Like Uber—but for Dog Crap

Eugenia Williamson   July 29, 2016

The Pooper app hearkens back to a simpler time, when workers weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. / mslavick

Late Thursday afternoon, at the close of my workday, a strange subject heading appeared in my inbox: “Pooper. The latest app to push the boundaries of the sharing economy.”

Although I read precisely none of the dozens of press releases that flood my inbox each week (I am a former newspaper reporter), seeing the word “poop” so close to “sharing economy” compelled me to click through.  

What I discovered was an unsavory delight: the announcement of an app, still in beta, geared towards those too lazy to pick up after their defecating dogs. Its logo is the silhouette of an ice-blue turd emoji underlined by a smile. The concept goes something like this: A dog shits. The dog walker opens the app and takes a picture of the shit, which triggers the app to geo-locate said shit and dispatch an independent contractor—known as a scooper—to clean it up. Pooper charges its customers and pays its scoopers on a per-shit basis. It’s presumably up for debate whether the company will follow Uber’s extortionate model of high-demand “surge pricing” and charge more for shits dispatched by Great Danes than for the more demure specimens supplied by Chihuahuas or, uh, Shih Tzus.

pooperIf this seems funny, it’s supposed to be. “We hope that magnifying the humor is a more disruptive kind of way to launch a more disruptive kind of app,” the press release announces. The joke-friendly marketing technique of course arouses the suspicion that Pooper may just be a put-on. So I fired off a one-sentence response to the Pooper brass, reading “Is this real?” They have yet to give me a definitive answer. But with a few hours of, uh, dogged follow-up research, I was able to determine within a reasonable degree of certainty that Pooper is not real—and indeed, the most pointed conceptual cultural joke since #normcore.  

Consider, just for starters, the worker bringing up the rear of this rentier arrangement, the scooper—a person charged with cleaning up the actual shit of rich people’s pets. One thinks of Blake’s immortal verse:

When my mother died I was very young, 
And my father sold me while yet my tongue 
Could scarcely cry ” ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!” 
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep. 

Every era has its chimney sweeper—the paradigmatic example of the lowliest, most humiliating job imaginable. Before the internet heroically disrupted the porn business, that distinction probably belonged to the guy hired to mop up jizz in video booths. But in many ways, Pooper’s concept far outstrips the indignities of the merely industrial-age filth drone. The chimney sweep was a soot-covered child whose dirty face and short stature made it easy for his betters to ignore him, his premature death an antidote for a lifetime of privation. The jizz-mopper worked behind closed doors, his private humiliations as carefully concealed as the pleasures of the customer who came before him.

In contrast, the scooper can be readily identified by a smiling turd decal on the windshield of his car. On Pooper’s website, the job description of the scooper is accompanied by a stock photo of a young, attractive blonde woman with carefully tousled hair beneath a header that reads “Work on your terms.”

 Were Pooper a going startup,  the website’s exuberant account of the scooping vocation would be incredibly insulting. “Set your own schedule. Scooping with Pooper gives you the freedom to work whenever you want. Scoop as much or as little as you like,” reads one bullet point. “Scooping isn’t just a great way to earn extra income, it’s also great way to give back to your neighborhood and community,” reads another. “Scoopers are permitted to use any mode of transportation they choose—car, bike, scooter, or just their favorite shoes.” Why the scooper might risk a shit stain on her favorite shoes is beyond me, though of course the possibility remains that she may be too poor to own more than a single pair.

Oh, that Pooper were real! Imagine the Harvard-educated copywriters, holed up in a glass parapet somewhere in Palo Alto with a whiteboard and a dream. Imagine the mental gymnastics that this clutch of Ivy grads would have to perform in order to polish the turd-like idea of scooping shit for a living to people desperate enough to scoop shit for a living, who also own smartphones.

Pooper’s depiction of the wired urbanites desperate to use the app is no-less spot on: “We didn’t plan on…such an immediate response and overwhelming demand by the public to get their hands on the finished product!  We understand how frustrating it must be for those awaiting Pooper to come out of beta, but assure you we are working around the clock with our developers to catch up with this demand and get Pooper launched on the App Store in the coming months.”

Can you imagine the sort of unrepentant dickface who would outsource the most basic facet of dog ownership? Pooper did! In a video on its homepage, a smirking, slightly chubby, bespectacled guy in his early thirties—presumably their satiric vision of a tech bro—explains to a cadre of whiny assholes that, yes, this service is 100 percent real.

Of course, it is not. Instead, Pooper is a genius commentary on the loathsome indignity of the sharing economy and the growing class divide. It supplies a fragrant snapshot of a world in which avaricious companies with no fealty to their employees pay contractors on a per-shit basis without having to spring for healthcare. And it demonstrates just how venture capitalists and start-ups have rigged things so that they alone reap the benefits of humiliating toil, where the rich can afford to drop a deuce wherever they please. What freelancer among us can say she hasn’t picked up a turd to make rent?

Quoth the release: “We think if we can improve the dog-owning experience, while promoting cleaner and healthier cities, and also providing extra income for those interested in being part of the gig economy, then shouldn’t we?” If we can fire all our staff photographers while improving our reporters’ iPhone camera skills, then shouldn’t we? If we can outsource production to China while giving a few child laborers enough money to eat occasionally, then shouldn’t we? The answers to these questions—as well as the one asking if Pooper is way too criminally oblivious to be real—always and forever will be yes.

Eugenia Williamson is a contributing editor of The Baffler. Follow her on Twitter @eugenia_will.