On boy band fangirling in the age of Twitter

If you follow me on any of my social networking profiles, you should know that in about six days I will be seeing that silly European-manufactured boy band One Direction. My ticket cost me a stupid amount of money – an amount that I am far too embarrassed to divulge. Yes, my dedication surprises me just as much as it surprises you. Or maybe you aren’t surprised, given my deep love of *NSYNC (though the two pop acts should not be compared because *NSYNC is clearly on a completely different level). I don’t know what happened. After their Saturday Night Live performance, there was no turning back. I guess it was kind of something like this, but over the process of a couple of weeks.

This is all of the 1D stuff I’ve bought over the past couple of weeks. Don’t worry, I would  probably unfriend me, too.

Once I realized I was a fangirl, I decided to poke around the online fandom. I was glad to see some people around my own age who had also succumbed to the stupid charm of this boy band, but they were definitely in the minority. As expected, this fandom is mostly compiled of young tween/teenage girls. I found myself cringing when I read some of their usernames, but it was a bit endearing. They created “families” on Twitter and Tumblr and were building their own fan culture. As a Communication major who enjoys reading about media studies (with an emphasis on fan/audience studies) it was fascinating seeing how these Directioners interacted with each other.

But these interactions, while almost always embarrassing, weren’t always endearing. In fact, I soon learned that within this fan culture, many young fans were spreading some pretty misogynistic, racist, and homophobic things among their groups. 

Of course, you may be saying, “Oh Justher, that’s just how young fans and people on the internet are!” To which I say, “Duh, I know, people totally suck.” But this was a totally different experience for me, given that many of the fandoms I’ve participated in (usually television shows) were mostly comprised of older fans that did a lot of meta discussion. Some great examples of meta discussion can be found within the LiveJournal community metafandom, which links to posts about “interesting discussions in fandom.” These “interesting discussions” are usually about fan works and the fans themselves, with many discussions centering around different instances of various -isms.

In addition to a reading a good amount of meta, my experience in fandom often led me to various projects that try make the world suck a little less. For example, FandomAid and help_japan on LiveJournal have held fandom auctions to raise money for countries that are hit by disaster. Additionally, the Harry Potter Alliance is an organization that works to mobilize around various social justice issues, from the environment to human rights. I kept seeing people in fandom do awesome things.

I guess it sounds a little strange, but my past participation in fandom was often linked to critical thinking about the material, the fan works, the fans themselves, and the world outside the fandom. Maybe that’s why the ignorance of this young fandom confused me so much.

But maybe my experience in other fandoms can’t even be compared to the 1D fandom on Twitter/Tumblr. I mean, television/movie/book/etc fandom (usually) centers around fictional characters. While one can argue that celebrities are all characters in the public eye, they are being presented as reality. And that can have some very interesting consequences for fangirls.

Please note: That link to “Confessions of a Fangirl” remains relevant, as it expresses a feeling that still exists for many fangirls in the age of social networking. Now would probably be the time I put in that Alex Gaskarth quote, but I don’t want to quote anything I can’t find the source for, so just do a quick internet search for “Never underestimate a girl’s love for her favorite band” and you’ll get the point. These five dudes mean a lot to millions and millions of young people.

As a result, 1D has a lot of power, and by extension, their fans have a good amount of power, too – at least on Twitter. They constantly trend various mundane inside jokes on Twitter, and trending topics can err on the side of offensive. One trend this past week was particularly bad: #welcomehomezayn. This became a trending topic once 1D entered Mexico, which gave some fans reason to believe that others trended this topic thinking it would be funny to essentially say that all brown people look alike. Oh, and there were drug jokes.

Now, think about how these fans are continuing to breathe life into these various racist, homophobic, misogynistic, etc. jokes. There is a lack of critical thought within these communities. I might even venture as far as to say that critical thinking is less possible now that much of the younger fandom assembles around microblogging sites such as Tumblr or Twitter – sites where long pieces of meta aren’t as valued as they were on LiveJournal.

That’s not to say that there aren’t blogs on Tumblr that shine a light on these instances of ignorance within the 1D fandom. deargodfandom and whenwesee1d are great blogs that draw attention to these fandom problems. But is there a way to really reach these kids? If anything, these blogs have made me feel a little less alone in my rage at all the -isms at play, but is there a way to really, actually get to these kids so they can do something like HPA or FandomAid?

I remain hopeful. It’s hard to remain patient when world suckage seems to be rising, but I suppose the best a fan can do is lay out the resources and hope that they get used. It’s hard to just tell someone to be critical. It takes time.

Having a critical eye in fandom doesn’t make the experience less fun. Instead, your activity in fandom becomes more intellectually stimulating. It runs deeper than any trending topic. It’s awesome.

Oh, and the jokes are funnier, too.

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