The Spider PersonPosted: November 12, 2012
With apologies to David Foster Wallace and Marvel Comics. This was written for Second Stories Presents: Fan Fiction, so if you’re around Philadelphia and want to hear a live performance (along with additional perversions of corporate intellectual property from other talented writers) come check it out.
The Spider Person.
If the spider person were to articulate all of the problems with his life in one pithy aphorism, it would need to somehow address Power, and exactly what his personal Power was, and also Responsibility, and more specifically his personal Responsibility to use the totality of his Power to effect positive change in the lives of others and never under any circumstances for self-gratification or -betterment.
The spider person’s troubles began during high school when, after being bitten by an irradiated spider, he had not died (this irradiated spider bite being another major source of guilt and feelings of obligation for the spider person, specifically that it hadn’t killed him but blessed him with Power, and also instilling in him a sense of the inevitability of his own obsolescence what with such a major part of his life and identity being tied to Cold War scientific recklessness and military-industrial anxieties) but instead received the abilities of a spider viz. strength, speed, reflexes, wall-clinging, etc. Now the spider person had, since very early childhood, been kind of scrawny and uncoordinated and hence been subject to pretty severe bullying, so the increased physical prowess and spatial awareness and better-defined physique were all a big deal for him.
And in retrospect the spider person understood he did not immediately become a total asshole because of this, but he certainly did use these new perks to benefit himself first and those close to him second and the general interests of society little if at all – i.e., aggressing the perpetrators of the pretty severe bullying, trying out for sports, earning money in underground wrestling, etc. He sometimes wondered how his life might have turned out hat What Happened Next not Happened Next. He suspected he might have still been an okay guy, kind of self-centered and swaggering but with a good heart and certainly not the worst society has to offer, and he might have even wound up Fighting Crime anyway, from a much healthier place psychologically, and might have been a pretty good Crime-Fighter albeit of the self-centered and swaggering but good-hearted variety like Iron Man or Wolverine.
But the sad fact was that What Happened Next Happened, and the spider person’s Beloved Elderly Uncle (who had raised him, along with the spider person’s Beloved Elderly Aunt) was murdered after a long and contrived sequence of events too complicated to address here but which, although no clear-thinking person would argue the spider person was directly Responsible, the spider person was entangled with just enough to justify assigning himself total and incontrovertible blame for. So that was basically the end of it, as far as the spider person’s chances at becoming a healthy and mature adult were concerned. Because in the years to come the spider person thought a great deal about Power, and Responsibility, and as a guilt-wracked but still noble soul decided that he should use all of his Power to benefit others, which is a very admirable goal indeed – the problem being that the spider person defined his personal Responsibility to include things that you’d really have to stretch to argue benefited others in any tangible way, and were mostly just an excuse for more vicious self-recrimination – i.e. the spider person became convinced that high personal standards on all matters necessary to ensure he was at all moments alert and ready for action, which sounds reasonable, but for the spider person became an excuse for just total unrelenting cruelty and meanness towards himself which even the perpetrators of his severe childhood bullying would wince at. And don’t think the spider person wasn’t aware of how this ruthless self-criticism made him appear Noble and Decent and Suffering to others, and predisposed them to be sympathetic towards him, even when he didn’t deserve their sympathy, because he was (i.e. aware) and he hated himself for indulging his neurosis to unfairly manipulate people into feeling sorry for him. And then he recognized that even this was just another attempt to vindicate himself, like if only he understood and despised himself thoroughly enough he could maybe make up for the tragedies he was personally Responsible for, when in reality nothing he ever said or did could absolve him. And the most maddening part was that the spider person recognized how masturbatory and spiteful all of this thinking was, and wished he could get rid of it, and wanted to be kinder to himself – but whenever he tried self-kindness, by going to see a movie or get dinner or something, that would trigger the internal scripts for self-criticism and they would become louder and more insistent until it ruined whatever chance he’d had of enjoying the self-kindness in the first place.
But in any case the spider person became an effective Crime-Fighter, and helped a lot of people, although whether the total quantity of suffering he relieved from the world was worth the suffering he inflicted on himself, and whether a self-liking and psychologically well spider person might have done more to reduce the sum total of unhappiness – well, that’s all speculation, because no one can see into alternate universes, because we are not Uatu the Watcher.
