Media Representation of Fandom: Bull Durham

It has been awhile since I wrote a post about media representation of fans so I figured it was time.  Plus, in my usual rebellious fashion, I figured it would be good to watch, write and talk about a movie on baseball on Superbowl Sunday.  You can guess that I won’t be tuned in to that tonight.  Football isn’t high on my list and it is even lower if the team I root for isn’t in it.  Back to the topic at hand, Bull Durham is a movie starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.  The title comes from a minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls, located in Durham, North Carolina.  The movie follows 2 minor league baseball players.  One player is at the beginning of his career with enough talent to be able to make it to the major leagues.  The other player is at the end of his career but can offer wisdom to the upcoming player.  Of course, these two also have to contend with Annie, a very knowledgeable woman and baseball fan, who chooses one player per season to hook up with.  Now, of course, you might all wonder how in the world this connects to fandom.  While it seems obvious to me that Annie represents the “groupie” as does another character, “Millie” whom Annie seems to be training/mentoring.  Annie loves the sport (she is a fan) and will go after one star player as does Millie.  They, generally, match the typical assumptions about groupies.

We have talked about groupies before on this blog.  Typically, groupies get defined as fans who offer sexual favors to their idols.  We have also talked about how it is often assumed that any female fan who follows her idol(s) is a groupie or wants to be groupie going after the ultimate autograph.  On top of these stereotypes, there are stereotypes about groupies, themselves.  Some of these stereotypes or assumptions include that these women (and they are almost always assumed to be women) are only there to have sex with the famous men and aren’t there because of the fandom.  They, in fact, don’t know or care about the fandom or anything really related to the fandom.  They aren’t there because they are fans.  Then, of course, is the assumption about what the ultimate goal is for groupies.  Some think groupies want to marry one of the subjects of their affection.  Others think that they just want the status of having sex with a long list of celebrities, as in the more celebrities, the better and the more famous the celebrities, the even better.  So, how does this movie show the fans/groupies in the movie?  Do they match the typical definition of groupies?  If so, then, how do they compare to the assumptions about groupies?

Do the female characters in the movie, Bull Durham, match the assumed definition of groupies?  They sure do.  Annie is very honest that she chooses one ball player a season to “hook up with”.  She points out that her role is to make them “feel confident”.  She is attracted to both the rising star and the experienced veteran.  The choice is made in the beginning of the season after she watches the players both on the field and off the field at a local restaurant/bar.  During this movie, she brings both the rising star, Nuke, and the veteran, Crash, back to her house to do an interview of sorts.  In this case, Crash leaves and says that he has been around too long to audition.  Thus, Annie chooses Nuke.  Meanwhile, Millie, the younger “groupie”, seems to be interviewing candidates as well.  In some cases, she tries them out like she did with Nuke before he got with Annie.  In other cases, she talks to the baseball players while they are sitting on the bench.  Eventually, she, too, settles on a religious ballplayer by the name of Jimmy.  These women do seem like groupies as they are focused on hooking up with a player or more.  Their worlds seem to be focused on this goal as we know nothing more about them. 

While these characters definitely seem to fit the idea of groupies, do they match the other assumptions about groupies?  In some ways, they do and, in other ways, they do not.  The first assumption about groupies is that they really don’t care about their fandom.  They know nothing and don’t need to know anything.  They only focus on getting the guys into bed.  Annie and Millie do not match this assumption at all.  First of all, Annie is definitely a fan.  We know this right away when she starts talking about how the only church she goes to is the church of baseball.  She mentions that baseball feeds her soul.  Later in the movie, Nuke decides to refrain from having sex to keep his winning streak.  Annie’s reaction to this is mixed as she loves that the team is playing well but the other part of her misses having a man in her bed.  The second assumption is that “groupies” don’t know anything about whatever their fandom is.  Thus, if they are music groupies, they know nothing about music.  In this case, the groupies wouldn’t know anything baseball.  This is definitely not the case as Annie often gives lessons to the players about what they need to do or what they need to do differently and when the players listen to the advice, they do better.  Both Millie and Annie watch the games, intensely, and even take down statistics while there. 

What is the goal for these female characters?  It doesn’t seem obvious.  Annie, in particular, seems very content to live her life as she always has.  The only reason that might change is because this particular season does not go according to plan as the one player she chose resists her half way through the season and the other player still interests her.  Millie, on the other hand, does seem happy to follow in Annie’s footsteps but is pretty happy to marry one of the players.  This assumption that groupies are after a commitment from the idol matches as Millie marries her hookup. 

The movie, Bull Durham, definitely shows baseball “groupies”.  On one hand, it is nice to see fandom, of sorts, shown in sports.  On the other hand, the focus is on “groupies”.  These fans are focused on having sex with the subjects of their fandom.  While they are true fans of baseball and know a lot about it, their focus isn’t on cheering the team.  These female fans couldn’t be just fans of the game.  Nope, they had to be groupies.  Now, of course, I realize that there is supposed to be a sort of love story within the movie, but that love story could have taken place without having Annie be a “groupie”.  She could have just been a knowledgeable, dedicated fan.  Obviously, some may argue that Annie’s character is one of a strong woman who goes after what/who she wants and that she isn’t following society’s expectations of womanhood.  I won’t argue against that.  I will also point out that the assumptions about “groupies” absolutely are tied to women’s rights and society’s expectations of women.  Yet, my goal here isn’t to focus on the larger issue of sexism but to examine how the fans are shown.  In this case, the fans probably had to be groupies in order to make the storyline work.  I get that, but I do wish that they could have just been fans.  Annie could have been a strong woman and baseball fans without being a “groupie”.

-A

One thought on “Media Representation of Fandom: Bull Durham”

  1. One of the strongest stereotypes of the groupies is just the one you
    mentioned in your blog and in Italy too “our” groupies up to the late
    80s shared it with the US ones.
    Groupies, I learnt, can be found working in other fields outside of
    the rock music, so every fan or supporter of every kind of hero is
    aware of this reality.
    Personally, I actually have nothing against groupies: it’s their
    choice to live this way. These girls are aware – they just don’t care
    – of the critics or thoughts from the other fans, from the rest. As
    opposite, I never chose to lead that kind of life: I was brought up in
    a “quiet” family and I grew up with “quiet” friends in my circle. I
    don’t have any regret of spending some minutes in bed with my heroes:
    I chose to keep my “sex dreams” in mind only. I don’t care for what
    they achieve, I’d rather think of my own goals. My goals aren’t on a
    higher level than theirs, my goals are just different

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