“Pop Squad” by Paolo Bacigalupi describes a world in which people have eternal life but where childbearing is unlawful. Two mothers in the story tell the main character, pop squad policeman, that he has dead eyes. The man becomes habituated to killing children so that his job becomes routine giving him dead eyes; he observes a new way of life (motherhood and children), and his eyes are opened to possibilities outside his own belief system.
The policeman finds a suspect and visits her. When he questions the woman about why she chose motherhood, she says “Finally, something new. I love seeing things through her little eyes and not through dead eyes like yours” (159). There is life in new; routine deadens people. Repeated action takes joy out of work, and people’s eyes glaze over because of the habitualness of the work. For example, college students’ eyes glaze over from continuous study, especially by the end of the semester. The routine of daily studying deadens them to society. Repeated child-killing makes the policeman numb to any feelings he might have about killing them. The concept of “habituation is a relatively persistent waning of a response following continuous or (usually) repeated stimulation which is not followed by reinforcement” (Riopelle 99). The main character shoots children and arrests mothers as part of his job, and he feels no remorse. His job is routine. After shooting kids repeatedly, any remorse he might have felt the first day on the job is now nonexistent. At one house he simply says “Sorry, kids. Mommy’s gone” and shoots them (139). Shooting children is normal and does not seem inhumane to him because such action is routine for him, and he is habituated to killing children.
At the start of the story, the eyes of the protagonist are closed – he is dead to any foreign beliefs – but by the end, his eyes are open, awakened by a new train of thought that makes him think instead of blindly accepting social norms. According to the Drive Reduction Theory, “an organism will acquire new responses only when it is motivated by a need and receives a reward that meets that need” (Goldenson 353). The main character is motivated by the need to know why women choose children over rejoo. While questioning the mother, her little girl takes the man’s hat and places it on his head. The man seems to have a change of mind at this point because he smiles at the girl and says “She’s cute” (158). He is rewarded for his curiosity as he begins to see the answer to his question, eliciting a new response. The colloquialism, “my eyes were opened,” applies here. The speaker knows that alternative ways of living exist, but he always rejects them. Eventually he begins to realize that motherhood may be legitimate, possibly good. He even seems hopeful for the child and her mother: “Maybe they’ll make it. Anything is possible. Maybe the kid will make it to eighteen, get some black market rejoo and live to be a hundred and fifty” (161). His dead, closed eyes are opened to the formerly-rejected idea of motherhood and children.
In utopias, people become dead to ideas that are not fed to them by the dominating powers. They are dead to any outside beliefs, just like the protagonist in the story who is dead to outside beliefs until he asks one of his victims why she chose a child over rejoo. Her answers and his experience in her home open his eyes. He lets the child and her mother live even though he knows he should be killing the little girl and arresting her mother. He no longer blindly accepts the utopia but questions the life he is living.
Bacigalupi, Paolo. “Pop Squad.” Pump Six and Other Stories. San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2008. 137-161. Print.
Goldenson, Robert M. “Drive Reduction Theory.” The Encyclopedia of Human Behavior: Psychology, Psychiatry, and Mental Helath. 1st ed. Vol. 1. Garden City, NY: Robert M. Goldenson, 1970. Print.
Riopelle, A.J. “Habituation.” Encyclopedia of Psychology. Ed. Raymond J. Corsini. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1994. Print.