Last night I spent some time doing some reading. I’m still working on our book proposal, believe it or not. While I’m researching and reading, I’m also actively filing ideas away for later. The truth is, I love the topic of Fan Studies. So every time I see a new book on the subject, I get it and absorb all I can, only to use it later here, or in our proposal, or to beef up our research. Currently I’m reading a book called Understanding Fandom
, by Mark Duffett. The thing about Mark’s book is that unlike all of the other books I’ve ever read on the subject, he talks a lot about music fans. I love this because it translates extremely well to what Amanda and I have written and experience on a daily basis. He also writes beautifully, without a lot of the pumped-up scholarly language that a lot of the academics tend to rely on. In any case, I’ve been pretty absorbed in this book. I’m reading a section of the book on fandom as a pathology, which as a phrase, makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
First of all – pathology is the study of medical problems. Call me crazy (Ok, that’s not really funny…but if you’re following along, you might get the joke here), but fandom is not a medical problem. It’s not even a mental one. That’s the trouble though, because historically through academia, fandom has been presented as a sort of deviance. A behavior that is well, not OK. That’s why a lot of us grew up keeping our Duranie-ness to ourselves, even if at the time we didn’t realize the reason. As a scholarly tradition, fandom or fan studies has been about trying to explain “the why” as a sort of pathological reason. This section is all about the crazy, in other words. The author spends a lot of time trying to debunk this theory of “Slippery Slope”, which is an openly accepted theory of fandom. It means that the moment you decide you’re a fan, you spend the rest of your time in fandom working perilously ever-closer to the edge of slipping down the hill into the Valley of Derangement. What’s down there (according to the historical theorists)? Stalking. Attempting to make contact and communicate with the celebrity/musician/actor/public figure/etc. Thinking that the celebrity has flirted or made romantic gestures towards you…so on and so forth. It’s not a pretty sight, and yet many of us in fandom, myself included, partially fit that bill to a small extent. Stick with me here…
As I’m reading this section, I’m doing two things. (Well, realistically I’m doing about five…three of which have to do with parenting, making dinner and occasionally telling my children to please keep it down. Wait…does that count as parenting or just trying to maintain sanity??) One, I’m highlighting, making notes and thinking about how angry it makes me that we’re made to feel as though being fans is somehow a deviation from normal. Two, I’m reading and thinking “Ok, do I really do that? Maybe I really should stop tweeting and trying to treat the band as though they were normal people – because apparently that’s wrong too!” It’s really an exercise in trying to remind oneself (that oneself being me) that all is really fine. I think. That “Slippery Slope”…it makes us all sound as though we’re one tweet away from harassment and complete deviancy. Are we??
Think back to the last time you were at a gig. Let’s say it was a Duran Duran gig since, well…that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? Let’s say you had great seats. Well, they were great if you wanted excellent acoustics…because in most venues 2/3 of the way back in the middle is usually pretty great, acoustically. This is not a GA venue. It’s “seated”. Seated is in quotes because well, who actually stays seated at a concert?!? No matter, you were assigned a chair, upon which probably rests your coat or whatever you brought with you. You’re standing up, facing the band. You can barely see the stage from where you are, and with that crazy-tall guy standing right in front of you…you really want to give him a firm shove to the side since he’s got about 5 feet on either side of him with which to move, but you somehow sense that would be frowned upon. So, you just try to zig whenever he zags so you can get a good view of the band. Sort of. You’re clapping along, rocking out to when suddenly you feel it. Through that massive crowd, as though it parts like the Red Sea, the lights zero in on you and Simon LeBon. (I picked Simon since he’s right out front, but this can be anyone you want. Pick your favorite!) He’s looking right at you. You know this. You can feel it. No matter that you’re in row ZZ on the floor. No matter that crazy tall guy is positioned so that you have about a 2 inch space, basically in the guy’s armpit if he keeps his arms up in the air, with which to see Simon staring right you. You look around to see if the people next to you are reacting. No. No one even seems to notice, but hey – YOU see it. That’s all that matters, right?! Wait…did he actually wink?!? You’re positive that not only did he wink, he winked right. At. YOU. Bliss.
Now, I don’t care if you’ve been to one show or a hundred, most of us have had just that moment. Maybe you’ve had more than one. (Lucky!!) Maybe you’ve had one at every show (What the hell?!?)…but no matter, when you have that moment, you’re convinced it’s for you, and when it happens, it makes you feel as though you’re on Cloud Nine. We LIVE for that stuff. Well, those of us who like that sort of thing, anyway. It doesn’t make the entire show… (Well, maybe it does sometimes. I mean, for you….because I’m there for the music. *coughs*), but it creates this second of feeling as though you matter. As though they (the band) can see you’re there. You feel a connection. You go home, back to reality. You suffer through Post Concert Depression. (If you have no idea what this is, you very much need to go to more shows to feel our pain.) Then you’re on Twitter one day and someone in the band comes online. They tweet something and you respond. Then they answer back with an RT. A blessedly wonderful RT. Maybe they don’t even RT, but you sent some question to them and they answer it – not mentioning your name or anything, but you can tell, the response was for you, dammit! You float through the rest of your day, convinced that the next show you attend will be even better than the last, and you are damn loyal from there on out. You read their twitter, you play the contests, you respond to their posts and tweets, and you are ready for them to announce a tour. SOON. (Sound like anyone you might recognize in the mirror??)
How can any of that really be bad? Well, I suppose you could go over the edge and be completely consumed with the notion that you’ve got something real there. The unfortunate thing is that there is a sort of parasocial relationship that occurs for fans. You feel as though you know the band. We all do, and as much as it’s really not “normal”…it’s normal in as much as being a fan for thirty years is normal. We know the band and whatever their public personas allow. We treasure what we are able. I think it’s wrong for academia to immediately assume that because a fan has reached out to his/her interests that they are literally on the road to harassment, because in 99% of us – harassment doesn’t enter into it. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be polite, recognize and respect the boundaries, and maybe even check ourselves once in a while, and I think that by and large, most of us do just that.
So, are we really just a tweet, a wink…or even a post away from sliding down that slippery slope? Is that all it takes? I doubt it, although I suspect that is also why it is so cool these days to be the “Anti-fan” (that’s someone who takes pride in pointing out how much they dislike say, the current work of the band, or that they are too “cool” to do so many of the things that other fans do. Anti-fandom. It’s real.), no one wants to be thought of as possibly on the road to derangement, am I right? That’s probably why Amanda and I really started writing this blog, planning conventions and trying to do more. Fandom is OK. It’s not deviant behavior. Fandom is normal. It’s not about a lonely person writing letters of desperation to their favorite actor or singer. It’s not really about someone who convinces themselves that they’re having a relationship with their favorite band member. A fan is not someone who decides to shoot their favorite Beatle. Those things though, they do happen. The difference is that the two things: being a fan and having a mental illness (each of those things I described above come from mental illness) are exclusive. They can exist without the other. You can be a fan for thirty years and never cross that line. You can also have mental illness – whether it’s depression, erotomania or a major personality disorder of another type for many, many years and have it go untreated and ignored…and yes, you can be a fan and still have those illnesses. One does not cause the other. Being a fan does NOT make you mentally ill, at risk of becoming mentally ill, or even “pathetic”, as I’ve read. Being a fan and being a part of a community though – has the potential to bring a lot of joy, a lot of friends, and a wonderful journey. To hell with the naysayers. They don’t know how to live.
That’s why we write this blog, and that’s why I keep studying.