Some people take every opportunity they can to put others down, no matter the time and place. Schoolyard bullies, aggressive customers in restaurants, and rage-filled commuters all find time to let other people know how worthless they are. The strength of social convention makes sure that only the brash and socially deaf have an opportunity to ridicule others in public places. The quiet, but equally insidious, among us worry too much about making a scene to scream obscenities in public over an undercooked steak or the actions of an umpire in a little league baseball game. Luckily for those people, the internet exists.
Last year, when my schedule was lighter and my depression far less destructive, I asked myself a question I am sure many others have asked: “Do tarantulas recognize and have affection for their owners?”
My head was full of images of giant arachnids responding to commands, becoming visibly excited when called, and snuggling with their beloved owners. How cool would it be if, after whistling, a fuzzy eight-legged monstrosity would crawl around the corner, slow and determined, and climb onto your shoulder? Maybe even giving your ear a little nibble? This unbreakable bond between man and arthropod kept me up at night, and I needed to know the truth.
Then I met Tom, author of the blog “Tom’s Big Spiders.”
His posts, and companion YouTube videos, introduced me to the world of the tarantula hobby.
As an arachnophobe, I held strong reservations. To this day my blood runs completely cold if I so much as see a spider in my house. After getting over this initial problem, though, I became fascinated with his world. He explained the intricacies of breed and temperament, of husbandry rituals, and of the subtle distinctions between web producing and burrowing tarantulas. Listening to his sultry tones, I learned how members of the community abbreviate tarantula to “T” and call young tarantulas “Slings.”
Sadly, tarantulas have no interest in showing their masters affection. Most tarantula owners exist in a state of reverse Stockholm syndrome, they view their pets as challenges not as companions. These large, sometimes incredibly dangerous, arachnids do everything they can to make their caretaker’s life difficult. Tarantulas shoot fiberglass-like hairs from their back legs, cause muscle damage with their fangs, and their requirements for habitat are so subtle that they give even the most hardened vets ulcers. And yet, these owners love their spiders. They relish in the challenge and take extra time to make sure that their pets stay comfortable. Owners like Tom even go as far as to organize networks to “rescue” abused or abandoned tarantulas.
I never once even thought about purchasing a tarantula, but everything Tom did was so genuine and passionate that I became completely immersed. Over the course of two afternoons, I absorbed his easy to read prose and began forming my own opinions about how to properly raise a creature I had no intention of even standing in the same room with.
I soon discovered something that shattered this honeymoon experience: a post titled “The Importance of Respect and Open-mindedness In the Tarantula Hobby.”
In this post, Tom made references to numerous emails and YouTube comments he received over his years of writing about tarantulas. Tom discussed occasions when other keepers referred to him as an “idiot” or “completely useless.” With his usual composure and professionalism, Tom requested that other keepers should value input for the sake of keeping their pets alive and well.
This left me dejected. How could someone drive themselves to verbally harass Tom? Tom, with grace accumulated from years of public school teaching, believed that these messages merely came from passionate hobbyist who cared deeply about raising tarantulas.
However, after a little digging, I came to a different conclusion.
Tom opened a previous post, titled “A Nasty Email”, with the line: “Well, it was bound to happen.”
This fatalism got me thinking:
Why was this bound to happen?
As people continue to use the internet to personally attack others behind a wall of anonymity, internet culture becomes increasingly receptive and expectant of ridiculous behavior.
Content creators on the YouTube platform turn off their comment sections or refuse to read them. Comments on news articles often resort to ad hominem attacks to make their point, with other commenters responding in kind. Organizations that use social media, including Hillsdale College, now employ specialists who work full time deleting comments that could potentially reflect badly on their image.
All attempts to change the way people interact with others online usually come from mothers of young children, all desperately attempting to fight the new bugbear “cyberbullying.” With students routinely exposed to media attempting to combat cyberbullying, including the horrendously bad horror film “Unfriended,” most agree that the problem continues to get worse.
Even though the slurs thrown at Tom seem tame to most people, especially in comparison to the comments many women content creators receive online, they threw me into a special kind of indignation.
I simply cannot understand why someone so genuine and passionate, so dedicated to his craft, and so willing to take time out of his busy schedule to educate others should expect “nasty emails.” As this problem continues to get worse, rolling over and simply accepting online harassment only exacerbates the issue.
When an angry customer in a restaurant loudly berates the waiter, most people sit in their booth and stare extra hard at their salad. By expecting this aggression on the internet and simply attempting to weather the storm, we sit in our booths and try not to make a scene.
Send people whose work you enjoy encouraging emails. Share content with your friends and family. Do everything you can to support folks who entertain and inform you for completely free.
Simply letting, and expecting, cowards to use the internet to harass people concedes to the underlying issues driving people to use their anonymity as a weapon.
If Tom can raise tarantulas, you can get out of your booth and make a scene.
Shadrach Strehle is a junior studying history.