The New York Times columnist Charlie Warzel found himself obsessed with watching videos of COVID-19 vaccines being delivered — big packages being unloaded by forklifts, opened up by medical officials inspecting the contents, nurses jabbing the first grateful front-line-worker recipients in the arm.
What's the allure? It's the same pleasure, he realized, as that delivered by the unboxing video — except in this case fueled by pandemic-propelled helplessness, dread, and hunger for for any sliver of hope:
Neurological massaging begins to describe the sensation that the vaccine "unboxing" videos provide nearly ten months into a pandemic that has killed over 300,000 Americans. The appeal isn't hard to understand. Seeing the vaccine out in the world is the purest expression of hope — a signal that help is on the way and that our long global nightmare might be entering its final act.
But there's something else there, too. There's a transfixing quality to the videos of health care workers or politicians opening the cold storage packages of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. I've watched some of them multiple times, despite the fact that they are, in essence, boring.
"Unboxing videos, ultimately, are aspirational — they represent what people wish they had," Caroline Knorr, parenting editor for Common Sense Media told Quartz's Annabelle Timsit in 2018. There's a vicarious joy with maybe just a hint of envy involved in observing. To watch a video of a gloved worker unpack vials of a lifesaving inoculation is to imagine having that wealth at your disposal, able to dish out to all your loved ones or anyone you're worried about.
News organizations understand all this instinctively. Cable news segments about the vaccine almost all show footage of the vaccine being moved around the country with granular logistical details about the rollout, all of which seem to underscore that, yes, this is happening. Local news channels have their own spin on unboxing videos. "Vaccine delivery unboxing at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center," is the title of one video by the Portland Press Herald. There are other clips from Iowa, Minnesota and my home state of Montana
(CC-2.0-licensed photo of a box courtesy the Flickr stream of Douglas Porter)