Cicadaphobia

It's not exactly every 17 years!

Why All the Love?

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“Eeeeeewwwwww, I would never feed cicadas to my kids,” said my coworker with a grimace of disgust on her face. “Even my dog wouldn’t eat them! Really, my dog doesn’t eat bugs.”

It was lunch break and I was reading aloud the reasons listed at Cicadamania.com to stop The Home Depot and Lowes from advocating cicada extermination through their Ortho and Sevin in-store displays. Oddly enough, one of these reasons is: “Pets and people love to eat cicadas. Do you want to poison your pets and kids when they eat a cicada treated with pesticide?” Um, okay…

Indeed, so many news stories have been written and broadcasted about eating cicadas. It’s like a new trend or something. But that doesn’t mean that most people love to eat them. Quite the contrary. Judging from the comments posted to news sites and Twitter, most people are disgusted. In some cultures, eating insects is perfectly normal. Not in ours, though. If you want to try to be open-minded by embracing a different point of view, that’s perfectly fine. But please don’t purport it as the next hip, cool thing, or the right thing to do at this time. Don’t compare it to eating cheese. Don’t judge those who can’t overcome their revulsion. Or make fun of them…

Cicada recipes and musings on this red-eyed natural wonder are still prominently featured in the news, but to its credit, the media has been trying to approach the cicada emergence from our angle, too. Cicadaphobia was also featured in The New York Times early this week! I may go down in the records as that crazy young woman from Washington, DC who shut herself in for 5 weeks when Brood X invaded the area in 2004. I’m sure some people must be laughing at me, or thinking that my brain gears are missing some screws. But I don’t care. Through this blog and the related social media effort, I’ve proven that I’m everything but stupid or crazy. I’m in full possession of my mental faculties and not one of my blog posts even vaguely resembles an incoherent rant. I have a job that I’m pretty good at. The website is well designed and the blog posts are well written. My life gets disrupted only if millions of bugs emerge all at once, and that only happens when periodical cicadas make an appearance. All the cicadaphobic people I’ve met through this website and the related Facebook and Twitter are like me: Very normal, well-adjusted individuals, in some cases even highly educated and with successful professional careers. Everybody has a fear of something. Ours happens to be bugs. Also, let’s be honest. Most people, even though they’re not afraid of insects, are a little grossed out when they’re forced to live in the midst of all this. Nobody likes to have their driveway, yard, porch, deck or balcony littered with the stinky, crunchy carcasses. Nobody likes to have to clean them up. Nobody likes the feeling of huge bugs flying into them or crawling on them. Some people maybe don’t mind. But most people do. Really, unless you’re an entomologist, a science geek or a nature freak, you’re not very likely to enjoy this.

So, why all the love for cicadas?

I guess humans are finally feeling sorry for never being too kind to nature, causing pollution, deforestation and the extinction of so many animal species, not to mention global warming and climate change. Maybe the soft spot they have for cicadas is a consequence of their guilt. Since these creatures are generally harmless and their life cycle reminds us of how amazing and wonderful nature can be, these apologetic humans have decided to embrace and celebrate them to atone their past crimes. No authority at the federal, state, county or town level will ever encourage you to kill them. Recently, the National Pest Management Association even turned into a counselor for freaked-out people, suggesting “you carry an umbrella to keep them off your hair and skin and listen to music through ear buds to smother the sound” instead of… um, “managing” these pests. Killing cicadas is taboo. Unless it’s for culinary purposes, of course…

This would explain why the Cicadamania campaign to stop The Home Depot and Lowes from advertising Ortho and Sevin as effective cicada-killing tools did generate some indignant reaction. Several people deemed this marketing strategy a “despicable” act and bombarded The Home Depot and Lowes with angry Facebook posts and tweets. In reality, the stores were just stating the truth about these pesticides, finally helping private citizens fight the enemy on their own, as official information from the proper authorities has been rather lacking in this department. To put it in my (non entomophobic) coworker’s words, “If you have termites in your house, you kill them. Why not cicadas? They’re bugs!”

