The mass production of the replicants and androids within these texts brings to bear the question of authenticity that is posed when anything is reproduced to that extent. The setting of mass production instigates the search for the original and the question of whether the copies should be any less valued. The replicants in Blade Runner and the androids in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep serve as a way to explore what it means to be human.
Deckard and the other characters within Philip K. Dick and Ridley Scott’s works make ethical decisions based on how they view the replicants and androids. Hunting and killing them becomes questionable because it is immoral if they are considered in any way human. This dilemma creates a need to determine whether or not they are human, which in turn creates a need to understand what it is to be human. Stephen Mulhall emphasizes this as a key aspect of the film, “Blade Runner is explicitly concerned with the question of what it is to be a human being” (Mulhall 1). Whether the manufactured humanoids can be considered human or not, which is arguably different depending on whether you are analyzing the book or the film, what confirms or separates them from humanity provides a better understanding of the humanity of the original humans.
In Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, Dick makes it clear that what separates androids from humans is an incapacity for empathy. This statement makes the assumption that all humans are capable of empathy. Jason Booth comments on this matter in his essay “Not Answering the Human Question in Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” stating, “empathy is established as the means of determining how “real” a human being is” (Booth 2). However, even within the work there is a discussion of how people with psychological problems can be mistaken for androids. This is seen when Bryant is sending Deckard to see the Rosen Corporation. They have a conversation about the possibility of schizophrenia interfering with a human’s ability to pass the Voight-Kampff test. The subject is revisited when Eldon Rosen says that the police have probably retired “authentic humans with underdeveloped empathy ability” (Dick 54). This can be understood in two possible ways; either not all humans feel empathy or people with disabilities or psychiatric problems are subhuman. In either case the discussion was provoked by the existence of androids and the problem of detecting them, meaning the androids in the story serve the function of allowing the author to delve into the nature of humanity. Booth states, “need for empathy once again becomes the need for authenticity” (Booth 3).
In the film the Voight-Kampff test is used to determine the humanity of an individual using physical reflexes as a measurement of emotional responses. Christopher Gauthier describes the Vight-Kampff test as “More than the systematic tracking of replicants, it stands for a yardstick by which to measure the subject’s appropriateness to the world” (8). The questions used to invoke emotions are culturally influenced, with the assumption that all humans share that culture. The replicants do not fail because they are incapable of empathy; they fail because they do not have the experiences or memories that would allow such a question to impact them. In short, they have not been culturally ingrained with the values and ideology that would create moral objections or empathy towards the situations mentioned during the Voight-Kampff.
Therefore it may be concluded that the physiology of the replicants is not what separates them; it is the lack of cultural imprinting. This is demonstrated when Rachel who has been implanted with false memories scores differently on the test. In the film Deckard states that it normally only takes twenty to thirty questions to identify a replicant, and with Rachel it takes approximately one hundred. Deckard does not consider the implications of the implanted memories having an influence on the difficulty detecting that she is a replicant. In his essay “Picturing the Human”, Mahall writes “[Deckard feels] Rachel’s failure to pass the V-K test is a simple proof of her non-humanity; he fails to see that his difficulty in detecting the usual emotional absence in her suggests this lack is both contingent and a matter of degree” (Mulhall 4). That Rachel is marginally human by Mahall’s standards may simply indicate that she only has partial cultural imprinting. This leads to the conclusion that there are different degrees of cultural imprinting and that the degree of the imprinting determines how difficult it is to determine the results of the test.
It is possible, although less likely than in a case of a replicant, that a human would be missing the cultural imprinting necessary to pass the Voight-Kampff test. If a human was from another part of the world, lived a sheltered life or was somehow from another time period then they would most likely fail the test because of cultural differences. This is pointed out in Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep during Deckard’s interview with Luba Luft. He describes a banquet involving eating dog meat, which is meant to shock her and her reply is a comment about how that was once acceptable in the Philippines. (Dick 13) Through her retort Dick is explaining that a human from a particular time in the Philippines would respond in a way that would be interpreted as android behaviour. This indicates that the emotional responses to the answers are not based on inherited personality but rather learned through experiences. In this sense Dick is saying that it is the shared experiences that make people appear human and that the Voight-Kampff test is a measure of culture rather than species. Andy O’Meara explains, “When replicants are created, they have no emotional response and no understanding of humanity because Tyrell explains these qualities are learned”(O’Meara 2). If the replicants must learn emotional responses and morality that insinuates that humans are not born with these qualities either, but develop them during childhood. Part of why the Tyrell Corporation decided on a short lifespan for the replicants is to prevent them from developing into humans with emotional responses. To accept that they could potentially become human is to acknowledge that they are already human, although undeveloped like a child.
