On my way to therapy this morning, I walked by an advertisement for United Airlines starring none other than Mr. Spider-Man himself, and proceeded to use the first 10 minutes of my session talking about our fully monetized and cross-branded dystopia, and how this world is designed to make us go bonkers.
Spider-Man stars in United’s latest safety video.
“Since when is Spider-Man doing commercials for United?” I bemoaned. “I know the world has always been fueled by advertising, but now it feels more inescapable than ever. I envy my parents, how they got to be young in the 1970s, before smartphones and the internet, before our culture became such a corporate monolith.”
My therapist noted that perhaps I am more sensitive to society than the average person, that I don’t have any filter for processing all the images I’m bombarded with, and thus, am too affected by everything.
She makes a good point.
Recently, I have found an outlet that makes me truly appreciate the fact that I live in a society in the year two-thousand-and-nineteen—a reality television program called Naked and Afraid. For those unfamiliar, the premise of the show is as follows: Two lucky strangers, a man and a woman, are dropped in an unforgiving natural habitat. Totally naked, they must live there for 21 days, finding their own food and water, working together to make shelter, and warding off endless swarms of mosquitoes and other nasty bugs. A contestant can tap out whenever they want, and sometimes are required to leave for medical reasons. If you survive three weeks in the wilderness, nude, you win nothing, except for the glory of knowing that you were up to a task that would break the vast majority of people.
Naked and Afraid is next-level excellent television. As I watch a 22-year-old tough-as-nails mom from Louisiana weep over her unending bug bites—they attack at night and she hasn’t been able to sleep for days—I look down at my t-shirt and sweatpants, feeling myself sink into the comfort of my bed, and think, “God damn, am I grateful not to be in the wilderness right now.”
Considering how much emotional energy I spend resenting the fact that modern-day America basically seems to be set up to cause the everyday person an incredible amount of agony, Naked and Afraid is a nice reminder that it could always be worse. Sure, having to go through a whole rigmarole to convince my health insurance to cover my antidepressants is frustrating—but I could be starving in the wild, haunted by bugs biting my private parts, lamenting that it’s been raining too much to make a fire, and the fact that none of my animal traps have worked, separated from all the people I love, and most upsettingly of all, forced to eat giant insects in order to remain alive. I’d probably be too distracted by basic survival to experience the usual depression I suffer from daily; still, without the comfort of society, life would surely feel just as dismal.
I don’t want to sound like a total loony-toon, but I think about the first line of the Unabomber manifesto almost every day: “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.” When I see my beloved Spider-Man shilling for the certifiably evil airline United, a phenomenon which would be impossible without modern technology—which gave humans the time to innovate millions of new forms of bullshit—I get the feeling Kaczynski is making a valid point. “[The Industrial Revolution has] greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in ‘advanced’ countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering,” the Unabomber argues. Maybe he’d have a change of heart if he would’ve lived in the era of Naked and Afraid. It reminds us that without the terrible institutions we’re beholden to, the world would still be full of pain and suffering, just a different, more primal sort.