Exactly. They’re bugs. Usually, bugs aren’t treated with such deference.

I bet if you research the life of termites, ants, cockroaches, or any other insects that normally infest yards, lawns and houses, you’ll marvel at nature’s wisdom and magic, too. But that doesn’t stop anybody from killing these creatures, when and if they become too much to put up with. Nobody would say it’s “despicable.” Heck, in most states, even killing deer is legal and considered a legitimate means to “control” their population! Why don’t the authorities discourage us from killing deer? Deer hunting is despicable to me. At least, deer are unanimously cute and they’re shy and not very likely to swarm your property. Some may argue that deer can damage crops, but didn’t the cicadas this summer destroy blueberry crops and vines? Why this double standard when it comes to the red-eyed, six-legged creepy-crawlies?

Cicadamania affirms that “it’s unpatriotic to kill periodical cicadas” because they’re only located in the US and even suggests that “they should be the official insect of the United States of America.” (At this point, another coworker, who as a non American and non bug-phobic was bringing a neutral and objective perspective to the table, broke into an exclamation of disgust.) Maybe that’s why these bugs are getting so much love. But it’s not entirely true that they only live on US territory. Nova Scotia, which last time I checked was a Canadian province, has them, too! In fact, they’re just about to emerge… However, if this is the reason why some Americans love their native insects so much, here’s an easy solution: How about we put them in reservations far from the rest of civilization? It has been done before to other native species, including some humans…

I can’t help but get political when I hear some people defend periodical cicadas so vehemently, to the point that it sounds like they have more empathy for an insect than their bug-phobic fellow humans. For heaven’s sake, these are bugs we’re talking about! If the US government can justify the killing of people all over the world when minorities in foreign countries pose a threat to our national security, why can’t it justify the killing of millions of bugs when they infest our properties, towns and even public facilities? (I’ve heard that the insects have completely taken over a couple of schools in Staten Island — I really don’t envy those poor students and teachers!)

Whatever the reason, even when they sow annoyance and disgust, cicadas keep reaping love. Samuel Orr, a natural history time-lapse photographer and filmmaker based in Indiana, recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary on cicadas that he plans to pitch to PBS. The seven-minute trailer immediately went viral, gaining praise and stirring an unheard-of emotional response for a film about bugs (several people tweeted that they cried and fell in love with the insects after watching the video). I have to hand it to Mr. Orr that he’s extremely talented and skilled at his trade: The photography, albeit terrifying (at least for someone with a bug phobia), is, indeed, amazing (I’m a visual artist before I’m an entomophobe, so I have to be fair and acknowledge that the film is really well done). The background music also helps create a mood and evoke deep emotions. The lighting in most shots really conjures up a magic atmosphere that adds to the creepy fascination of the cicada life cycle, almost turning it into something beautiful and poetic. The storytelling is very clever. Well, not only did Mr. Orr reach the initial $3,000 he was meaning to raise, but the response to his film was so overwhelming that he could even stretch his funding goal to $20,000. Having exceeded that goal, too, he’s now shooting for $40,000. Meanwhile, the Entomophobia Fundraiser here at Cicadaphobia.com hasn’t collected a dime. Not that I was counting on it (in fact, I went ahead and negotiated a symbolic fee with my therapist, who understands I can’t pay a regular bill working part time and freelancing when I can). However, it would be a very nice and humane thing to do to help other people who have to put their lives on hold when cicadas invade because they can’t afford to do anything about it. I realize that this is a private site — not a legitimate fundraising platform like Kickstarter — and people are afraid of scams. Still, I think it’s pretty telling.

Practically every year, somewhere on the East Coast and in the Midwest, a brood of periodical cicadas emerges. This causes discomfort to hundreds, if not thousands, of people every year. The discomfort lasts 5 to 6 weeks — yes, weeks, not days or hours. How this can be ignored or even ridiculed really goes beyond my comprehension…

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