Ever since I was little I have been encouraged by my family to support others: especially my favourite artists. I went through phases of having a favourite artist, as children do. At first there was Westlife, then Gareth Gates, and after Busted announced their split, I reversed my posters to their opposite side and became a fan of McFly. Through every phase, my Mum would always go out of her way to take me to see these artists, regardless of whether it was a live show at Wembley Arena or to see them switch on London’s Christmas Lights. I have always had the opportunity to be a true fan of whatever I wanted.
Two of the most exciting moments of my life were the days my parents took me to meet Busted, and then McFly. I’d never met any of my favourite musicians before, and I was completely overwhelmed and grateful that they signed some of my CDs. At this point signings were nowhere near as organised as they are now. Neither of those autograph sessions were regulated by whether you had queued up for a day in advance to get a wristband. In fact, my parents actually snuck my friends and I into the crowds near the front of each queue. A lot of things have changed since then, and it seems that the talent and their security guards have a lot more to contend with than relatively innocent line cutting.
To be a fan is to be a supporter, and to support somebody is to be enamored with what they do, and to encourage them along their path in every way possible. As the mass media industry has continued to grow and work its way into every area of entertainment, the concept and actions of supporting an artist have significantly evolved. One of the biggest shifts can be seen in the growth of social media.
Digital presence is evidently a great form of publicity, and the majority of artists are now very visible online. You would be hard pushed to find a celebrity who isn’t managing some form of Twitter account. Long gone are the days where the only forms of celebrity news you got in between press junkets were a newsletter written by their personal assistant, or the occasional sneaky pap shot. Instead, not only can famous people keep everyone updated with a simple status about their activity or opinions, but they can also interact with their fans directly.
Hardly a decade ago, one of the only ways to have a personal interaction with your favourite star would be by sending them fan mail and praying that it would arrive, then subsequently praying it would be seen. Even then, if you did receive something in return it was hard to tell whether or not you had simply been sent a generic letter from a personal assistant and an autographed photo taken from a pre-signed pile. Today, you no longer need to send a long-winded heartfelt letter across the ocean to the other side of the world to get the attention of your idol; you just need to come up with a message within seconds of them tweeting in order to catch their eye whilst they’re online.
Many people would argue that the social media age has entirely undermined the quality of personal interactions, and in many ways this is entirely applicable to celebrities as well. Within moments of stepping out into the public sphere they have to compete with more than just the traditional paparazzi. In modern society almost everyone is now armed with the tools to document whatever they see. However, when it comes to fan culture, technology has had a somewhat alternative impact.
Fan culture has always been something that brings people together. Long before the days of social media, fans would congregate in public, united by a shared interest. A common meeting ground would be airports, where fans would gather to welcome stars into their country. The arrivals area would be lined with barriers decorated with banners that were simultaneously holding back screaming girls. This was more than just an opportunity for fans to meet their idols in passing; it was an opportunity to bring together a group of people who were all incredibly passionate about the same thing.
Technology has given an entirely new dimension to the social aspect of being a fan. Thanks to social media and the interconnected nature of society (especially when it comes to younger people), communities have formed called fandoms. These communities support a specific musician, actor, fictional character, television series, or film, and usually carry their own moniker; Taylor Swift’s ‘Swifties’, Benedict Cumberbatch’s ‘Cumberbitches’, and the Harry Potter ‘Potterheads’ being amongst the most famous. Twitter and Tumblr have become the homes to these fandoms, where there will always be somebody who somehow knows the whereabouts of a specific celebrity and can provide photos, videos, and audio recordings from more or less every single one of their appearances.
While the formation of these fandoms has a variety of positive communal aspects, there is also a darker side to them. Having such a broad knowledge of, and access to, someone’s personal and private information can blur the lines between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. A situation has developed where countless fans think they know everything about the lives of their idols and thus believe they can speak on their behalf. Because sending a tweet to a famous person is just as simple as sending one to a close friend, it is incredibly easy for young fans to feel they have the right to make inappropriate and sometimes slanderous comments to whoever they choose.
A prime example of this can be found any time there is speculation around the relationship status of any of the members of One Direction. As soon as vague evidence emerges, the Twittersphere is instantaneously flooded with derogatory comments that humiliate a person who the majority of these fans know nothing about; in many cases they don’t even know more than a first name. The jealous and tyrannical comments that are posted as soon as a female name is mentioned show exactly how a congregation of fans on Twitter and Tumblr has engendered a community fuelled by jealousy, ignorance, and confused beliefs.
These actions transcend the virtual world and affect the interpretation many of these fans have of appropriate behaviour when found face to face with their favourite star. Exposure to every possible piece of information about a person, as well as that of a fictional character they may portray, culminates in the creation of an idealised figure that certain fans believe to be a real person. Actor and singer Darren Criss found himself in a situation that serves as a prime example of inappropriate fan behaviour. After a show one night he wasn’t able to stay and sign autographs or take selfies with fans. Most of Darren’s fans were incredibly understanding of this. However, the situation turned sour when one person decided to express a seemingly longstanding dislike for his girlfriend with the pointed remark ‘Bye Satan’. The freedom of actions and speech allowed on Twitter has given these young impressionable fans the idea that they can disrespect anyone with no consequences. The real world just doesn’t work like that, and it’s no surprise Darren’s response was ‘fuck you’.
The problem with fandoms, in contrast to fans, is that there is no longer any support while professing to be a supporter. The majority of actions are carried out selfishly. There are vast numbers of people going to stage doors every night pretending to support an artist, while the truth is that they did not see the show and only want a selfie to bolster their own self-importance. While I may have been lucky enough to get taken to see artists I loved, and had parents who were willing to help me get to the front of queues when I was younger, being a fan was something very different. I will always appreciate the artists who made an effort for me and replied to fan mail or signed my CDs. The issue now is that narcissistic fans have emerged who are no longer happy to just send a letter, but where does this intensely obsessive behaviour end?
This article has been corrected to reflect content that was omitted in editing.