Butler & Dick Comparison : Numb & Mechanical

As Rye sits in Obsidian’s car, the mentally crippling emotions of “growing hopelessness, purposelessness” and “jealousy” remind the reader of the enslaved android’s dilemma (99). Rye’s “powerful urge to kill another person” stems not only from her own personal issues, but from the idea that someone could have more ability and access to knowledge and expression (99). Rye nearly snaps when she realizes how she is inferior to Obsidian due to her illiteracy and how easily he may or may not take the ability for granted. The scale of the complaint seems arbitrary, but one more issue is enough to nearly set her over the edge. Her gun has the same killing power of a determined Android like Roy before his father & creator. The text places the smoking gun in the hands of a mentally polarizing character and seems to ask the reader whether or not he or she empathizes with her.  Butler seems to be forcing the reader into deciding whether or not one cares if Rye hurts herself, or someone else, or both.  Separately, Butler establishes a hyper-focalization on Rye and Rye’s thoughts, whereas Dick spreads some of the world-building into the thought-experiments and androids themselves. Not to hammer the nail too much, but an emotionally numb and unpredictable narrator has the qualities of an insensitive android, but reads as more real and possible. So although the decision remains on how one values the needs of a troubled human vs. a programmed android, the reader response effect develops similarly from a close narration of the darkest of emotional lows.

Roy Baty’s Rage

1:26:20: This scene depicts Roy Baty’s murder of Tyrell, with heavy emphasis on the bloody gouging out of Tyrell’s eyes and the complicated emotions which cross Baty’s face during the killing.

Why does Roy Baty express so much rage and perhaps grief in the killing of Tyrell? Why the deliberate mutilation? Isn’t this an expression of emotion? Watching this scene, I felt a confirmation of both Roy’s villainy and his definite interiority and perhaps even empathy. The murder of a person described as one’s ‘father’ in such a deliberate and torturous way carries enormous emotional resonance and seems unlikely for an android. If androids have the capacity to kill easily, isn’t it because they do not view it as hugely significant or in relation to themselves? The murder of Tyrell to represent the death of the father or creator – particularly as Roy has knowledge of his own impending death – seems to point conclusively to androids as having ‘real’ emotions. As these emotions pass across Roy’s face, the viewer has the ability to attempt to empathically connect, to put themselves in his position and try to guess his range of emotions. Yet this ability to connect seems out of the grasp of androids…the whole scene is very confusing and provocative but (as in other parts of the movie) lacks certain subtleties of the book. It seems too obvious that androids really CAN develop ‘real’ feelings, in contrast with the strange, eerie ambiguity with which Dick ends his novel.

Paranoid Empathy

The feelings of distrust and paranoia central to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is built into Rick Deckard’s profession as a bounty-hunter. His job requires that he intuit whether apparent humans are actually androids, which, even though he claims that “A Mercerite sensed evil [in andys] without understanding it,” must be carefully discerned through the use of technology like Voigt-Kampff scale (32). This feature has the interesting and extrapolating effect of casting empathy as something mechanical and legible through technology, as displayed when Rick uses the scale to test Rachael Rosen. Rick describes the test: “This… measures capillary dilation in the facial area. We know this to be a primary autonomic response, the so-called ‘shame’ or ‘blushing’ reaction to a morally shocking stimulus. It can’t be controlled voluntarily, as can skin conductivity, respiration, and cardiac rate” (46). While this description is meant to show the utility of such a machine in detecting “The Killers” or the androids, the mechanisms of the Voigt-Kampff scale reveal a perverse vision of “empathy” in the novel as something invasive and frightening, driven by the paranoia pervading this decaying society left behind on earth. A reader may become unsettled by this redefinition of empathy as a locating a set of standard biological and involuntary reactions that each and every person is meant to have, lest they be shunned or “retired” for being an android.