All of this changed when the spider person during one of those convoluted and unlikely adventures that occur periodically in Superhero universes, which involved some pretty unlikely science-fiction space shit going down that the spider person was in no way qualified for, and honestly kind of came out of left field. But this is how it happened so please bear with: the spider person found himself stranded other Superheroes like Iron Man and Wolverine on a planet in a distant galaxy, and there he discovered a fantastic new Superhero costume that substantially increased his Power viz. enhanced strength, enhanced speed, unlimited webbing, etc. But it should come as no surprise that, as with literally every other seemingly serendipitous event in the spider-person’s life, the incredible new costume was secretly something insidious and horrible - i.e. a gooey black shape-shifting alien blob, which intended to secretly bond to the spider person’s nervous system and set the him on a path of wrongdoing, by encouraging the spider person’s nasty thoughts and impulses. So the spider person returned to earth unaware of the evil intent of his new alien costume, but aside from the lurking menace of the alien costume itself thankfully that’s the end of the weird outer space science-fiction shit, so thank you for bearing with.
Now, the alien costume’s scheme might indeed have worked on one of those Superheroes who are self-centered and swaggering but good-hearted, but the thing quickly discovered that That Shit Would Not Play with our spider person, and that whenever it tried to plant thoughts of wickedness and mischief it would be totally fucking clobbered by the spider person’s self-criticism scripts – i.e. when the alien costume would suggest that the spider person whistle at some hot babe or neglect his Responsibility to his improbably-still-breathing Beloved Elderly Aunt (or B.E.A.), or in the poor alien costume’s most ambitious and desperate moments beg that he maybe eat some brains (which the alien costume really enjoyed, in an epicurean way), the spider person would respond to this the way he responded to any other selfish impulse, and just completely bury the poor alien’s suggestions under a wave of self-recrimination and –disgust and –loathing, and send the poor thing whimpering to a far corner of their shared consciousness like a kicked dog. So the spider person, while maintaining his own autonomy, unlocked the advanced perks usually reserved for those the now-thoroughly-beaten shape-shifting alien costume held in its thrall (viz. tentacles, scary teeth, projectile goo blobs w/scary teeth), and he heroically exploited these in his battle against injustice and self-esteem.
So things went pretty well for the spider person, re:Crime-Fighting, if not re:his personal contentment and gratification and growth as a person.
But the real watershed moment for the spider person came when he was arguing with his B.E.A. about some damn thing, assisted living housing or one of the other pointless speed bumps on the road leading the B.E.A. to a flowered plot next to the old B.E.U. (the spider recognized his conflicted feelings towards his B.E.A., and believe you me he hated himself for them), when, apparently stirred by the spider person’s feelings of tenderness and anger towards the B.E.A. the alien costume whipped out from its hiding place and lashed the B.E.A. across a liver spot on her left temple. Both of them (i.e. the spider person and the alien costume) were shocked by this, and started reciting their respective self-criticism scripts, the spider person berating himself for not maintaining stricter emotional self-control and letting the poor unthinking alien costume impulsively act on his unjustified resentment towards his B.E.A., and the alien itself (which, at this point, was emotionally indistinguishable from an abused puppy) for displeasing the spider person and hurting this poor leathery earth-female that the spider person had such complex feelings of resentment and fondness towards (and don’t think the spider person himself wasn’t aware of the unhealthiness and the Oedipal implications of his attachment to his B.E.A., how he was already Responsible for his father figure’s death and now he couldn’t stop sucking at his mother figure’s tit).
But they were both interrupted by the B.E.A. who was full-on sobbing, saying what a dried-up old bitch she was, and how horrible she was to her nephew. And the spider person quickly realized that somehow in lashing out the alien costume had connected the spider person’s mind with that of his B.E.A., and that she now understood how much he suffered, and she hated herself for her previous heedlessness to her nephew’s unhappiness exactly as much as he hated himself for everything else. And they held one another and wept, each feeling total empathy for the broken person in their arms, while utterly despising themselves.
So that was a game-changer, in the Fight against Crime, because instead of beating up ne’er-do-wells the spider person and the gooey tentacle-flailing alien costume infected them with the spider person’s psychological scripts of self-castigation, and the criminals immediately expressed such earnest compassion for mankind and such total shame and self-contempt for their previous crimes, that the spider person felt he would do the most good if he just started to spread the alien goo to everyone, criminal or not. Around this time, the local Superhero hierarchy discovered entire NY neighborhoods strung up in black webbing and populated by remorseful ghouls, weeping black fluid, and figured that some serious shit had gone down and designated the spider person a Thor-level threat (the Norse diety Thor being the pinnacle of Superheroic Power in this neck of the woods) but by that time it was way way too late, because the spider person just ensnared the other Superheroes in his neural network of black alien goo and they all saw with perfect clarity the complete awfulness of their personal failures and surrendered. And the black webbing spread until it enmeshed the planet, and every man woman and child in the world experienced total boundless compassion for everyone else but at the cost of absolute self-loathing, and all of humanity held each another and despised themselves and wept, and it would be pretty tough to argue that the world wasn’t saved.