Is Spider head based on a true story? It’s harder than you think

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Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Spiderhead.

Although Netflix’s “Spider’s Head” is not entirely based on real events, there are several elements in it that complicate this statement. “The Spider’s Head” is adapted from George Saunders’ 2010 short story “Escape from the Spider’s Head” from the New Yorker magazine, which tells about a prison complex where prisoners are experimented with psychoactive drugs in exchange for a drop of freedom. Spider Head explores the ethics of such experiments, especially after Jeff (Miles Teller) discovers dark secrets about the main operator of the Spider Head, Dr. Steve Abnes (Chris Hemsworth).

Such medications that are being tested at the Spiderhead facility include the chatty Verbaluce, euphoric Luvactin, laugh-inducing Laffodil, and excruciating Darkenfloxx. None of the drugs mentioned in the “Spider-Head” does not exist in real life, nor does the “Spider-Head” compound itself. In fact, “Spider’s Head” includes a lot of changes from the story, from Jeff’s happier ending to the characters who were actually defiled by Darkenflox. Needless to say, the “Spider Head” is a fiction due to a variety of factors.

At the same time, as in many works of art, the “Spider’s Head” draws inspiration from real life. There are many horrifying stories in history about illegal mass medical experiments. Such experiments would attract the disenfranchised population and expose them to unethical and dangerous actions. Between 1932 and 1972, the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study was conducted, in which hundreds of blacks were misled about their condition and treatment, or lack thereof. The Nazis also conducted numerous medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners who neglected their humanity to the point that they occasionally killed subjects. The infamous CIA MKUltra project was a continuation of the research of the concentration camps of the 1940s and ended in the early 1970s. The MKUltra project is perhaps the closest historical example of experiments Spiderhead, because the CIA gave large amounts of LSD and other psychoactive drugs to prisoners, mentally ill people and sex workers.

The spider’s head demonstrates many of the ethical violations evident in 20th-century studies such as MKUltra or the Tuskegee trials. Spiderhead subjects must verbally “confirm” a “drip” for a particular drug during the study, but they are not usually notified of which drug they will be injected with. In addition, when Jeff refuses to subject any test subjects to dark phlox, Dr. Abnes persuades, manipulates and acts in anger to make Jeff change his mind. Then the choice and consent become illusions that would seem to legitimize Spiderhead’s activities by offering false legal protection. In addition, the prisoners who make up the characters of the “Spider’s Head” are constantly told about the privileges they have in the complex compared to the state prisons from which they came out, thereby manipulating them so that they remain under the control of Dr. Abnes.

When the research that inspired Spider-Man became known to the public, significant ethical standards were implemented in scientific research in order to reduce the likelihood of a modern situation with Spider-Man. With that said, the “Spider’s Head” still gives an idea of the transformation of fast-acting psychosomatic drugs into a commodity at the last stage of capitalism. The research on which the Spider’s Head is based was conducted mainly during the war, when the main goal was to learn the secrets of the enemy or to strengthen the health of the nation. However, Spiderhead’s drugs are designed to control the population through coercion to obedience or extreme pleasure, while they are sold as a way to improve their lives. If “Spider’s Head 2” appears in the future, the sequel will be able to explore more deeply modern drug marketing and the growing cultural desire to create instant artificial remedies for boredom, sadness and many other mental states.