Today is Giant Arachnid Diversity Awareness Day (GADAD).
All too often giant arachnids are stereotyped by Hollywood, but just because a spider is a gargantuan, venom-salivating, cannibalistic, vicious consumer of human beings doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad person. Sadly novels and films do not reflect this. When was the last time a giant spider appeared on our screens as anything other than a scary monster? When did you last see a nuanced giant spider character with hopes, fears, doubts, dreams, relationships, friends, family and a career of their own? Where are the giant spider comedies, tragedies and love stories? Are we as an inclusive society not better than this?
Just as the Bechdel test has been popularised as a means of determining strong female characterisation, I am now introducing the Dillon test, to see if a giant spider’s presence in a film provides a good representation of the species as a whole. Passing the Bechdel test requires two named female characters have to have a conversation about something other than a man. In the Dillon test, two giant spiders must have a conversation with one another about something other than eating the hero for breakfast.
Sadly barely any stories measure up to this standard, with only Charlotte’s Web and James and the Giant Peach leaping to mind (showing what enlightened people EB White and Roald Dahl were). Elsewhere entrenched stereotypes abound, with arachnophobia laced characters such as the spiders of Mirkwood in The Hobbit, or those in Eight Legged Freaks, The Thief of Baghdad, The Mist and The Incredible Shrinking Man also conforming to this trend. Yes, JK Rowling made an attempt at a slightly less offensively stereotyped giant spider character with Aragog in Harry Potter, but even Aragog is surrounded by a monstrous brood of one-dimensional nasties, and to be fair the spider is complicit with their brutal attack on Harry and Ron. Yet this is progressive stuff compared with Shelob in The Lord of the Rings, surely the most staggeringly offensive representation of a giant spider in the history of popular fiction.
Of course, as a footnote, let’s not forget that other arachnids are stereotyped or just poorly represented in movies and novels. Giant crabs barely get a look in (only Mysterious Island leaps to mind, which again lapses into lazy stereotype), and giant scorpions are treated no better than their spider counterparts in the likes of Honey, I shrunk the Kids or Clash of the Titans. Yes, I know scorpions are technically arthropods, but the point is they are badly portrayed, and we should all be deeply offended on their behalf.
Change starts with us. Let’s vote with our feet, boycott these outdated stereotypes and instead demand more diversity and balance in the depiction of giant spiders. In fact, l am going to start one of those petitions so that if it reaches 100,000 signatures the issue will be debated by MPs in the House of Commons. Please sign it and make a difference. Other action you can take now includes using slogans like “I am Shelob” or changing your Facebook profile picture to that of a giant spider.
Happy Giant Arachnid Diversity Awareness Day (GADAD).