story, but instead we have a man driven by very non-God-like emotions like grief and anger.

Finally, but probably most astounding, even in death Waldman's presence continues. Victor, in his quest to procure "materials" for his work, robs Waldman's grave and uses his brain for the creation. This is absolutely astounding. I do not doubt that Victor desired to give the creature the best brain he could find. It was described in the novel how he picked what he thought would be the very best skin, muscles, and hair (53). However, there was never a personal connection with any of the parts Victor used. Although a personal connection to the monster beyond its creation may seem to make the plot of the movie more complex or to further the expression of Victor's mad passion, this move does not seem to fit Victor's character as someone detached from the reality and consequences of what he is doing and what is happening around him. In fact, as a teaser for the film, the director seemed to put a conscious effort into eliminating the detached passivity of Victor's character. Passivity, as has been mentioned over and over on this Blog, is a central, if frustrating, theme throughout the novel. It is this detachment from consequences that serves to make Victor more and more wretched throughout the novel. He immediately flees from his creation upon seeing what he has done (though in the film, this is more out of his control) and hides from it, even allowing himself to slip into comfort again until he is jogged back to reality by the death of William (67-71). He refuses to intervene on Justine's behalf during her trial (though in the movie, he has no chance as she is immediately lynched) even though he knows who actually killed William (92). Instead of pursuing resolution, he goes for a pleasant hike in the Alps (99). It is this passivity that keeps the book going. Furthermore, it is very possible that Shelley was trying to use Victor's passivity to highlight the passivity of her own culture (Shrader-Frechette and Westra, 145-146). Instead, the film takes several opportunities to remove the fault of inaction from Victor further thinning the story.

This is only one short example of the differences between the 1994 film and the 19th century novel. I found the film to be good on its own but I could not help noticing the differences. Some of them served to bring the story to life, while others thinned the characters (such as Waldman's thinning of Victor) and the plot.

Haynes R (2003) From alchemy to artificial intelligence: Stereotypes of the scientist in Western literature.     Public Understanding of Science 12: 243–53.

Shrader-Frechette, K., and Westra, L. Technology and Values. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997. eBook.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Comments on Edgerton/DADES, week 2

Post your questions/thoughts as comments to this post. Again: a paragraph is fine, or a couple if you feel so moved. You are posting on a question, problem or topic of your choice. Citing a particular passage is recommended but not required.

Brian Aldiss and DADES

Prompt 1 – Brian Aldiss and Science Fiction
            “Science fiction is the search for a definition of mankind and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode.” – Brian Aldiss
In DADES, mankind is still "alone" in the universe, in the sense of the word today, without the appearance of an intelligent alien race. Yet mankind has created its own impostor so close to the original that the two are nearly identical. Man has long pondered questions about how we would react to an encounter with an alien race, an encounter that would greatly shift our current understanding of our place in the universe. In DADES man is encountering another intelligent being, but of our own creation. And it’s worth noting that there are people who seem to be near to androids in terms of perception and characteristics (the chickenheads). Perhaps there is a cosmic irony, that people who wonder about how alien races would treat humans and vice versa, look beyond the people that suffer right before their eyes, answering the question while asking it.
People have also counted the ways that we are different from animals. We are more intelligent, more evolved, capable of empathy, so the distilled argument goes. But some have also argued that no animal ever fought a war, or committed murder. So for these convoluted reasons which hopefully will become clearer as I go to the text of DADES, I would agree with Brian Aldiss's defintion of Science Fiction, as I believe this book to be a work of Science Fiction, and this book certainly fits every bit of Aldiss's defintion in my eyes. It’s a bit of a circular argument, and maybe not the best way of approaching the prompt, but it’s the clearest way I can think of it right now. 
In DADES, the environment is full of radiation and devoid of all wild life. These details clearly agree with Ann Tracy’s definition of the Gothic Novel as a depiction of a fallen world with a heavy emphasis on setting (http://cai.ucdavis.edu/waters-sites/gothicnovel/155breport.html). The world is literally covered in nuclear fallout. In the midst of the desolation, Androids are banned and hunted and tested and terminated. But there are hints that the test might be flawed: “The Leningrad psychiatrists…think that a small class of human beings could not pass the Voigt-Kampff scale” (38). I’ll go to my limited psychology experience to say that before the events of World War Terminus, all humans had to do in telling their place in the world, relative to all other living things, was apply heuristics. Does it look like me, or close to it? Talk like me or someone I know? Look human? These questions can be up to the asker, as before androids everyone could have their own definition of what it means to be human. If check yes to all these then yes, it is a human. Heuristics are shortcuts which take us to conclusions faster, but they are more likely to be flawed.

