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The Problem With Fans and Overwhelming Fandom

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Think Pieces | March 27, 2013 | Comments ()


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Fans often seem like majority shareholders in the corporation that is any given actor, rock band or other celebrity. Without fans, the celebrity would not exist as an influential person, the band wouldn't be able to sell out stadium arenas on tour, and the actor would lose out on major starring roles if they're unable to pull an audience. Fans allow the movie stars and celebs that they love to do the jobs that they love by financially supporting them by seeing their movies, buying their merch and spreading the word about how great they are.

Sometimes a brand makes a misstep, costing them millions in the long run. Selena Gomez struck out away from her Disney pop image in order to act in Spring Breakers. Admittedly, her character is the least volatile of the bunch, and even a practicing Christian whom we see attending church. In any case, it was a risk, knowing that her fan base is mostly younger, knowing that it could alienate and disrupt her brand of wholesome, positive and cheery which often translates into dollars, dollars, dollars. Many fans are very fickle, straying to the bright, new and shiny, or simply growing up and out of their obsessions as new ones take their place.

Listen, I'm not defending millionaire celebrities. Everyone who is famous seems to want to continue being successful and famous, so don't waste a second of brainspace on that. However, just put yourself in the shoes of someone who is hounded by paparazzi and fans alike, who can't make any new fans without wondering if this person is interested in them or the media, can't allow a relationship to grow organically in the age of instant Internet gossip blogging and tweeting. Your life is no longer your own, in a way that can often make you fear for your own safety or the safety of others.

There's people who like things casually, and then there's fans. For instance, people who like Mindy Kaling might watch her show every week, buy her book, perhaps even follow her on Twitter or Instagram. A fan might do all of that and far more, obsessively tweeting at Mindy, commenting on lots of articles about her, talking about her a lot, running a tumblr of Kaling-related materials.

And then there's the super fans who seem to have lost all grip on reality.

We've all known a super fan in our lifetime. Someone who worships the ground a certain celebrity walks on, completely involving themselves in the minutiae and details of the celebrity's life, someone who just knows way, way too much about a person they've never met and really have nothing to do with. Maybe they even fantasize about meeting this person, befriending them, perhaps even marrying them. Because we have so much access to information about celebrities, it's very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we know what they're really like, that we're "just like them" or that they would fall in love with us if only they could meet us. Sometimes this obsession moves beyond the realm of fantasy, and this super fan does their best to meet the celeb, take pictures with them, find out where they are, tracking down real life friends and family members. If they do meet them, this interaction can be blown out of proportion in their own mind.

Grateful celebs aren't silent about their appreciation for their loyal fans, many of them spend hours a day interacting on Twitter, taking photos when out and about, signing autographs and appearing at conventions. Yeah, obviously this is part of the job, but still, think about the mechanics of that interaction. When a fan meets a celeb, this may be the only time they ever interact with a celebrity. Yet, this is merely one of perhaps thousands of times that celebrities meet a fan, wait while they fumble with their camera for a picture, sign an autograph, make small talk, field embarrassing questions or receive awkward presents. Most celebs have a strange relationship to their own fame, understanding that their world and livelihood depends on their fans, in many ways, but also being somewhat terrified of what it means to be adored in such a fervent way.

A great deal of fandom seems to be motivated by loneliness. Put away the pitchforks and torches, I'm not saying everyone who loves Bob Dylan or reblogs gifs of Parks and Recreation is sad and alone. There's a sense of deep relief in belonging to a tribe and in feeling known, and when someone who feels a little out of step with the rest of the world discovers a community that gets them and celebrates something they love, it's very rewarding. Fandoms are often comprised of like-minded people, which is what makes them great. We can rest easy in the knowledge that these people understand us and care about the things we care about, and by extension, us. But this isn't enough.

Someone I know recently said for some people the line between their own mind and reality became blurred as as their mooring on the distinction vanished, and that eventually they just assumed that they were one and the same: Whatever they think is real. I've met people so convinced that they were going to marry a celebrity that they stalk them, trying to force them to understand that they'd be perfect for each other! People travel to every show, every concert and wait outside for hours all for a chance to try and involve themselves in the lives of these people they love. They send cards, they write letters, they hysterically threaten to kill themselves for love.

But I mostly just feel sad, not judgmental. It's easy enough to get lost in these imaginary worlds and think that the people who pretend to inhabit them are just as real as our every day life. After all, fans spend a great deal of time thinking about and obsessing over these TV shows or movies. But it's not enough, and it's agreeing to live a half-life in the present all the while dreaming of a much better future filled with fame and fortune.

Celebrities we do not know have a patina of perfection about them. They can never disappoint, they can never fail to live up to our imaginary expectations, and more of all, they can never hurt us. Enough is enough.

