Friday, May 21, 2004

He went from pulling wings to pulling legs



Maggie Downs

Brandon Breeden, the founder and CEO of Cicadaville.com, wants everyone to know a few things about the periodical pests.

• Cicadas are vicious killers.

• Cicadas prey on innocent children and pets.

• And this year, cicadas will kill more people than snakes, spiders, scorpions and sharks combined.

"With all the hype of the cicadas, I figured I might as well throw out as much misinformation as possible," said Breeden, 25, who lives near Eden Park.

Breeden launched the humor site Cicadaville.com about a month ago. With all the recent buzz about these bugs, the site has already received more than 400,000 unique visitors and has been linked on about 100 other Web sites.

The site - which proclaims, "Cicadas kill. Save yourself." - started as a few jokes shared between Breeden and his friends.

"Some people find them to be pests. Some people find them as marvelous acts of God. I find them as great humor outlets," he said. "Now what started as a joke has 400,000 people reading."

Because of Cicadaville.com, Breeden has been tackling an e-mail inbox that's swarming with feedback. About a hundred of the messages have been from people who take the site seriously.

"They tell us to check our information," he said. "And I look at the Web site and think, 'You have got to be kidding me.' "

Perhaps they missed the disclaimer that says, "Please do not be stupid enough to believe anything you read on this site."

"Apparently, people only read what they want to read," Breeden said.

The headlines and information at Cicadaville.com are Onion-like in nature, with sweeping generalizations, outrageous exaggerations and outright lies.

There's the information on how to protect children: "It is important to shrink-wrap all children under the age of 12. Shrink wrapping is the only way to protect kids from the ferocious cicada."

There's the detailed chart showing the anatomy of a cicada: "Head" and "body." (Also the anatomy chart of cicada expert Dr. Gene Kritsky: "Head" and "body.")

Then there are the hilarious frequently asked questions, like: "Do cicadas make that loud buzzing sound to attract a mate?" The answer: "Our research indicates that sound is actually a battle cry that roughly translates as, 'Kill the humans.' "

The satirical barbs on Cicadaville do have a grain of truth in them: Greater Cincinnati is obsessed with these visitors that come every 17 years. We've endured endless media coverage, dissecting every angle of the region's 5 billion bugs. Merchants around the area are cashing in on the buzz with T-shirts, hats, umbrellas, CDs and more. Support groups and workshops help residents cope during this trying time.

Breeden especially hopes those folks are checking out the site.

"There's an epidemic of cicada phobia going around," he said. "I'd like to think I'm doing my part to contribute to that."

Breeden himself has quite a background with the red-eyed little monsters. During the last invasion, as an 8-year-old in Northern Kentucky, he forced cicadas to drive Matchbox cars. He made towns and used the creatures as makeshift people. And he watched the bugs try to fly after ripping their heads off.

"All sorts of gnarly boy stuff," he said.

Now, after months of research to lay the foundation of his jokes, Breeden has become an accidental cicada authority.

"I'm so educated about their habitat and how they mate and where they live," he said. "And I'm not going to share that with anybody."

E-mail mdowns@enquirer.com




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