But now, in DADES, after the introduction of Androids to human interactions, a specific algorithm has to be followed to detect a human from an android – the Voigt-Kampff test. The human place in the universe is much more defined, as there is now a counterpart. A human is not an android; an android is not a human. But again, these androids are in appearance exactly like a normal human. So the prior heuristics fail, and the algorithm has to be followed. What remains ironic about the Voigt-Kampff test is that it isn’t a flawless test, and instead, many humans would fail the test, and test positive as an android. So in the advanced state of knowledge, where there is a test to determine if a being is human or not, we are still hopelessly confused and unsure of what sets us apart from the other beings of the universe. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Prompt 1

            Of the two science fiction novels we have read so far in this class, the definition of what it means to be human has been a central theme of both.   In Frankenstein, our reflections on whether the monster was human helped to solidify our definition of humanity.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? does the opposite; every turn in the novel only makes it harder and harder to tell the difference between humans and androids.  This does not imply that defining our existence is unimportant, quite the contrary, in fact.  By blurring the line between humans and artificial humans, Philip K. Dick is forcing us to continually reconsider our definition of humanity.  This in turn stresses the importance of the subject, as well as the natural impossibility of creating a clear definition.  The centrality of this idea throughout the novel lends weight to Brian Aldiss’ definition of science fiction as the struggle to define our own existence.
            This struggle is clearly represented in the opening chapters of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  In fact, the first thing Rick Deckard needs to do when he gets to work is to go check out the Rosen Association’s new Nexus-6 android to make sure the Voight-Kampff test is still viable.  Given Rachael Rosen’s score on the test we think that it is not, until we discover that she is, in fact, an android.  “Does she know?” asks Deckard.  “No.  We programmed her completely,” responds Eldon Rosen.  (59)  He goes on to admit that the owl is artificial as well, “There are no owls,” he says.  This interaction sets the tone for the rest of the novel.  Of the four original beings involved in this interaction at the Rosen Association (Deckard, the two Rosens, and the owl), half of them proved to be artificial.  As far as we know, at least.  At this point we can make no assumptions about anybody’s humanity.  Was Eldon an android as well?  Is Deckard?  We don’t have sufficient information to make any proper conclusions.  This chapter is the first of many places in which we will be confused about who is human.  It is also the first instance where we must consider whether it matters.  As Deckard is leaving he says to Rachael, “I’m not going to retire you, Miss Rosen.  Good day.”  Knowing that she is an android doesn’t seem to affect the way he interacts with her.  He assures her that she is safe, politely refers to her as Miss Rosen, and wishes her a good day.  Even though she is artificial she is still conscious, and as such is treated with a certain level of respect, even from Deckard, a man whose job it is to kill androids.
            The line only becomes blurrier as the novel continues.  Deckard’s struggle with the death of Luba Luft is testament to this.  After Resch kills her Deckard says, “She was a wonderful singer.  The planet could have used her.  This is insane.” (136)  This problem is only exacerbated by the revelation that Phil Resch is, in fact, human.  Throughout this ordeal Deckard expressed his dislike of Resch and his style of operation, owing his violence to the fact that he was an android.  So here we have an android who, apart from escaping slavery, is non-violent and a benefit to society.  In contrast we have a human who is extremely violent, to the point where he enjoys killing androids.  Philip Dick says it better than I can: “So much for the distinction between authentic living humans and humanoid constructs.  In that elevator at the museum, [Deckard] said to himself, I rode down with two creatures, one human, the other android… and my feelings were the reverse of those intended.  Of those I’m accustomed to feel – am required to feel.” (142)  We can sympathize with Deckard’s confusion here.  After all, why did Luba have to die?  She contributes beautiful music to the world.  And why does Phil Resch deserve life?  All he brings to this world is death.  Resch argues that Luba killed humans to escape, that she is a murderer.  But can we really fault her for that?  Faced with a life of slavery and discrimination would Resch not have done the same?  Would you not have done the same?  I certainly would have.

