Amanda and I have been studying fandom for about ten years now. I think we each try to stay current with publications and research, but every now and then something will come out that takes us by surprise. This weekend, an article was published in the Daily Mail (maybe not the hardest hitting newspaper out there) that made me stop and think about superfans. I shared it across social media, hoping to generate some careful thought and response.
The article is about a fan named Heather Vaughn, who considers herself to be a Bay City Rollers Superfan. By her own estimate, she has attended over 4000 BCR concerts and has been a fan for over 40 years. Unfortunately, since April, she has been asked to leave gigs and has been banned. She claims not to know why, although the article discusses a specific situation where Mr. McKeown was checking into a hotel, saw Heather out front and took a photo of her on his phone. You can read the article here (in fact I really think everyone should).
Just in case you’ve never heard of them, the Bay City Rollers were a 1970’s Scottish pop group that happened to have quite a huge female following. They split in 1978, but the lead singer (after taking time to recover from drugs, etc) continues to tour under the name “Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers”, and – this may surprise some of you given some of the “Who the heck are they?” responses I saw yesterday – they still have quite a strong following. These are people who go to every show, who have been fans from nearly the beginning. There have been many books and articles written about their fans, and there are definitely parallels to be found between that fan community and our own.
While the article interested me, I was even more curious about some of the responses I read, specifically from Duran Duran fans who had posted the article for their friends to read. The responses went one of two ways:
- People felt there must be more to the story than this woman simply being seen at the same hotel that Les McKeown was checking into.
- People were appalled that the band was not thrilled that they had such a loyal superfan.
After reading those types of responses from several people who had commented, I decided I would post the article to the community-at-large over social media and monitor the reactions. I wasn’t really sure what people might say, but I was fairly convinced Duran fans would have SOME sort of opinion! I was not wrong.
Overall, the same two original types of responses I read seemed to be the norm throughout the community. Although stated in a myriad of ways, directionally they were the same. Either fans were convinced there was more to the story than what was being shared, or they were firmly supportive of superfans. There was also some discussion defining obsessive behavior and “crazy fans”, but ultimately – it comes down to whether or not you support the superfan, or you believe something happened where the band is “just” in their decision to ban said fan.
This seems to always boil down to the same discussion of what is acceptable fan behavior. And, as I could have predicted—everyone has a different opinion about that. It’s not an easy conversation.
I chatted with some people who felt that if you go to “too many shows”, it starts to look odd to the band. If you wave to band members, maybe that’s too “familiar”. If they begin to recognize you, that’s too much. If you talk to the band online as though you would anyone else, and expect them to answer, that’s bizarre.
I started looking hard at my own past “fan” behavior after I got offline. Unlike Heather Vaughn, I’ve never been called up on stage, or had photographs taken of myself doing housework for one of the band members. (Don’t even think about it. I love the band…but not that much!!) I have, however, traveled great distances to see them. I’ve been in hotel bars and restaurants at the same time as they’ve been. I’ve stayed at the same hotel before. I’ve gone to show after show, and yeah, I’m pretty sure that at least Simon recognizes me at this point, and likely Nick too. What makes me any different from Mrs. Vaughn, other than the amount I’ve done?
The thing is, we don’t know why Heather Vaughn was banned. Chances are, there’s more to the story than what was reported, on both sides. What really concerns me is the idea that some Duran Duran fans think that no matter what she’s done, it’s OK because it was done in the name of being a loyal fan. What exactly does “loyal” mean, anyway? How do any of us know that she didn’t try to break into a room, or make threats, or continually show up to private events completely unannounced—purely because she thought that she was so much of a great fan that she belonged? We don’t, but think about it the possibility. She’d gone to over 4000 shows. The band clearly knew who she was. She felt familiar, both in being a fan, as well as thinking they knew her. I would imagine it is very easy to believe you’re more than just another fan in that case. It can be intoxicating to be validated by a celebrity, and after decades of just that, you start to believe you belong. That’s the risk.
It is those types of things, where you’re showing up to things a fan shouldn’t be, and getting into places you were not invited, that get a fan banned. Fans do not get banned because they happen to be in a hotel lobby, or because they’ve been to one too many shows in a stretch. Fans aren’t told to go away because they asked for a photo, and I’ve seen some really forceful asking! Restraining orders are for people who don’t know enough to back the heck off. Blocking and banning are used for those who don’t realize what “private time” or “personal space” means, and have to be continually told, most of the time at the peril of the band member or others that work for the band. Fans are banned because they ignore that a band member is actually a human being with a real life, or because they threaten a band member and/or their family. Bands and artists don’t want to have to block fans from events. That’s not their goal, so when they do it, it is as a last resort, when nothing else has worked. Assuming that this person is the victim is likely the wrong way to go here, and I really hope people who see it that way think twice. Or even three times.
Superfans aren’t the problem. Loyalty isn’t the issue at all.
If nothing else, the article gave me food for thought. I hope it did the same for you.