I spend a lot of time looking at stock photos. Part of that is just the nature of this kind of work, sure, because posts need images and using licensed images from a paid-for source prevents us from getting sued. But a bigger part of that is that I love them. I love them so much. I lose hours flipping through them, whether they’re photos of celebrities on Getty Images or super random images from a generic stock photo source like Shutterstock. This is how, over the years, I’ve discovered things like Vin Diesel’s affinity for giving people a thumbs up and Vladimir Putin’s… well, his entire archive. You really should check that one out. It’s kind of incredible.
One of the other results of my borderline unhealthy fascination with stock photos is that I’ll recognize a particular picture when it pops up somewhere else. This brings me to my point.
The most recent episode of John Oliver’s HBO show, Last Week Tonight, featured a really great segment about the NRA. One of the running bits was that the NRA actually has fewer members nationwide than Planet Fitness, it’s just that their members are way more motivated to get things done, and that’s why the group is able to have such influence. That’s a good, interesting point, and it was immediately lost on me because he punctuated it with that image at the top of the screen, which caused me to jolt forward and shout “That’s Couch Potato Man!”
I don’t remember when I first stumbled across Couch Potato Man. There was probably a news story like “Study Says Binge-Watching Will Kill Us All” that popped up on my feed, which sent me to Shutterstock to look for a picture of a lazy dude parked on the couch. What I do remember is finding that exact picture John Oliver Photoshopped-up to put a little bow on his joke. Here’s the original:
And then I remember thinking what a great picture that is, and how weird it is that we live in a world where someone gets paid to pose for pictures looking like a disheveled slob and then I can just click “Download” and use it for a post about science. And then, probably out of curiosity, I must have clicked “more from this model.” And that’s when the legend of Couch Potato Man was born.
I should note here that the official Shutterstock description of that image is, “A large belly and a man smiling at it while being lazy with his TV remote in hand. Shows a couch potato or a man with a sedentary lifestyle.” Shutterstock descriptions are reliably amazing. They’re like a hodgepodge of keywords strung together into things that almost become sentences until you actually read them. Sometimes they’re just hilarious. The description for this next photo is, “What a way to relax on the job with your fingeru p your nose,” and that spacing mistake is theirs.
What a way to relax, indeed! But it’s not all the glamorous life of lounging and nose-picking for Couch Potato Man. Sometimes things get dark, like in this photo titled, “Young man who just killed himself laying on the ground next to a bottle of pills”…
… or in “Man holding a knife as a threat to someone on the other side.”
Sometimes I like to pretend all the pictures are the same character, some sort of suicidal slob who hates his job and murders people. Like American Psycho if Patrick Bateman was deaing with depression instead of narcissism. Although I’m not sure how this one fits into all that.
There are more pictures of Couch Potato Man. Many more. There are even like three more of him pinching his nipples, in and out of festive holiday attire. But I’ll leave you with my favorite of his, helpfully described by Shutterstock thusly: “Can’t you see the man is busy”
Couch Potato Man is all of us.