            These questions are the point of this novel.  Is there a distinction between humans and androids?  Should there be a distinction?  They are certainly alive, and they are certainly conscious to the same degree we are, so why treat them as inferior?  Why treat them as if they aren’t alive?  Does their lack of empathy make them inferior?  Many humans are unable to feel empathy; they are not considered inferior.  By the same logic, shouldn’t they be considered inferior as well?  Philip Dick raises so many questions in this vein and gives us no answers.  This is the reason that Dick’s musings fit well within Aldiss’ definition of science fiction.  “Science fiction is the search for a definition of mankind and his status in the universe,” says Aldiss.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the epitome of this statement.  In this novel, Dick is continually searching for a clear definition of mankind, but is never able to find one.  As such, creating a clear definition of humanity is inherently unimportant, because it is we can’t do it.  The importance lies in the search, which Aldiss explicitly states and Dick implies.  Neither Aldiss nor Dick ever mentions finding a clear definition of humanity; they recognize that it is impossible.  This may seem confusing, but that is the point.  We are confused.  There are so many shades of grey between being human and non-human that we will never be able to find a concise distinction.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  On the contrary, that is precisely why we should.

Are Androids Human?

Science fiction offers two immediate things to the reader: the ability to travel to far away times and places, to alternate histories and to gorgeously realized other worlds. It also often gives us a sense of great familiarity – it is, after all, other humans exploring the universe. This duality of the genre lets the author take a modern[1] human and put him in an altogether alien environment. The author gives this person a series of immense obstacles to overcome so as to see how he will react. By the end of the novel, both the author and, by extension, the audience will hopefully learn something about the human condition. In this way, science fiction can be thought of as a great thought experiment – projecting modern ideas, philosophies, mores, norms etc. onto a society inherently deprived of those very attributes. This lets the author satirize modern society, show any glaring problems with it, and often, predict where it will end up[2]. But this is not all that science fiction does. Perhaps by putting the recognizable man of this world into the alien-ness of that world, we will realize something in humankind that is inherent to everyone, across time. Often, in the words of Brian Aldiss, science fiction’s main goal is to define what makes us human.
            But what of the actual setting of the story? How do the starscapes, distant planets and future Earths contribute to the definition of humanity that the author is trying to express? After reading Frankenstein, one of the first science fiction novels, we can see that the setting is often an extreme representation of locations as to mirror the emotions and mindsets of the characters inhabiting them. The monster in this book is at home in the frigid arctic and can dance around the mountains of Switzerland with no hesitation. In much the same way, the androids of DADES can live on the ruins of Earth with no problem. In fact, they would prefer to live on the radioactive-dust covered surface of our planet than work as slaves for the rich on Mars. The androids in DADES mirror the monster in both their ability to live in inhospitable landscapes and their role as antagonist – and by extension as the way to define humanity[3].
            Knowing this, does DADES fall into the definition of science fiction set by Aldiss? The answer comes down to whether or not defining humanity is of central importance to Philip K. Dick. In the first half, where we are introduced to Nexus-6 androids – “capable of selecting within a fielda field of two trillion constituents, or ten million separate neural pathways,”[4] – which are indistinguishable from humans without either taking a bone marrow biopsy or administering one of two advanced ‘empathy tests’. This is the key to the story. In DADES, we are led to believe that empathy is the penultimate human trait. Androids – near perfect replicas of humans – do not produce empathy naturally, not even the Nexus-6 models. Dick appears to use this as the distinguishing feature of humanity in the novel, however with a more subtle reading, it is clear that he does not want empathy – a trait raise to religious status in post-apocalypse Earth – to be the sole definition of humanity. Take Iran Deckard for instance, the wife of Richard Deckard, who has to ‘dial in’ artificially to be depressed at the world she lives in. This is arguably one of the more human quirks, paradoxical as it may be, that we see in the novel. She realizes that as a human, she should be irrevocably depressed by living in the world she does; yet there she is, artificially making herself depressed – an attitude she can change with the turn of a knob.
            Dick did not right DADES to show us what he believes humanity is. He instead wants us to consider what makes us human in regard to near-perfect human replicas. In a society that has rejected androids, he wants us to question whether or not that society has rejected humans.



