This is Part 1 of: The Android in “The Post”: A PKD Intersection Review. Please be sure to explore the entire analysis for access to the full review and curated intersectional links. Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4.
The Android in “The Post”: A PKD Intersection Review, Part 1
I happened to be reading Philip K. Dick’s 1972 speech, “The Android and the Human,” the weekend I watched Steven Spielberg’s film, “The Post.” This was not a planned intersection, yet somehow, my friend’s invite to see the film as her SAG-AFTRA guest, coincided with my determination to finish The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (Lawrence Sutin, ed.). Surrounded by actors most likely enthralled by the film’s consummate cast, I pierced the rosy feminism, journalistic nostalgia and shadowy government implications with a PKD lens. “The Android and the Human” (henceforth designated as The Android), would be my source for analyzing and exploring the essential themes in “The Post” (henceforth designated as The Post).
Why Intersect The Post with The Android?
PKD’s writing is highly reflective of the political climate from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, and often involves his paranoia regarding the government. The Post, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, focuses on just a few weeks in 1971, but features The Washington Post’s decision to publish parts of the classified Pentagon Papers, which chronicled the United State’s involvement in Southeast Asia from World War II to 1968. Whether it be the whispered voice of Nixon colluding in a dark oval office, or the marriage of propaganda and the war machine, The Post reminds us there are very real adversaries in our institutions, and The Android explores our role in facing them.
The New Yorker reviewer, Anthony Lane, in his article on The Post, suggests that the film is an ode to journalism with current implications. A good friend of mine framed it as a feminist film. I believe we can sum up The Post best, with this quote fragment from The Android: “…a great many characters in search of a plot.” It begins with U.S. military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg, as he braves both the literal and political jungles of the Vietnam war to liberate the top-secret report about U.S. military collusion. The film moves its focus to publisher, Katharine Graham, following her endeavors to keep The Washington Post solvent, and her eventual decision to publish the top-secret document despite court orders to desist. The Post is a story about people making important choices, often in conflict with societal expectations, even when it means breaking the law. The Android is a speech which applauds and explains the importance of these types of choices.
As I watched The Post, I experienced a great nostalgia for ink and paper journalism, as well as many thoughts on the nature and necessity of the first amendment. The film’s central action spins around the journalists and the newsroom, with the camera scurrying to follow scoops from hand held papers to typewriter to press. And yes, it is an ode to traditional journalism.
I was also deeply moved by Meryl Streep’s adept portrayal of The Washington Post’s first female publisher, Katharine Graham. Spielberg’s focus on her story in The Post, highlights how this woman’s pivotal decision was a relevant example of female empowerment. One of the film’s culminating scenes, where she leaves the courthouse for a victory walk through the second wave of feminism, almost had me in tears. So yes, The Post also deftly strums on feminist heart strings.
While it intersects many issues, The Post in Spielberg’s hands, is a character driven story. It’s not really about the Vietnam war machine, or the government’s tendency to interfere in world politics and lie to its own citizens. It’s about how Daniel Ellsberg braved charges of espionage and conspiracy to bring important information to light. It’s not really about the first amendment, or the role of journalism in the balance of power. It’s about how journalists led by Ben Bradlee and Ben Bagdikian, chased and caught a story, then campaigned for its publication. It’s not about the second wave of feminism, or the struggle of women in the workplace to establish their relevance. It’s about how Katharine Graham risked everything to heed her conscience.
The Post is a film about how individual disobedience creates essential change. The Android explains how this very human capacity must thrive in our current age of technological advancement.
(If you would like to familiarize yourself with either speech or film before diving into this intersectional analysis, read: full text of The Android and the Human by PKD, and excellent summary and commentary on The Post, by Anthony Lane. Otherwise click the links below and let my thought montage act as an aperatif to your future explorations.)