Seedy Sides of 5 Innocuous Hobbies
Ideally, a hobby should be something that relaxes you and gives you peace. Especially given the current state of the world, which feels designed to make sure you’re forever broke, depressed or both. You need something that you enjoy that’s capable of, at least for a brief period of time, making you forget about your inbox or that guy who is angling to undercut you at work.
Unfortunately, because humans are a loathsome, corruptible group, forever tainted with original sin, nothing can be that pure. Sometimes even the kind of hobbies that seem so wholesome that they’d be enjoyed by an Animal Crossing villager can have a dark side. Whether it’s violence or unsavory details, or a smaller sub-community of absolute nightmares who also enjoy the same thing, truly nothing can be pure in this stained world.
Here are five hobbies with surprisingly seedy sides…
At its heart, the idea of collecting sneakers should be simple and joyful, if a little materialistic. The rarest and most sought-after sneakers are usually colorful and arguably wearable bits of art, and the owners (at least the ones who choose to wear them) get a lot of enjoyment out of accessorizing with them. But among the general public, shoe-collecting and sneakerhead culture has a reputation for its rabidity.
The most unfortunate heights of this are the not-uncommon tales of violence sparked by sneakers. New, limited releases can spark fights over something as ephemeral as a spot in line, even among two people who would have probably both gotten a pair. More unpleasant can be all-too common theft, off the literal feet of the current wearer no less, and the violence that necessitates.
A writer at Bleacher Report recounted a personal story of being stabbed over a pair of sneakers that resulted in permanent nerve damage. A Sports Illustrated cover from 1990 portrayed a stylized sneaker robbery. Jordan Brand, maybe the premier manufacturer of limited-edition sneakers, has spoken on the violence. The darkest part of any of it, though, is that all this is occurring out of manufactured scarcity — these shoe manufacturers could easily produce their hottest styles in perpetuity, but instead see the value in fake rarity.
The internet has made researching family histories easier than ever. No longer do you have to cough up a lung in some dusty library basement trying to figure out how to read microfiche to figure out where and when your ancestors got to this country. But if you go looking for skeletons, you might find a couple in your own closet.
You might like to think you’re the latest shining example of a stellar, honorable heritage, but climbing your family tree might expose some unsavory ancestors. It’s such a common occurrence that some genealogy websites have an FAQ on what to do if you find out your great-great-grandpa was a murderer. And, of course, there’s the slave owners. Which, shockingly, people don’t ever seem prepared to see in writing.
That’s not all, either: The modern way people track their bloodlines, through the actual DNA involved in the stuff, has an unpleasant underbelly as well. After some less-than-thorough perusal of the terms and conditions involved in for-profit DNA testing, people were surprised to find that their DNA was now stored in databases that might be used for more than finding pee-paw. When the Golden State Killer was caught, an outcome nobody in their right mind wouldn’t applaud, it still carried with it a stink when people realized he was found via his relatives’ participation in DNA testing.
The process of truffle hunting, at least for some of those who pursue it with a passion, is absolutely delightful, something out of a storybook. Imagine an old man, most likely with a jaunty cap, walking through lush forest with his beloved dog by his side, hoping his best friend catches a whiff of buried vegetative treasure. It feels like the life’s work of a Wes Anderson character, and indeed, some of these hunters were featured in a 2020 documentary.
The problems come when you realize what a financial windfall even a single truffle can be, with the rare Italian White Truffle going for more than $1,500 a pound. You’re not going to believe this, but with large amounts of money on the line for effectively whoever gets there “first,” some people have taken to less savory ways of obtaining the umami-packed edible jewels, like murder. Yep, some have taken to poisoning other hunters’ dogs, meaning that we need a truffle-based John Wick immediately.
Oh wait, we already got one, starring Nicolas Cage. (Pigs aren’t as popular as dogs, because of their propensity to turn any truffles they find into an immediate, and expensive snack.)
Birdwatching seems like one of the coziest of all possible hobbies. You picture a genial fellow in a heavy sweater, glasses around his neck, who probably also enjoys jigsaw puzzles and is a seasoned philatelist (which means stamp collecting, despite the weirdly pervy name). It’s the kind of hobby that often has you sitting on a park bench near a pond, after all. You’d think those binoculars would lead to inner peace and a deeper connection with nature, along with a hearty knowledge of what the fuck a thrush is.
The birds, of course, aren’t the problem. It’s the fact that it’s people who are watching them, who famously cannot leave the most innocent thing well enough alone. That, especially with the explosion of birdwatching apps bringing the hobby onto that famous well of toxicity known as the internet, has made it a hobby full of interpersonal conflict and sick bird burns. Jessie Williamson at Outside relates her experiences with avian-related assholery that sound more plucked out of a high-school cafeteria than a peaceful fall day.
Get it? SEEDY? Come on! That’s fun!