[1] Modern of course is relative to the author’s time – in DADES’ case, it would be a person from 1968.
[2] See 1984 for a perfect example – what was once a warning seems to be overwhelmingly used as an instruction manual.  
[3] In a technique dating back to at least Thomas Aquinas, where one uses what a thing is not to define what it is.
[4] Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, page 28

Aldiss & PKD

In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick explores a post-apocalyptic Earth through the two central characters of J. R. Isidore and Rick Deckard. The world in which the two men live is being threatened by not only the Dust, which will eventually kill off all living organisms from the Earth, but also the androids, or, "The Killers" (32). Deckard, who has one-on-one experience with androids, attempts to differentiate himself and all of mankind from the andys he is instructed to terminate. He attempts to create a standard idea in his head of what being a human entails, as opposed to being an android. Deckard's attempt to evaluate mankind as a whole against the androids is what Aldiss deems "the search for the definition of mankind" (Aldiss, 1).

Throughout the first half of the novel, we are introduced to different methods of technology that are designed to distinguish humans from androids, or, "andys" (4). Humans need to differentiate themselves as much as possible from the androids because they see the androids as monstrous, emotionless creatures who are a threat to their society. To detect androids, the police use the "Voigt-Kampff test" (53), which includes a serious of questions to which the suspect must respond involuntarily through specific physical reactions. Most of the questions are designed to elicit an emotional response from the suspect, so if he fails to show an empathetic response to a question, he is deemed an android. Essentially, when the police are looking for any sign of what they think of as humanity, and what they discuss several times throughout the book as empathy.

Dick defines mankind in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as an empathetic race. Dick writes, "[e]mpathy, evidently, existed only within the human community, whereas intelligence to some degree could be found throughout every phylum and order including the arachnida" (30-31). He is revealing to us that empathy and intelligence are the two essential components to mankind, but intelligence is found in many other species. Therefore, the sole characteristic of man that distinguishes us from the rest of the beings in the universe, especially the androids, is empathy. Deckard finds that although the androids are intelligent enough to fake emotions, they do not truly sustain the same empathetic capabilities that are so essential to being a human. To further emphasize the empathy with which humans are gifted, Dick includes Deckard's rationalization of his job. This emphasizes the empathy of mankind first because the stereotypically merciless bounty hunter feels the need to justify killing his victims. Furthermore, when Deckard analyzes the androids he says they have, "no regard for animals...possess no ability to feel empathetic joy for another life form's success or grief at its defeat" (32). In short, Deckard is saying the androids are nearly void of emotion. He does not feel regret for killing a being that does not feel empathy.

It is important to note that the one android we formally meet in this half of the book, Rachael Rosen, seems to be as human as any of the characters we meet. When Deckard meets her, he even notes that there is, "a mid perfume about her, almost a warmth" (56). Typically, warmth is not a normal attribute to associate with androids. In fact, normally, humans sense the opposite. When Isidore encounters Rosen for the first time he notes, "something else began to emerge from her...[a] coldness" (67). It is interesting that the expert in detecting androids first associates an android with warmth while the inexperienced man with a low IQ sees her with a certain "coldness." Despite the best efforts of the largest humanoid-producing corporation on Earth, they failed. In the end, Rosen does not pass the Voigt-Kampff test due to her lack of empathy in response to Deckard's questions. By doing this, Dick is making the statement that even with all the resources, money, and intelligence in the world, true mankind empathy cannot be manufactured. It is something present only in humans.

In the final analysis, Dick's search for the definition of mankind is prevalent throughout the novel. Rcik Deckard's character and occupation truly personifies the search for mankind because of his attempts to rationalize the killing off of the andys as well as his attempts to distinguish the human race from androids as a whole. Therefore, Aldiss' analysis of science fiction stands strong when tried against Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

Symbolism in DADES

Android Symbolism in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”

