Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Russian Spinning Reels: The Problem with the Web

One of my favorite places on the internet is Reel Talk, the chat board of the Old Reel Collector's Association (ORCA). Some of the best and most knowledgable discussion on the web can be found among this friendly group of people, and this is in no way a criticism of the organization and the web site. I would like to illustrate the problem of the internet as a way of creating lasting resource for collectors.

One of the most interesting threads in recent memory on Reel Talk deals with Russian spinning reels. This thread is available to view at:

You may have noticed the problem with this thread. Although it is fairly recent, and is still being added to, the photos from the first two pages have gone MIA. This is because the outside source where they were uploaded has changed; now, the utility of this thread as a resource for fishing history and for collecting is badly diminished. Unless you printed and saved this thread (which I think I may have done but need to check), much of this info is now gone.

My point in bringing this up is that the internet is fantastic as a historical resource, but like all mediums it has its problems as well. It is by nature ephemeral, and anyone who remembers the beginning of the internet and fishing tackle collecting recalls it was like the Wild, Wild West. Remember Kevin's board? Angler's On-Line? Hope you liked a dose of racism with your tackle. At one point, there was so much anti-Japanese rhetoric about collecting that I wrote my first extent posting on tackle collecting, dated 23 November 1996, on the Angler's On-Line Chat Board. I'll repost it here as it was up and gone in a few days, never to be seen again until now:


On History, Racism, and the Nature of Lure Collecting

Todd E. Arai Larson

I have watched with considerable dismay the acerbic anti-Japanese messages posted to this board over the past months. As a trained historian, avid lure collector and Japanese-American, I have made the conscious decision not to post or say anything. My belief is that if you ignore such Troglodytes they will slink back under their rocks (and usually do). But there have been so many misconceptions posted that I feel the need to address several issues.

There has been some significant discussion and many accusations that the Japanese are somehow "stealing our national heritage" by buying up American fishing tackle. This is a specious argument at best, at worst a xenophobic contention that is tainted by historical racism. Surely those collectors of ABU or DAM-Quick reels do not believe they are pilfering Swedish or German national heritage, and I seriously doubt very many people in these countries would make such a bald-faced accusation. People around the world collect these items because they are wonderful works of arts and damn fine pieces of fishing equipment. According to some of these postings, such collectors would be "un-American" for desiring tackle not made in the U.S.A. Gee, I guess we'll all have to ditch those Hardy reels now.

What is really at work behind most of these claims for "keeping it in the U.S.A." is a kind of anti-Japanese bigotry that has been evident in this country for many years. The Japanese and Japanese-Americans have been one of the groups most targeted by racism in American history, ranging from Nativist agitation in the nineteenth century, to the 1924 National Origins Act of Congress banning all immigration from East Asia, to the brutal internment of Japanese-Americans, some of as little as one-eighth or one-sixteenth Japanese, during the second world war. This kind of anti-Japanese hysteria has survived in many forms; it is evident in the plot lines of recent Tom Clancy novels and big-budget Hollywood movies, easily seen in the racist denunciations of right-wing paramilitary groups, and can even be found on the Angler's Antique Fishing Tackle Chat Board.

It is for this reason that we do not see anti-Dutch postings whenever one of our friends from Holland posts his wants on the board, despite the fact that it is the Dutch and not the Japanese who own the most real estate in America. One posting even suggested that we had "just been at war with the Japanese" and shouldn't trade with them. The last time I checked we were "just at war" with the Italians and Germans too, yet you never see vitriolic diatribes aimed at Ferraris or Mercedes-Benzes. As much as some people might want you believe, the Japanese are no more our enemy than the Canadians, the British, or the Spanish (all of whom, by the way, we've also warred with in the distant past).

Now if someone decides to buy the Smithsonian and move it to Paris, you have a right to claim your national heritage is in danger, but as far as fishing tackle is concerned, the more people who collect - regardless of race, color, creed, or national origin - the better off we all are in the long run. As one wise posting noted, such interest will only increase the value of our existing collections. Beyond this, however, people living in America have an incredible edge over collectors overseas: we can still pick up tackle at garage sales, auctions, and from your neighbor's Uncle Joe. The only collector who harbors resentment against anyone who pays a fair price and finds fulfillment in the hobby is not a collector at all; they are instead narrow-minded and greedy hoarders that the rest of us can do without. Such people do not deserve our anger or scorn but our pity and sorrow that the narrow confines of their lives lead them on an enduring path of bitterness, frustration and hatred.

The nature of the World Wide Web opens communications up on a global scale, and the postings on this board are read in many countries. Such blatantly racist postings reflect poorly on the United States, but we can all hope that foreign readers (and domestic ones) realize what a tiny minority these people really are. Just as, in my case, for every one person who ever called me a "dirty Jap" there are 1000 people who showed me kindness and hospitality, we can hope that our Japanese and other foreign readers realize that the vast majority of the people in this hobby judge others on their status as a collector of fishing tackle and not on their national origin. Of course, the ability to come up with "Reels As Large as My Head" or "Tough Heddons in Frog Spot" will not hurt your standing on this chat board, either.


Todd E. Arai Larson
Department of History/National Center for Supercomputing Applications
University of Illinois

P.S. For those of you who do like to post racist messages under anonymous postings, we here at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA - the creators of Mosaic, Netscape and Telnet) could very easily trace and publish your e-mail and snail mail addresses on this Chat Board. I am sure there are a few people who might like to respond to you personally.


Thankfully, today much of the collecting world is dominated by moderated chat boards like Joe's Board, Clark's Antique Fishing Rod Board, and Reel Talk. But problems still exist--who is working to save the integrity of this information that has been freely shared with others? What mechanism do we have to save web pages dealing with our outdoor heritage?

Two other examples: the Canadian Antique Fishing Tackle Collectors web site had all of the past issues of the newsletter on PDF available for download. It is now gone. Harvey Garrison's awesome Shakespeare Web Site disappeared with his untimely passing and may never be resurrected.

I believe this is reaching a crisis point with fishing history and collecting and the internet.

--Dr. Todd


Reel Talk:

Joe's Board:

Clark's Forum:

1 comment:

Abe Housihoots said...

Hmmmm...why are there no comments to any of the articles published on this site? Has no one found it yet? I am not sure about the anti-Japanese comments but I always wondered why the NFLCC was so populated by old, white men? Where are the other people such as blacks and Hispanics? The NFLCC seems to be a racially narrow mix of white males and a few white females thrown in by association. There dosen't seem to be any racial exclusion occurring but just a natural inclination of only predominately old, white males that collect tackle?