Let us devote time to real things. It's fine to love the fantastical, the imaginative, these creative endeavors that blow us away and win our hearts forever, but let's not forget the pleasure that is to be found in loving a flesh and blood person, having a real relationship -- thorns and all -- instead of an imaginary obsession based on fantasy. Let us give as good as we get, and perhaps spend more time investing in ourselves instead of obsessing about far distant famous people. Let us care more about our family members well-being than the breakups and intimacies of strangers. Let's decide to have real adventures instead of imaginary ones.

Let us give the TV shows, movies, sports stars and celebrities their due as creative, artistic, interesting people, and then let us value our own lives enough to put them in their place and remember our own.


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • ZombieNurse

    I was a huge NKOTB fan as a pre-teen - don't you dare judge me- and I was as obsessed as a kid could be pre-internet. One day, though, it just sort of hit me right in the solar plexus that I'd never meet them, befriend them, date them or even really know them. My obsession kind of switched off like a light. I've wondered since then if it was because I couldn't be as saturated with it as kids today are. It scares me to think that they can find anything they want about anyone, plus whole communities that share their insanity. It can't be healthy.

    I've only met a few celebrities in my life and I always, ALWAYS, end up acting like an idiot. It's like I plan it in advance.

  • BobbFrapples

    The few times I've met celebrities, I've managed to be an absolute jerk. (I kicked an actor from General Hospital out of a store I was working at with a cheerfully spiteful, "Come back in the morning!" I am better off sighing over characters and leaving the real actors to their own lives.

  • toblerone

    The Problem With Fans and Overwhelming Fandom doen't stop at celebrities. Religion, Politics, Prejudice in it's many forms, Guns all have the same issue.

    Most fall into:

    A great deal of fandom seems to be motivated by loneliness. Put away the pitchforks and torches, I’m not saying everyone who loves Bob Dylan or reblogs gifs of Parks and Recreation is sad and alone. There’s a sense of deep relief in belonging to a tribe and in feeling known, and when someone who feels a little out of step with the rest of the world discovers a community that gets them and celebrates something they love, it’s very rewarding. Fandoms are often comprised of like-minded people, which is what makes them great. We can rest easy in the knowledge that these people understand us and care about the things we care about, and by extension, us. But this isn’t enough.

    But unfortunately there are alot of:

    And then there’s the super fans who seem to have lost all grip on reality.

    Look at the NRA or the Catholic Church and their new guy. We live in a society where real things don't matter and honestly I don't know if we can save ourselves.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I think the age of the fan is of huge contextual importance here. As your header pic shows, Bieber fans are right in the thick of this discussion. Yet many of them are in their early teens, not yet mature adults. This is nothing new, but I believe it should separate them from the adult stalkers who convince themselves that a relationship with a star could happen.

    The only difference between Beliebers and New Kids fans of yesterday is the technology they use to fuel their fandom. Twitter, Facebook and the internet in general have brought this obsession to a fever pitch. The resulting behavior is appalling. It is hateful and anti-social. Take the hive-mind mentality of a middle school and multiply it by the internet and you've got an out of control shit storm. The real question is, what happens to the superfans that have grown up in this era when they hit their 20's? Will they shed the fad like most other signs of adolescence or will we have armies of maladjusted freaks wandering the streets in search of the one they never had but swore got away?

  • Genevieve Burgess

    It doesn't just happen to the big movie stars or people on TV. I work wardrobe for touring Broadway shows in my city, and recently we had a cast member with at least two stalkers who were hanging around the performance venue and the hotel the cast was staying at. It was a male cast member, both stalkers were female, and he was genuinely concerned that they would find their ways back to the dressing room. One DID but was stopped at the door to the dressing area by a stage manager (she was already backstage at this point).

    This guy wasn't famous. Unless you were intimately familiar with his theater roles, you wouldn't think twice when you saw him. But still, this was part of his life, and I felt bad for him. He wasn't even making the kind of money that makes that stuff easier to swallow, or at least easier to deal with.

  • $27019454

    I don't really like the fan-ish side of me at all, so I'd rather not deal with it.

    I had to escort/hang out with one of my (rare) true objects of my obsession, Donald Fagen, and I spent the whole time trying not to make eye contact, which was not hard since he's a teensy bit odd. But overall, I'd rather not ever meet the objects of my fandom. If Neil Young walked in my office right now, I'd probably dive under the desk and squoze myself into a ball. VIGGO? Same thing. Seriously, I spent so much of my job as a publicist avoiding actual contact with these people. I admired and "loved" some of them so much in my private fantasies, that the thought of dealing with them made me goop out (technical term). I hate me when I'm like that. That said, I used to see Donna Summer in the market a lot when I was a kid, and she looked more like Rick James than Donna Summer. I never gooped out.