               In “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” it is clear that the Philip K. Dick’s story is heavily influenced by what is happening in America during the 1960’s. To fully understand the meaning and symbolism of this book we must understand what is happening at the time Dick wrote this novel. During the mid to late 1960’s America was a place of turmoil. The country was war-torn, in the peak of action in the Vietnam War and in the midst of the Cold War between the U.S.S.R. Along with that cold war came the constant threat of nuclear warfare and communism. In this book, Dick uses symbolism to give us social commentary on these topics and others.
                Throughout the story, there appears to be two forces fighting over the post-apocalyptic world Dick has described to us. One is Mercerism, and the other is Buster Friendly. This becomes apparent when Isodore says “Buster is the most important human being alive, except of course Wilbur Mercer.” (Dick,69) More importantly these two forces seem to be in direct competition. Isidore even goes on to say “I think Buster Friendly and Mercerism are fighting over our souls.” (Dick, 76)
               What could these two conflicting powers represent in the time of Dick? To me these are the conflicting ideologies of Communism and the American way of life. Mercerism is Dick’s version of communism and Buster Friendly is the way of life America trusts and is used to. I feel like the connection between Mercerism and Communism is a simple one to make. First, the original name for Communism was Marxism. This is because the man who invented the idea of Communism was named Karl Marx. Even though the idea of Communism is that all are equal, it always ends up that one man controls all the power. Whether it is Stalin in Russia, or Mercer in this book, the idea of togetherness is simply a fa├žade that is used to control the masses. Leaders of Communist regimes are often seen as larger than life figures. They have giant murals of them on city walls and monuments built for them. Mercer is described in this light when Isidore states “(Mercer) isn’t a human being; he evidently is an archetypical entity from the stars, superimposed on our culture by a cosmic template. (Dick, 74) Meanwhile, Buster Friendly is the opposition to Communism, which was Patriotism. Although Communism is a style of Government, it is not appropriate to say the opposition to Communism was truly Democracy, because it was more than that. During the Red Scare, we were not necessarily worried about the threat of a new government but more about a new way of life. Communism was a threat to our freedom and our ability to act for ourselves and think independently. To counter the Red Scare, the United States engaged in propaganda equally is biased as the communists did. Buster Friendly is very truly a propaganda machine. What I mean by this is that he is an Android designed for essentially the sole purpose of stopping Mercerism. We hear of his on page 74 when the narrator tells us that John would become irritated when Friendly would “In subtle, almost inconspicuous ways, ridicule the empathy boxes.”
               If Mercerism is Communism and Friendly is the United States propaganda, what does that make the androids? To me the androids are the Communists. Americans had an idea of what Communism was before the Red Scare. These are the old non-threatening versions of the androids. However, when the Nexus-6s androids emerged they became a threat because they were too life like and too real. When Communism started to emerge in the US, there was a massive panic. The government did everything they could to stop the spread throughout the country. They were unfairly prosecuted and even hunted down. This is the role of Rick Deckard. Rick is symbolic of a US government agent who is searching and eliminating Communists. The hard part about being a US government ages in this time that it was extremely difficult to identify Communists by simply looking at them. This is why Dick goes to such great lengths about how lifelike and realistic the Nexus-6s’s appear. Rick even tells us that he finds Rachael Rosen, an android attractive. Also it is important to note that everyone taking the Voight-Kampff test was thought to be a believer in Mercerism. My point is furthered by the fact that when Luba Luff is being interviewed, she cannot understand many of the questions. This could be analogous of a private investigator interviewing a foreigner about being a communist.
               If this is true, then why is the head of the proposed US way of life an android? I think this is Dick’s way of saying that the US was in a somewhat Communist state at this time. The fear created from paranoia and propaganda caused and environment where its citizens had an over dramatized sense of patriotism to the point where the accusations against communists or would be communists were unfair.

               In conclusion, Dick is making a strong statement about the politics of the world in 1960. Through this story he is giving us a warning through different symbols that if we do not change the way our society is run, we will all die humans and androids alike.

