Is Fandom an Adolescent Thing? A Girl Thing?

Yesterday, my writing partner discussed an article written in the Wall Street Journal in an attempt to explain Justin Bieber “fever”.  If you are interested in reading the article, you can go here.  If you would like to read Rhonda’s take on it, you can go here.  While I don’t disagree with the points Rhonda made on the blog or points made by other people on facebook, the article did not sit well with me.  After having a few days to really look at it, I can now (hopefully) explain why. 

The premise of the article from what I could see was to explain the screaming teen behavior that is currently found in Justin Bieber fans but had been found in Elvis fans, Beatles fans and even with a little band called Duran Duran and their fans.  They quoted experts including a neuroscientist, a sociologist, psychologists, a professor of communications, and a psychiatrist.  That’s all fine and good.  Cool.  No problem.  They also spoke with some young Bieber fans and their parents.  Again, fine.  As Rhonda pointed out that a large part to the article was this idea that when people hear familiar and favorite music, that neurotransmitters are released in the brain and these are the same ones involved in pleasure and addiction.  That seems logical to me.  The author also states that music one likes as a teen actually becomes wired into the brain, which is why adults like the music from when they were kids.  I can’t argue with that, either.  To me, that does explain a lot about how fandom begins.  What I can argue with is the emphasis on adolescence and on females.

The article is framed in a way to explain young girls infatuation with Justin Bieber.  The other examples of fandom also were of young girls.  Heck, Duran Duran could have been included in that.  Yet, not all fans of Justin, Elvis, the Beatles or Duran were young girls.  Many, many fans became fans later in life.  Many of our readers might be people who became fans later in life.  Yes, I’ll agree that those pleasure and addiction neurotransmitters can happen at any time of life.  Yes, they can happen enough to make for solid wiring within the brain.  Sure.  This could explain why and how fans become fans NO matter what AGE.  Yet, the author and the article didn’t say that.  Instead, we are left thinking that fandom is only about teenagers and mostly, female teenagers at that.  Thus, while trying to present fandom as normal, which the article does for the most part, it also locks fandom into a “stage in adolescent development” and to a gender.  How does that help older fans like myself?  How would that work for all of the male Duranies I know are out there?  

Male fans of pop/rock stars were completely ignored in this article.  The article mentions how girls fall for pop stars as an early, but safe entry into romantic and/or sexual interest.  Okay.  Sure.  I can go with that.  That couldn’t happen to boys, too?  Young gay boys couldn’t have been interested in male pop stars for the same reason?  What about the fact that there are a lot of female pop stars now?  No boy has been interested in Madonna or Beyonce for the same reason I might have liked John Taylor?  Really?  No, they say that most boys were more interested in athletes because they could emulate them.  Couldn’t I have emulated Madonna?  Why would I have been interested in a romantic fantasy at age 10 and not looking to have a role model of the same gender?  Why boys be the only ones to do this?  How would this work for straight boys who started liking Duran at an early age?  Could some boy have become a fan in order to be like Simon?  Or Roger?  Nope, the author didn’t offer this as a possibility.  Instead, the focus was on how the pop star created a fantasy for the young girl.

At the end of the article, the author talked to this parent who commented about how her daughters lost interest with Bieber when he began dating.  In this parent’s opinion, it was all about the fantasy of having Justin as a boyfriend.  Once the fantasy was gone, so did the interest.  Does this contradict the earlier notion from the neuroscientist that said that once certain music was wired into the brain, it would release those pleasure neurotransmitters?  Perhaps, so.  Now, is it possible that for these two girls it was all about this boyfriend fantasy?  Sure.  Maybe, the music had nothing to do with it.  Yet, for a lot of fans it is and was about the MUSIC.  It was never really about the fantasy of having a Duran member as a boyfriend.  Not really.  If that was the case, wouldn’t I have lost interest a long time ago?  Again, I ask.  Why would a straight guy ever like them if it was all about this romantic fantasy? 

All in all, I like the idea that science can explain that there is something chemical related to fandom.  To me, it gives a reason that most people can’t argue against.  I just wish that the science included in this article wasn’t surrounded by stereotypes that all fandom is about teenage girls who fantasize about their idol(s).  This definitely feeds into the stigma that I and every other adult Duranie has to deal with.  People then assume that adult fans are simply people who refuse to grow up, who are stuck in some sort of perpetual immaturity.  It also completely ignores the male fans while presenting female fans as people who are only fans because the pop star is cute.  Yes, in my case, I thought and think that the members of Duran are attractive.  I’m alive, aren’t I?  Yet, it is much more about their music than it ever was about their looks.  To assume anything else is offensive.


4 thoughts on “Is Fandom an Adolescent Thing? A Girl Thing?”

  1. Oh boy. I have to say – I disagree with you here, Amanda. I don't think this article had anything to do with stigma unless you really want to read into that way. It had to do with examining the behavior behind girls and Bieber Fever. There just aren't many MALE Bieber fans out there that go to the lengths that girls do. Why is that wrong? It's not. It's one article taken from excerpts of an entire book that was written on how music affects the brains of people, not just females…not just males…not just adolescents. Did they need to include the comment about how males typically follow athletes intensely? Maybe not since it really isn't the point behind the article…but on the same token, I don't think they were saying anything that isn't true for the vast majority of males out there. It's the privileged and enlightened few that “get” Duran Duran. 😀

    The mere fact that adult fans weren't taken into account – the article was written and titled about Biebers and their Belieber Fever – doesn't continue a certain type of stigma, they just didn't talk about adult fans because let's be honest and real for just one second here: Justin Bieber articles sell papers. -R

  2. Of course the article was written with Justin as the center to sell papers. There is no doubt about that. I also don't the author had a thought about stigma when she wrote it. Yet, my concern is other people would read it, not think critically, and use this to think negatively about people like us.


  3. I can see both points here. Frankly, I think you should link this in a comment on the article. Give people a chance to see the points you made, all of which I agree. Buys, in general tend to become fans of sports stars, comic book heros, sci-fi movies and if they are into music, metal and rock. Or for those in the middle of the US, country rock. So we have different interests much of the time. BUT both boys and girls can also get into things that don't fit the stereotypes. And yes, you CAN become a fan of something later in life and REALLY get into it. I certainly was not a kid when Harry Potter came out, but I LOVE that whole series and plan to read the books now that I am done seeing the movies. Granted, I don't necessarily squeal in delight. Not usually, anyway. But I think a lot of your points are valid. As for this being an small excerpt from a larger study, then that should have been made clearer and some of those points should have been made so as not to leave the one sided impression in the readers.

We (Amanda and Rhonda) appreciate discussion and differences of opinion. We respectfully ask that you fully read the blog before bitching us out. If you're only here to take us down a notch, note that we moderate replies (meaning we're not printing rude comments). Thanks a bunch!

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