As established in my previous blog, Mercer is the God-like figure in post-apocalyptic Earth; but where there is God, there must also be the Devil. Where there is good in the world, there is surely it’s counter-part, bad. The personification of the “Devil” in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the other popular figure that everyone is drawn to in this world, Buster Friendly.
As Isidore pointed out, Buster Friendly seems to have ‘supernatural’ abilities, showcased by his ability to constantly being able to broadcast even when it exceeds impossible amounts of time:
“How did Buster Friendly find the time to tape both his aud and vid shows? Isidore wondered. And how did Amanda Werner find time to be a guest every other day, month after month, year after year? How did they keep talking? The never repeated themselves–not so far as he could determine. Their remarks, always witty, always new, weren’t rehearsed…
But something about Buster Friendly irritated John Isidore, one specific thing. In subtle, almost inconspicuous ways, Buster ridiculed the empathy boxes. Not once but many times. He was, in fact, doing it right now.” P.74-75
Clearly something is not right and Buster Friendly is not what he seems. Moreover, he is more than likely mechanically and possibly there are multiples of him that do different parts of his job in order to be able to flood the transmissions of the colonies and influence the masses. Isidore went on to say that Buster Friendly bashes on empathy boxes, the symbol of Mercerism and being fused with Mercer himself. It can be concluded that Buster Friendly’s motive (or the people who orchestrate the show in the background) is to plant seeds of denial into Mercerism and have people follow him instead, like a false prophet (or the “Devil”).
The idea of this competition between Mercer and Friendly goes further, as Isidore talks with his boss about the matter:
“Isidore said, ‘I think Buster Friendly and Mercerism are fighting for control of our psychic souls.’
‘If so,’ Sloat said, examining the cat, ‘Buster is winning.’
‘He’s winning now,’ Isidore said, ‘but ultimately he’ll lose.’
Sloat lifted his head, peered at him. ‘Why?’
‘Because Wilbur Mercer is always renewed. He’s eternal. At the top of the hill he’s struck down; he sinks into the tomb world but then he rises inevitably. And us with him. So we’re eternal, too.’ He felt good, speaking so well; usually around Mr. Sloat he stammered.
Sloat said, ‘Buster is immortal, like Mercer. There’s no difference.’
‘How can he be? He’s a man.’
‘I don’t know,’ Sloat said. ‘But it’s true. They’ve never admitted it, of course.’” P. 76
Sloat confirms even further that Buster is “immortal”; that it’s never admitted but he’s indeed at least an android, if not many androids employed to play this role. What’s even more interesting is the comparison to Mercer how they are no different; both play roles in manipulating the masses in their ideologies, the difference being the means of delivery. Mercer is doing so through reverence, faith, and community while Buster Friendly uses comedy and entertainment. Where the empathy box converges everyone into a singular fusion, the Buster Friendly TV Program outwardly broadcasts it’s message to multiple people from one source; a convergence of audience versus a divergences of message. As described in countless texts and from the bible, the Devil assumes that humanity can be won over through the indulgence of sins, much like how Buster Friendly can use ridicule and bombastic satire to win over his audience.
The main proponent of Mercerism in the novel is Isidore, even more so than most people because the extent of his empathy goes beyond just humanity. He sees the good in everything, even with the robotic replicas, such as with fake animals and the Andies who everyone hates:
“’You’re a great man, Isidore,” Pris said. ‘You’re a credit to your race.’
‘If he was an android,’ Roy said heartily, ‘he’d turn us in about ten tomorrow morning. He’d take off for his job and that would be it. I’m overwhelmed with admiration.’ His tone could not be deciphered; at least Isidore could not crack it. ‘And we imagined this would be a friendless world, a planet of hostile faces, all turned against us.’ He barked out a laugh.” P. 164
Isidore has so much empathy towards people, he even shows it to Androids who are so good at mimicking people that he believes they are real. And even when finding out they are fakes, his ideology of Mercerism is always something he clings to and respects all life through it, even if people believe that Androids don’t have “souls” (as Rick questioned, P.135). Isidore, in his unique viewpoint in the novel, values all forms of life, even if it was organic or mechanical in nature.
Rick, on the other hand, is the opposite of Isidore when it comes to empathy; he lacks so much empathy that the readers themselves question if he is truly human (and made chapters 9-11 believable to the point of being a possible twist where Rick was actually an android). He even flat out avoids fusing with Mercer, saying “’They’ll have our joy,’ Rick said, ‘but we’ll lose. We’ll exchange what we feel for what they feel. Our joy will be lost.’” (P. 174). He selfishly holds on to his emotions and avoids connecting with people because he doesn’t want to lose what little joy he gets. On top of this, Rick acknowledges the possibility of empathizing with an android and shuns the idea thinking it’s not natural to do so:
“Rick said, ‘I took a test, one question, and verified it; I’ve begun to empathize with androids, and look what that means. You said it this morning yourself. ‘Those poor andys.’ So you know what I’m talking about. That’s why I bought the goat. I never felt like that before. Maybe it could be a depression, like you get…’” P. 174
When Rick eventually gives in and tries out the empathy box, he feels nothing from it: “’I didn’t get anything from holding onto those handles,’ Rick said. ‘Mercer talked to me but it didn’t help. He doesn’t know any more than I do. He’s just an old man climbing a hill to his death.’” (P. 179). Besides the androids, Rick is the only person who seems to not show much reverence to Mercer…but still appreciates Buster Friendly: “’I’ll sit in the hotel room,’ he said, ‘and watch Buster Friendly on TV. His guest for the last three days has been Amanda Werner. I like her; I could watch her the rest of my life. She has breasts that smile.’” (P. 183). The fact that Rick enjoys Buster Friendly alludes to the idea that he resents the idea of being empathetic to everything that appears to show humanity, which goes with his lack of empathy for androids.
The fact that Rick “follows” Buster Friendly differs from androids, who don’t look to either Mercer or Buster Friendly (P. 63, where Pris didn’t know who Buster Friendly was). I guess the idea of being “soul-less” comes to mind, since they don’t follow one side of this dichotomy.