Blog 3, Prompt 2: Androids as a Metaphor

Androids: The Communist Spies  
         
             Knowing the time period that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was published in is important in understanding the metaphors that reoccur throughout the book. Philip K. Dick was born in 1928 and had lived in a world dominated by two superpowers for the majority of his life. The book was first published in 1968, in the midst of the Cold War. The Cold War was a century long standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States. They fought a series of proxy wars in order to push their ideologies and raced to build the biggest weapons and most innovative technologies. This racing also included spying on the other country in order to steal technologies. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep shares a strong connection to the Cold War. The United States and the Soviets are still in existence in a world that 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 rampart spying that occurred in the U.S. No one knows who the androids are just as no one knew who the Soviet spies were. They could be anyone.
            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 actors, writers, and even members of the Truman administration. 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 anyone. 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, opera singer Luba Luft is accused of being an android. Anyone in the book, even Rick Deckard himself, could be an android and we would have no way of knowing unless they are administered the Voigt-Kampff test. This test is similar to polygraph tests that would have been given to individuals suspected of spying.
            The hysteria surrounding the fear of not knowing who is a spy or android isn’t the only facet that relates the Cold War to the book. Bounty hunters can be seen as American spies trying to find and kill Soviet spies. Androids and bounty hunters both seem to have specialized weaponry (the laser tube) (Dick 106) like a spy would have specialized gadgets. Some androids in the book are part of a nonexistent police department (Dick 122, 123). This secret police is similar to the actual Soviet secret police, the KGB, which existed in Communist Russia until it’s collapse. 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. This can be seen as a metaphor of androids having memories implanted in their pseudo-brains (Dick 122).
            One thing that androids cannot have implanted in their brains is empathy. They are unable to feel bad for their brethren (Dick 124). Empathy, and by extension Mercerism, are indicative to capitalism and freedom. Mercer continuing to go up and down on the hillside can be seen as a metaphor for the free market; something that communist spies will never experience in their own country. The androids have their own brand of religion they follow in the form of Buster Friendly. Buster represents the propaganda spewed out in communist regimes. Buster is intolerant of Mercerism and broadcasts his message twenty-three hours a day. This reminds me a of a certain communist government in North Korea which has radios playing propaganda that can never be shut off.

            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 faulty, or who is an android and who is human. This not knowing can lead to fear and assumptions as to who the actual androids are. This is exactly what happened during the time period it was written. Fear of the unknown was a big issue for the U.S. when Cold War tensions were at their height. United States citizens didn’t 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 going to turn around and betray the United States to the Soviet Union. This is the environment Phillip K. Dick lived in and it is easy to see this throughout the book.

Aldiss and Humanity


            Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick is a novel that explores many interesting concepts in a dystopian world. One of the main themes of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is in defining what makes someone human. Brian Aldiss states that “Science fiction is the search for a definition of mankind and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode,” which I think applies quite specifically to the DADES story. A planet that is filled with humans and androids raises many questions about who really is the more humane individual. In DADES humanity is a goal that both androids and humans strive to achieve, and yet it remains loosely defined and constantly contradicted. The exploration of humanity and what it means to be human is something that would make Aldiss say that DADES is a science fiction novel.
            The exploration of what defines one as human can be seen in one of the main characters of the novel, Rick Deckard, who is an android. He has the job of bounty hunter – one who hunts down rogue androids and “retires” them before they wreak havoc on society and that blurs the lines of humanity as Deckard struggles to identify the androids from people. His first encounter is with Rachael Rosen, who at first appears to him as human, and though she does not pass the test he applies to her, eventually he comes to see that she is not human by the way “she keeps calling the owl it. Not her,” which indicates to Deckard that she is an android and incapable of feeling an emotional connection to other beings (56). This seems a pretty clear indication of what makes someone human, and yet still Deckard struggles to identify the androids he is assigned to “retire”. Upon reflection, this shows how the novel portrays the difficulty one has in defining humanity, because someone’s humanity is not easy to tell just by inspection.
            Besides just having the difference between human and android be difficult to discern from just observation, the novel takes the humanity problem even further when another character is introduced, John R. Isidore, who is a human that is labeled a “chickenhead” and because he “had failed to pass the mental faculties test” (17). Shortly after Isidore is introduced he comes upon what the reader can tell is an android, although Isidore simply sees the android as an eccentric woman. However, the contrast between the way that the two humans treat androids, and just other people they come in contact with, is marked and should be looked at more closely. Deckard regards everyone with suspicion and is not immediately friendly to those he encounters and yet is deemed a human citizen and capable of interacting and participating in society. Isidore meets everyone with kindness and yet is labeled as inferior and not an integral part of society. This relates back to what Aldiss was saying about science fiction dealing with the definition of mankind. Even though Isidore shows more compassion towards others, which is something Deckard uses as a test to determine who is android and who is human, Isidore is viewed as inferior because of other tests he fails to pass.
            Another point that Aldiss makes in his statement is that science fiction is classically set in a Gothic or Post-Gothic mode. This also applies to DADES because much of the imagery seen and indeed the setting of the novel is on Earth after particular nuclear fallout. Dark images are common and a new term “kipple” has been used to describe all the waste left behind by humans (63). The natural decay of buildings left alone becomes normal and the ruins that are left help add to these images. That people can live with and just ignore this mess is another way of defining mankind, and allowing the characters a certain amount of adaptability. They have all simply become accustomed to seeing ruin in their daily lives.
            The main marked point that the novel has repeated seems to be that not everyone is as they appear and nothing should be taken for granted. The reoccurring theme of humanity and how that is defined is also relevant. Relating this back to Aldiss’s statement, the novel falls into the science fiction category. There are other parts of the novel that also fit Aldiss’s definition too, such as the Gothic setting of the novel, though I believe the more important feature is that of defining mankind. Humanity and mankind are words that are difficult to define in society today and having clear-cut definitions for them in the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep seems almost impossible.

