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.