The mass production mentality of androids and electric animals prompts questions about what makes something authentic. An “authentic” life form is generally thought of as unique, but as Booth remarks, “The uniqueness of the real is reproduced to the point that it can no longer be distinguished from the fake” (Booth 1). If an android or replicant is truly unique then does that qualify as being authentic? The androids in Dick’s work do not appear to be unique since Rachel and Pris are described as the same model, despite the minor differences they are more obviously mass-produced which makes the fact that they are not original more apparent. Rachel herself admits, “I’m just representative of a type” (Dick 189). In the film, Rachel and Pris are portrayed by different women, which makes it easier for the audience to affiliate Rachel with humanity.
It has been argued that what makes people human is weakness, invincibility being associated with the non-human (generally robotic). Mulhall writes, “what the replicants lack is the frailty of human flesh and blood” (Mulhall1). In Blade Runner, what makes the replicants noticeably distinct is their physical abilities such as being resistant to heat and cold. Mulhall argues, “The empathic claim exerted upon us by those scenes in which that behaviour becomes pain-behaviour is what grounds the film’s assumption that it is this aspect of the replicant’s embodiment which is pertinent to their candidature for human status, and not the issue of whether anything occupies their bodies” (Mulhall 2). Mulhall is saying that it is not a question of a soul that determines an individual’s humanity, merely physical traits.
Being a member of a community is an integral part of humanity. Muhall states, “the humanity of the replicants or indeed of all human beings is in the hands of their fellows; their accession to human status involves their being acknowledged as human by others…if their humanity is denied, it withers” (Mulhall 3). Deckard is unable to kill Rachel after she saves his life. Brian Carr argues that this moment of saving him from Leon is what makes her human in Deckard’s eyes, “[Deckard] only extends to Rachel (Sean Young) the insider category of the “human” after Rachel kills a replicant in order to save Deckard’s life” (Carr 122). If Carr is correct in this assumption then it implies that what makes one human is to be part of the community and work towards the human cause (in this case going along with the assumption that a human life is more valuable than that of a replicant). Even if Carr is correct about Deckard’s reasons for differentiating Rachel from the other replicants, it does not mean that all the characters or the writers share this view on what is necessary to be considered human. Carr himself observes, “But Rachel refuses such terms of humanity…regardless of his capacity to read her as human” (Carr 122). Being part of cultural society is essential for humans.
A second and more popular view Carr shares about Rachel’s humanity is that it is linked to her sexuality. He states, “It is precisely the “act” of “falling in love” and the (hetero) narrative trajectory it marshals which exacts Rachel’s ability to signify “human,” thus rendering the dissolution of the human/replicant distinction” (Carr 134). He further explains, “It is not that Rachel first signifies “human” and then she can enter into sexual normativity. Rather, what the film makes clear is that sexual normativity constitutes the hegemonic field of the human’s intelligibility as such” (Carr 134). While this statement can be applied effectively to Blade Runner, it becomes problematic when dealing with Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep. In the novel Rachel explains that her reasons for having sex with Deckard are logical rather than due to emotional or physical attraction. She believes that once a man is intimate with her or another android he is not capable continuing to hunt them. This cold calculated use of her body diminishes her humanity, meaning that while both their relationships with Deckard were turning points for the characters he had opposing effects on their resemblance to humanity.
While the Rachel in Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep represents what is inhuman about the androids, there are androids in the novel that represent human characteristics. T. J. LeGrice writes, “Some of the androids are examples of what it is to be human, or rather what Dicks impressions of what humans should be as oppose to what we are” (LeGrice 3). He discusses how Luna Luft’s appreciation of art and ability to perform opera is uncharacteristically human of an android. Her sentimental attachment to art is parallel with the attachment replicants in Blade Runner have with photographs. As “non-humans” they are not supposed to be capable of such emotions or attachments, therefore the art and the photographs represent an unspoken link to humanity. That those items are what associates them with humanity indicates that Dick felt art is part of what makes humans human and that the filmmakers feel nostalgia is essential to human identity. LeGrice states, “it is the android willingness to use the primitive instincts of survival, sex and togetherness that defines them, and shows man what it is to be human” (LeGrice 3). The Rachel from Blade Runner is represented as being very close to if not completely human. Carr argues, “Rachel, though a replicant, is offered up in the film as prototypically human” (Carr 133).
The question of what it means to be human is explored in Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream Of Electric and this examination is made possible by the use of replication and the questions of authenticity that it entails. The replicants in Blade Runner and the androids in Dick’s work provide the opportunity to attempt to define humanity through both their human and inhuman qualities. While many aspects of humanity are investigated through the texts they both remain ambiguous in regards to what it means to be human. Booth states, “By maintaining an unstable subject, the text resists any attempt at qualifying a “real” human by complicating the notion of authenticity.” (Booth 4) The themes of replication and the loss of the original are responsible for this scrutiny of the nature of humanity.