Androids as Metaphors




Androids as Metaphors
Brianna R. Pinckney


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is set in a post apocalyptic future, where Earth and its populations have been damaged by a nuclear war during World War Terminus. Due to the radiation most species were extinct while most of mankind was left to begin life on another planet. Along with the dying species something else is at risk of extinction; the empathy of humans. American author Philip K. Dick published DADES in the late 1960’s, a pivotal moment in the United States during a cultural revolution.
One of the main critiques of capitalism during this period was the belief that America’s own capitalistic hunger only fueled the machines of war that sprung up all over the world during this time, specifically in Vietnam. Through this novel, Dick claims that those propagated violence on others have just as much responsibility for the economic and social conditions of the world as do those that they fight. This theory correlates to the heavy use and talk about empathy.
A corporation such as the Rosen Association, will do anything for their own survival, including cheating, even to encourage the injury or death of the bounty hunters that seek to destroy their androids. This is Dick's critique of an economic system that abandons all value for human life except for the value that creates the most economic gain.
Androids, represent the literary theme of duplication. A character in the novel is presented with a person or thing that looks and acts exactly like him or her, except that this double character is an imperfect reflection, showing a flaw or trait that was otherwise unknown. Androids play this role by looking and acting exactly as humans do, yet they also represent humanity’s dying trait – the opportunity to empathize.  Empathy is a unique quality that allows one to understand and share the feelings of others and according to DADES the only subject to possess enough intellect is the human race.
Empathy is the main theme of the novel and is the root on which Dick's metaphysical reflection on the meaning of life hangs. Each character in the novel must deal with what it means to be empathetic and whether that allows someone to be valued as a living thing. By persecuting and killing androids, humans are really trying to destroy a flaw within themselves. In this way, androids represent a half of the human condition. It’s as if the androids are a foreshadowing of what the humans could become if they lose their empathetic response.
These natural emotions are the basis of humanity and the reader gets a glimpse at its control during Isidore’s dilemma with the dying cat. After failing to realize that cat was real, Isidore faced not only his own horror at having let an animal die but now he is also required to alert the animal’s owner. It’s assumed that the cat’s owner would be more horrified at the cat’s lost life however the owner decides to have replacement android can built so their spouse won’t be too disturbed. Here, Dick is calling into question the value of life and how easily humanity substitutes loss with some kind of replacement.
This empathetic flaw appears again while Rick is on the Rosen Association’s roof and sees their assortment of animals. Unaware that the animals are all androids, Rick’s jealously of the animal collections develops not from any desire to care for the animals, but from a place of personal greed. Rick wants the animals for himself, to simply upgrade his status, he is uninterested in the animals sake. It’s ironic how Rick hates his electric sheep because it is unable to relate empathy while Rick himself struggles to display the same trait. This feeling allows Rick to perform his work as a bounty hunter because he believes that androids similar to his sheep are incapable of human emotion and are not worthy of life in a society where life is the highest ideal.
The audience is also introduced to Buster Friendly, a talk show host that is on radio and television for almost every hour out of the day. Buster represents the power and influence of mass media. Buster’s entertainment segments create a reality that one is able to escape. Buster’s presence is used as a religious replacement. His shows provide guidance for those searching for something. Buster Friendly plays a significant role since many humans lost everything due to the war.