"Dick engaged the mutant logic of late capitalism and the technological simulacrum before Baudrillard knew a megabyte from a baguette" -- Erik Davis
Nowhere is the above quote more apt than in The Penultimate Truth, which seems to prefigure our current state of political affairs, Baudrillard philosphies such as The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, and the Hasbro action figures The Transformers.
The Penultimate Truth is set on an Earth in which most of the population lives underground ("Tankers") because of a continuous war they are led to believe is taking place above ground. However, this war is not actually taking place. The Tankers are just led to believe this, so that the political elite ("Yance-men") can live above ground on vast parks, called "demenses." They have this land all to themselves without such overpopulation irritations such as traffic, babies crying on the plane, and demand for shows like America's Next Top Model.
The Tankers manufacture robots, who they think are being used in the war effort, but are actually servants for the Yance-men. The situation depicted in The Penultimate Truth has echoes in our current state of affairs, reflected in the perpetual "The War on Terror," among other things.
However, the idea of a fictional war, carried out as images on T.V. screens also found expression in the work of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, most notably in The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. Here, Baudrillard argued that The Gulf War was not a war in the traditional sense (ground battle), but one conducted from news, maps and images. Basically, Baudrillard argues that what is "real" these days is just images (or simulacra) of what is real. Basically people think anything they see on T.V. is real. This is certainly true for the Tankers in The Penultimate Truth, who stay underground for 13 years because they believe in some fictional war shown to them on T.V.
On a side note, and as an illustration of the different symbolic levels of PKD's work, my favorite scene in The Penultimate Truth is when the robotic assassin murders Lindblom and then transforms into a television-set so as not to be caught. Here we have an expression of the T.V.'s ability to suck the life out of all that is good, and a precursor to the Transformers action figures I played with back in the '80's. Did PKD ever get credit for that?
Finally, I know many of you have expressed concern about where I will take my PKD jones next. To allay your fears and provide a roadmap, I think we will now move onto Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.