Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick

Flow My Tears, the

“Reality denied comes back to haunt.”
― Philip K. Dick, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said - Written in 1974 and set in the near future (at that time) of 1988, Philip K. Dick’s haunting dystopian novel addresses a range of existential, social and political themes - identity and loss of identity, celebrity and ordinariness, subjective perceptions and objective realities, state sponsored mind control and drug induced mind bending, genetic engineering and emotional networking. Never a dull moment as we enter a world where every action counts and all decisions are a matter of life and death.

Chapter One provides the framework: It’s Tuesday night at eight o’clock. Along with thirty million other viewers, we’re tuned into The Jason Taverner Show, featuring none other than Jason Taverner, a David Letterman-type TV host and pop singer. And Jason loves everything about his role as singer and entertainer, most especially his fans: “To him they were the lifeblood of his public existence. And to him his public existence, his role as worldwide entertainer, was existence itself, period.”

Jason is the perfect choice as main character for this PKD novel exploring individuality since, for Jason, personal identity equals public identity. He’s a celebrity; he’s his own best fan; he’s in love with himself and envisions all of life revolving around his status as celebrity - to be Jason Taverner, to be a star, the ultimate in being alive.

The fact that Jason is special is no accident. Leading pundits and politicians in Washington D.C. decided forty-five years ago to experiment with genetic engineering, producing a batch of “sixes,” that is, individuals with tremendous magnetism, physical beauty, charm and especially CHARISMA as well as superior memory and concentration. Jason is a product of such eugenics; he’s a forty-two year old six. He is so exceptional, so extraordinary, so superior, Jason thinks the way things are will never change - he will be forever young, charismatic and beautiful. Forever Jason Taverner.

But then it happens: after suffering a violent attack and subsequent emergency surgery, Jason wakes up in a dilapidated L.A. hotel room. Jason quickly discovers, other than wearing his custom-tailored silk suit and carrying a huge wad of money in his pocket, he is completely stripped of his identity along with his personal identification cards. Nobody but nobody, not even his agent, his lawyer or his girlfriend knows a Jason Taverner. Oh, no! He's in a nasty parallel universe, a man without any way or means of identifying himself.

From this point forward, we follow Jason's odyssey through seedy and posh LA in an attempt to reclaim even a scrap of his past as he is forced to deal with a parade of quirky people, oddball thingamajigs, murky quagmires and impossible dilemmas. To list several:

Pols and Nats – Short for Police and National Guard. There are pol and nat road blocks and check points at nearly every traffic intersection. And these fully armed folks can be mighty cruel: after he breaks into an apartment to harass a man he labels a sexual pervert, one Jesus-freak pol shares his Bible-inspired wisdom: “All flesh is like grass. Like low-grade roachweed most likely. Unto us a child is born, unto us a hit is given. The crooked shall be made straight and the straight loaded.” Fundamentalist religion linked to drugs provides a powerful kick.

Forced Labor Camps – Many are the men and women, including thousands of students, sent off to forced labor camps. One prime reason – no legitimate ID. Jason needs some good quality false ID fast or he will be picked up and sent off to one such camp as far away as the Moon or Mars to spend his waking hours breaking rocks with a pickaxe. What a plight for Jason Taverner, the rich, famous celebrity.

Subsurface Students – In this tightly controlled police state, pols and nats surround college campuses to keep students below ground where they belong. Also, to prevent those potential troublemakers from “creeping across to society like so many black rats swarming out of a leaky ship.” The late 60s - the heyday of campus unrest in the U.S; not to be repeated in this police state.

Eddie the hotel clerk – In his new parallel world, the first person Jason meets is Eddie, who is not only a clerk and accomplished mind reader, but also, as Jason eventually learns, a police fink. PKD had his own personal issues with paranoia and he gives Jason many reasons to become paranoid. As they say, even paranoids have enemies.

Kathy –A teenage ID forger who tells Jason the pols and nats are looking at him as part of a conspiracy. Even more reason for paranoia. Jason feels the absurdity of being bound by such an ordinary person since, after all, he is a six, someone truly special.

Phone-Grid Transex Network – PKD foresees internet sex. But in his futuristic world the sex network is many times more powerful and potentially destructive. If you overdo it, your body will turn flaccid and you will burn out your brains. The pols don’t like this phone sex network; they actually shot its former sponsors – Bill and Carol and Fred and Jill. A police state that doesn't mess around.

Sterilization Bill – Government sponsored sterilization of blacks. Recall PKD wrote this novel when the 1968 race riots where fresh in his memory. In this futuristic world, it is only a matter of time, sooner rather than later, when there will be no more black in the US. Race problems solved.

Cheerful Charlie – Computerized game-person who gives advice. Not that far removed from kids continually playing and interacting with computer games on their handheld devices.

Ruth Ray – Attractive, sensitive lady who shares her philosophy of love and grief with Jason. “Grief is the final outcome of love because it is love lost.” In his smugness of being a six, Jason has difficulty relating with such sentiment since the only real love he appreciates and understands is self-love. Ah, self-love, the love that never dies, especially if one is a celebrity. And most especially if one is Jason Taverner.

Hail to the Chief - The ultimate dystopian novel: One apartment has a wall-to-wall carpet depicting Richard M. Nixon’s final ascent into heaven amid joyous singing above and wails of misery below. The wails of misery here on earth every PKD fan can picture with ease.

Drugs, Drugs, Drugs, - Who in this futuristic country could ever live a day without drugs? Alys Buckman, sister of Police General Felix Buckman, treats Jason to some mescaline. There's also the mysterious new experimental drug, KR-3, with its mind-warping effects, giving new, expanded meaning to having a bad trip.

Microtransmitters – Nearly invisible dots placed on pol and nat suspects to track their every movement. PKD wrote Flow My Tears during the time of Watergate. The author also anticipates the many advanced technological forms of surveillance.

Police General Felix Buckman fuming over two of his rivals among the police higher-ups: “They had, five years ago, slaughtered over ten thousand students at the Stanford Campus, a final bloody – and needless – atrocity of that atrocity of atrocities, the Second Civil War." No question, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said depicts a nightmarish futuristic United States police state.

American author Philip K. Dick (1928 - 1982)