It has been said that the Internet is the wild west of our times. It is vast, untamed, and the site of all manner of lawlessness. For people like Leonard Koenig, member of the popular website reddit.com, it is a place to indulge fascinations with the truly morbid.
Koenig is a subscriber and infrequent poster to a forum called r/spacedicks. Though he maintains that he is not active in the spacedicks community, he does “watch sick stuff on the net regularly.” He admits to having seen pictures of all sorts of mutilated bodies and videos of death, among other things.
Reddit.com is a popular Internet forum where people submit news articles, pictures, originally generated content, and other varied media to be viewed by those who frequent the website, called redditors. If a post gets enough “upvotes” it reaches the front page. Reddit.com has reached such popularity that it boldly calls itself “the front page of the Internet” and recently hosted a question and answer (called an Ask me Anything or AMA on Reddit) session with President Barack Obama.
Before a post can reach front-page prominence, it must be submitted to a “subreddit.” These vary wildly and are part of reddit.com’s appeal. On the site, one can find subreddits about anything from politics to pictures of sunlight passing through summer dresses.
The website, however, is largely unregulated. Barring child pornography and its ilk, people can create a subreddit on just about anything.
R/spacedicks is the most infamous of all subreddits. It has the most subscribers of any disturbing subreddit. What is seen on r/spacedicks, it is said, cannot be unseen. New redditors are advised against visiting r/spacedicks.
The content of the forum is, I can personally report, distressing.
As a testament to the site’s dedication to the disgusting, the subreddit’s banner is a severed penis, followed by a rainbow, flying across the screen into a prolapsed anus. Whereas reddit.com allows its members to use upvotes and downvotes to signal their appreciation for a post, r/spacedicks calls upvotes “fagets” (sic) and downvotes “feminists.” These are by no means the most disturbing things one is likely to find in r/spacedicks.
In my short time on the site, I bore witness to several dismembered penises, mutilated vaginas, anuses in all manner of disrepair, a man who had a bloody, chunky hole where his face ought to have been, pornographic pictures of an octogenarian (which, frankly, came as a relief), and many other horrors that do not bear description.
For Koenig, r/spacedicks is a place totally separate from reality. It is so over-the-top ridiculous that there is a degree of separation and it almost becomes a form of entertainment like any other. That said, Koenig is not eager to reveal his predilection for the forum. He admitted to feeling a little shame at his pastime.
Koenig argues that the impulse to frequent r/spacedicks and the impulse to watch horror movies, like Saw, are not all that different. Horror movies, however, can be considered mainstream due to what film scholars describe as an implied promise between the viewer and the filmmakers that the images onscreen are not real.
Despite this implied promise, it would seem that an appetite for the gruesome is quite popular. Though some are only comfortable with it as an illusion, others are allowed to indulge their morbid fascinations because of the Internet.
The idea of a completely free Internet is seductive, but most people would likely draw the proverbial line somewhere before r/spacedicks and well before even more nefarious phenomena, such as child pornography.
In his AMA, President Obama was asked about his stance on Internet neutrality. His answer spoke to the importance of the idea of freedom for the Internet. “We will fight hard to make sure that the Internet remains [an] open forum for everybody,” said President Obama.
The Internet is, in many ways, a battlefield where society will have to decide just how much freedom is permissible.