Throughout charted geekdom, there are multiple instances of id-machines, from the mysterious planet in Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) to the Mirror of Erised in the Potterverse. Id-machines are instruments which grant a character the usually fleeting appearance of achieving their greatest desire, whether being reunited with a long-lost lover or with estranged parents or being able binge a further season of Firefly.
It would be easy to lose oneself in these appearances (the escapism of fiction), but our heroes must always sulk back to reality, however reluctantly, with desires unattained, or risk the deterioration of sanity or loss of their humanity.
However, in the fable of Spider-man’s alien symbiote costume, we are given a different type of id-machine: not an id-satiator, or projector, but an id-enhancer. The black symbiote costume accentuates the unconscious desires of whoever the wearer may be. It doesn’t simply corrupt the occupant from without, but de-thrones the rule of the super-ego (morality, rationality) within by magnifying the inner animal, by providing the militant factions with arms, using an element of the self against the hierarchy of self.
Under the influence of the living alien costume, Peter Parker’s unwavering moral compass begins to slant slightly west. He becomes more like the Punisher or Deadpool. His determination wanes (dropping out of grad-school). Begins wearing black. Smoking. The costume tarnishes even the moral person. But, echoing the Ring of the Lydian Gyges in Plato’s Republic, the costume finds its true resonance in the hands of the professionally immoral man– in this case, Eddie Brock. Brock differs from Plato’s parable in that he has no interest in stealing power over the community, in wealth, or women. His pleasure comes solely from cruelty, an impulse which the symbiote is more than willing to oblige. And, the bully becomes the monster Venom.
In times like our present, one wonders if the id could really be enhanced further or whether we have reached a limit (Amusing Ourselves to Death/Brave New World/Hot Pockets). Siddhartha’s moderation looks to us more like extreme asceticism.
What many progressives have been looking for in early 2017 is the opposite of the symbiote; not the black Spidey suit (giving the self over to ones’ carnal desires), not the traditional red and blue suit either as an affirmation of the ego (we’ve become painfully aware of the bubbles and echo chambers which heighten ego engenders), but a white suit – a push, a subtle electric shock, maybe a tentacle or two to motivate us to live up to our own ideals, a weaponized super-ego, not in the sense of a dogmatic or totaling cultural narrative enslaving the desires and limiting personal expression, but a subjective articulation of ones’ ego-ideal.
While Spider-man is initially starting from a place ruled by the super-ego, an archetypal hero, the rest of us could occasionally use a kick in the pants to remind us that world needs saving, that the day can be won, and that comfort and pleasure will be waiting for us upon return.
by Jarret D. Pervola
by Jarret D. Pervola