One of the things I really love about the summer is that I have time to read more than I do during the school year. Typically, my summer reading includes a little bit of everything from fun fiction, to historical or political topics to fandom. This year is no different. Recently, I found a book at a used book store called, Starstruck, by Michael Joseph Gross. As I picked it up, I snorted and decided that it might make a silly read.
The book began with a focus on autograph hunters, usually in Hollywood hoping to get any and all stars to sign photos of headshots. Right away, I could tell that the book was a bit dated when it mentioned stars who are not necessarily super popular these days. Since none of this is terribly interesting to me, I almost put the book away when a new chapter began about Michael Jackson and his fans. (See, what did I say…dated.) Anyways, I continued to skim for a bit when it turned to describing the fans, Michael’s fans in a chapter entitled, Little Soldiers.
How were those fans described? It starts innocently enough, “These girls, they follow him everywhere. They’re smart and pretty and cool, and wherever he goes, they just sit outside for weeks, waiting.” I suppose some Duranies could fit into this picture. The author goes on to explain about how their loyalty extends to other fans and that they spend a lot of time communicating via the internet. The fans refer to the community as “family.” Again, many might find the same thing within Duranland. When these fans are asked about their love for Michael, they struggle to articulate why they love him so much, just that they do. All of that could continue to fit Duranies.
Then, the book takes a turn. The author zeroes in on one fan who does a lot of public interviews and represents the fans to the media. We learn about this fan who is determined to get inside a courtroom where Michael is facing charges surrounding child endangerment and more. As this fan tries to sneak inside the courthouse, she ends up sharing her view on her fellow fans. The overall gist is that the fans, according to her, are all following Michael to fill some void in their own lives and that they don’t want their childhoods to end. The author takes this information and adds some of his own conclusions. He determines that these hardcore fans take every possible opportunity to see Michael in person. Usually, these fans travel together from various countries in groups of 4-6, spending all of their money on this. Interestingly enough, he notes that most of them are single and when they are not following Michael in person, they write him letters.
As I read this, many thoughts popped up in my mind. First of all, it seems to me that the author and even the fan herself is lumping all Michael fans together in this neat little box of single women, traveling in small groups, looking to have Michael fulfill something lacking in their personal lives. No matter what that makes me uncomfortable. I’m sure that there were plenty of fans who did not fit this image. Second, the type of description feeds into the stigma that something is wrong with being a fan. This idea that fans are lacking something bugs me to no end. Each person has something in their life that bothers them. If fandom gives joy, what is the big deal. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with them. Ugh. Then, of course, there is the idea that these fans are probably single, which also casts female fans in a bad light. This must mean that there is something wrong with them that they cannot have a relationship, right? Or not. Then, there is the subtle idea that if women don’t have a relationship, there is something lacking in their lives. Again, this is a stereotype and one based on generalizations about women and women’s nature that bugs me to no end. On top of that, this image does not fit the fans I know.
Now, I admit that I don’t know any Michael Jackson fans. This description might be accurate. I can also admit that the author does not state that all fans are like this–just hardcore Michael Jackson ones. While all that said, there is still too much here that reinforces stigma and stereotypes, particularly about female fans, that makes me terribly uncomfortable.