On the Papoola

In Philip K. Dick’s The Simulacra, there’s a tiny, ill-defined creature named the papoola. We never see a real papoola in the novel, but instead several characters interact with a robotic replica of the papoola (shades of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)


The real papoolas, the organic kind, live on Mars. Communication between the colonists there and the people on Earth, the land of robotic papoolas, is sparse; the real papoolas might even extinct. The robot papoolas only exist to fulfill a single function: they sell things. They trick a mind. They make you feel good–good enough to approve someone’s trip to the White House or buy a car you don’t need so you can emigrate to a planet that you don’t want to go to.

The papoola emerged from beneath the Loony Luke sign, and Al caused it to waddle on its six stubby legs toward the sidewalk, its round, silly hat slipping over one antenna, its eyes crossing and uncrossing as it made out the sight of the woman. The tropism being established, the papoola trudged after her, to the delight of the boy and his father.

“Look, Dad, it’s following Mom! Hey Mom, turn around and see!”

The woman glanced back, saw the platter-like organism with its orange bug-shaped body, and she laughed. Everybody loves the papoola, Al thought to himself. See the funny Martian papoola. Speak, papoola; say hello to the nice lady who’s laughing at you.

That quotation is from early in the book, but the papoola appears over and over again as a plot device that gets lots of characters from point A to point B in a nearly-magical way. The papoola is ubiquitous. The papoola triggers happy thoughts. Attaching the papoola to anything immediately makes it palatable.

To some degree, the papoola is a stand-in for many mediated animals in the age of the internet. Funny cats and dogs serve the advertising, eye-catching function of the papoola. We could find/replace “papoola” throughout the novel with “Grumpy Cat” as a mode of updating the text and it would remain fundamentally unchanged.

The papoola controls minds. What does that say about animals on YouTube?

[Weirdly, writing this post reminds me of this other post on the quizzle.]

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1 Response to On the Papoola

  1. “ubiquitous” = Clever nod to Ubik? 🙂

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