The Pun Also Rises | Seth Brown: With great power ...


It was 57 years ago this month, in August 1962, that Spider-Man first appeared in a comic book. (For anyone who cares, it was Amazing Fantasy #15. For everyone else, hey, isn't it weird that Dan cares about that? Doesn't he have anything better to do?)

Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko — both of whom died just last year — Spider-Man was one of the first teenage superheroes to adventure in his own right rather than as a sidekick to an adult hero. Although, frankly, if these adults were really heroes, they wouldn't be taking teenage kids out to face supervillains. Especially because the kid sidekick always ended up captured and taken hostage. Frankly, Robin and Bucky could have saved a lot of time by just having packages delivered directly to the villains' hideouts.

Peter Parker could have followed in their footsteps and been Spider Lad, the eager but oft-kidnapped sidekick of some other hero. But instead, he had to find his own way as a Spider Man. And one of the first lessons he had to learn, from his Uncle Ben, was the immortal line: "With great power comes great responsibility."

So, even though he was a teenaged kid swinging around on webs while proclaiming his love for Mary Jane Watson, he had to learn to use his powers responsibly. Today's teenagers also spend a lot of time on the web proclaiming their love for Mary Jane. But not all of them are learning about the responsibility that comes with power. We all have power, even if we weren't bitten by radioactive spiders. In fact, we have power over spiders. And I try to use this power responsibly, but I don't always succeed. I think this can best be explained in this short song I wrote in the shower this afternoon:

Spiders, man. Spiders, man.

I just killed one, with my hand.

In my house, I'll forgive,

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But while I'm showering, they can't live.

Too bad! There goes that spider, man.

I basically freaked out and attacked the spider I saw in the shower because I had no clothes to defend me and so it worried me. But in retrospect, perhaps this was me using my power irresponsibly. The spider was just existing, it wasn't trying to attack me. I think spiders just have bad PR. (So does Spider-Man, for which we can blame J. Jonah Jameson.) But even though the spider was just living its best life and not hurting me, I had become convinced it was a problem, and so I attacked it.

Of course, spiders aren't the only ones on the web dealing with unwarranted attacks. Just existing online can bring harassment and even threats for many people — especially women people and nonwhite people. This is a result of individuals using their power irresponsibly to attack others, but much of this happens as a result of larger forces using their power irresponsibly.

Numerous reports have revealed how YouTube's algorithms tend to push extremist content in their "recommended videos" section, so that people watching a news report or gaming video can suddenly find themselves watching content promoting white supremacy and aggressive anti-feminism, which leads some of those people to harass and harm others who they view as, well, other.

YouTube clearly has great power on the internet, and this should come with great responsibility for the content they push. But when asked to do something about it, YouTube responds that it's just the algorithm forwarding content that users engage with. When people point out that humans built and can change the algorithms, YouTube responds that it's "looking into it," even though the problem has been written about for years. It's not interested in changing an algorithm that makes it money from high view counts, but it always has a quick response explaining why it isn't to blame.

Which just goes to prove Uncle Ben was right: With great power comes great response ability.

Seth Brown, of North Adams, is an award-winning humor writer and the author of "From God To Verse." His website is The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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