  • Tinkerville

    This reminds me of Rob Gordon's excellent "I'm tired of the fantasy" realization at the end of High Fidelity. God knows I'm pretty terrible at relationships in real life but I like to think I've come to appreciate the messiness of them and the imperfections both sides share. And whenever I start to feel bummed that I couldn't land some hot celebrity I remember that they're probably terrible in bed and vapid conversationalists. That definitely helps.

  • hotwhitegirlproblems

    Not all beautiful people are dim. Some are very smart. Some are fantastic in bed. Great in bed. Blow your mind hanging from the rafters enthusiastic participants game, giving lovers lord knows you wouldn't be able to handle or ever fully satisfy.

    Some of them are people just like you, only better looking, something they can't exactly help. Judging what's on the inside by what's on the outside is typically frowned upon throughout society when it comes to racism and stuff but sure. If linking physical beauty with boring people who are crap in bed makes your shitty little life more livable, whatever.

    And Rob Gordon is a whiny self-absorbed shit who shouldn't be serving as a moral exemplar for anybody over the age of 13.

  • Tinkerville

    Wow. Okay, then. Let me start by clarifying that I in no way equate being beautiful with being dumb and my apologies if it came off that way. I was speaking more to the idea of the "perfect celebrity" that Amanda was writing about that we put up on pedestals in our minds, rather than physical beauty. If we were to actually attain a perfect adonis of a man with no faults and no imperfections, it would make for a boring relationship, both physically and mentally. That was my point though I could've articulated it better. Obviously attractiveness has no correlation to intelligence and I would never believe that it would. That last line was supposed to be a throwaway (even if it wasn't a funny one) joke that you obviously took very seriously.

    On the subject of Rob Gordon...well obviously he's a whiny shit. The whole movie is about him refusing to take responsibility for how he fucked up his past relationships, avoiding the realities of adulthood and maturity, and self-sabotaging his own happiness until he realizes what it means to make someone else happy. The film doesn't glorify any of his faults and that's one of the many things I like about it.

  • HWGP

    Context: I used to love High Fidelity as a teenager and then didn't watch it for about a decade and loved John Cusack for all of that time, until recently, when I watched it again with my grown ass woman adult brain and discovered that oh my god that guy is a huge douchenozzle. And I sort of hated myself for spending all that time thinking that there was *wisdom* in that movie when really, no. There's just a couple nifty turns of phrase, good music, a tour de force performance by jack black, and a metric crapton of rob gordon not treating women well.

    I'm sorry for getting my hackles up at you; I'm having a bit of a day, but I've got a hair trigger when it comes to this "hot people are dull/dim/bad in bed" narrative. It's not just the implication in your last line, it's everywhere, and I'm glad you repudiated the idea. It's just that when you're an intelligent person but nobody really wants to see it, or treat you like it, or listen when you say your intelligent things because they're already got a rocksolid idea in their head of what people who look like you are like and that idea includes a bullet point next to "necessarily dumber than me," it kinda sucks. And sometimes when I turn guys down because I'm dating somebody else or just not interested or it's Tuesday or because it's my god damn prerogative, I get that shit thrown in my face like they're clever or something. So, sorry you had the misfortune of running into my giant raw exposed nerve.

  • Lynafg

    ....is this for real?

  • Tinkerville

    No worries at all and I apologize as well. After rereading my original post I can definitely see how it could've been taken that way. I might've made the mistake of staying up late marathoning Buffy on Netflix so apparently being articulate isn't my strongest suit today.

    The beautiful vs. smart dichotomy is stupidly pervasive in our culture. Every time I see the teen movies with the nerdy bookworm girl with glasses (because that's all it takes to be "ugly") going up against the hot but moronic cheerleader I want to throw up and I happen to love my glasses, thanks. You're absolutely right to get so worked up about it, especially when a woman can work her ass off for years in school and so on to get where she is but that's easily dismissed as soon as they see she's good looking.

    I confessed before that I'm pretty terrible at relationships and I think that's one of the reasons why I continue to love High Fidelity. I see some of myself in Rob though certainly not in a good way and I'm always a bit inspired to improve when I see my own faults playing out onscreen.

  • Resa Anderson

    Level with me...this is about my Hiddleston obsession, right?

  • Guest

    We wanted to do an "Intervention" but couldn't think of a good way to broach the subject. First step is recognizing you have a problem Resa.

    Awesome post Amanda!

  • Resa Anderson

    Most. Obtuse. Intervention. EVER.

  • ZombieMrsSmith

    Hmmm... but did it work?

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