The thin line between cuteness and cruelty on Instagram

There was this hedgehog I used to watch on Instagram. It was so fat, it couldn’t curl into a ball. Occasionally, a slender human hand would rub its pink belly, which looked bloated and raw. There was no discomfort in the pink eyes of the hedgehog. But then again, it was so obese, it looked like it couldn’t do or express anything except lie on its back and gasp at whatever air it could.

I found the hedgehog on an Instagram account dedicated to baby animals. The post was of a hedgehog that was having its teeth brushed. Whenever it flinched, tolerating the invasion of its mouth, its brow would furrow into adorable seriousness. It looked intolerably cute, and I shared the video with a couple of friends.

But a question kept nagging at me: “does a hedgehog need its teeth brushed?”

Google said no.

I felt guilty. I assumed it was having its teeth brushed because, you know, hedgehog hygiene? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I went to the account of the hedgehog video and there I saw the obese hedgehog with the pink eyes. In its pictures and videos, it was always on its back. Sometimes it had a blanket on it.

But there was one image that hooked me. It was of the hedgehog, its pink eyes pointing in different directions, holding a mini Starbucks cup. Smoke was blowing out of the cup and animated snowflakes fell over the image. It was so repugnant and meaningless, I wanted to delete the internet.

You cannot un-see a hedgehog holding a miniature Starbucks cup with smoke coming out of it and snowflakes falling over the image. You just can’t. It’s the kind of thing that will haunt you on your deathbed. I wasn’t the only one mesmerised: the video had over a million views.

I couldn’t get the hedgehog out of my head. Every couple of weeks, I would check the account to see what it was up to. The last time I checked, I found out it was dead. The hedgehog looked like it was dying and now it was officially dead.

There were pictures of its sentimental funeral: plastic flowers, mini-cushions shaped like apples and another hedgehog looking at a picture of the deceased.

All the questions about how to look after a domestic hedgehog arose. “How long do hedgehogs live?” I asked Google. “2–5 years.”

I breathed a sign of relief. It died at 3 years old, that’s not bad for a hedgehog, right? But then I googled the life expectancy of a pet hedgehog. A domestic hedgehog has a longer life expectancy and can live up to 10 years. 3 years was young.

This little (though morbidly obese) hedgehog, which was overwhelmed by gifts, toys, food, affection, play and fame, was killed by well-intentioned, stupid kindness.

The line between cute and cruel (and downright bizarre) is very thin.

RIP albino hedgehog. I will never forget you.

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