Tag Archives: fandom stigma

Depeche Mode’s Spirits in the Forest: Fans Connect

I know that we are supposed to be on a blogging break but I feel compelled to write. On Thursday, I went to a screening of Depeche Mode’s documentary, Spirits in the Forest, with my friend, Kristin. When I saw this advertised, I knew that I wanted to go even though I didn’t know much about the film. After all, I would list Depeche Mode as one of my favorite bands of all time. They were, in fact, the first concert I ever attended. Anyway, I went into the movie theater with a drink in hand and figured that I would just sit back and enjoy the music. I hadn’t even watched the trailer as I didn’t want any real expectations. Well, I was in for a treat.

Right away, I found myself surprised as I assumed that it would be mostly concert footage with maybe some interviews with the bands or random shots of fans. I did not expect that the film would focus on the personal stories of six fans from around the world. Almost immediately, I thought about other films that focus on fans. I did reviews of the two that popped in my mind instantly, which were Trekkies about Star Trek fans that you can read about here and Something You Should Know about Duran fans with the link to it here. In both cases, I had such high hopes for them. I wanted to see films that celebrate fans and fandom. Instead, I found both of them relying on common stereotypes about the extreme behavior of fans. It wasn’t enough to just shows fans but they needed to show fans who have collected personal items from band members or fans who love it so much that they create offices with their fandom at the center. I felt like if non-fans watched those films, they would assume that fans are all a little obsessed, maybe a little crazy. They wouldn’t be able to relate to them at all. If fans watched it, they might have a similar reaction, differentiating themselves from the images on the screen, thinking about how they are fans but not like that. There is a lot of stigma out there in the world about fans and presenting just the extreme behaviors feed or reinforce those stereotypes. So, when fans appeared on this Depeche Mode documentary, I worried.

As I watched the stories of these fans, I found that this is the exact opposite of those other documentaries. These fans were people I found myself connecting with. They were people that I wanted to meet or be around. I loved hearing about each one of their stories and, more importantly, how their fandom played a role in their lives. Then, as we learned more and more about them and their fandom, the film beautifully interweaves concert footage. These fans were not the ones with the biggest collections or the most concert experiences, although they might have been. No, that information wasn’t important. They were just people who loved Depeche Mode. People might not view them as the biggest or best fans (whatever that means anyway) but they were people who have connected to the music on a personal level and have found or kept personal connections as a result of being fans.

Throughout the film, these fans described how specific songs meant something to them and why. They explained how these songs hit them, emotionally. For example, one fan described how the song, Precious, reminded him about his divorce and his relationship with his kids. Another fan talked about how Enjoy the Silence was so fabulous to him that he tried to remake the video. In some cases, this personal sharing either brought tears to one’s eyes or laughter from the humor of the situation. You found yourself feeling what they are feeling. I know that I personally found myself connecting to the fan who listened to Depeche Mode during treatment for breast cancer as my mom was recently declared cancer free for four years. While she was undergoing chemotherapy for the same kind of breast cancer, we spent a lot of time listening to songs from women with strong, empowering messages. Music matters.

If all that wasn’t enough, the film also described how the music did more than just allow people to connect to songs but brought or kept people together. The fan with the kids created a silly cover band with his kids, bonding them for life. The fan from Romania discussed traveling to go to shows and meeting other fans that he now toured together. The woman with breast cancer educated her children about the music and more.

The film showed the absolute best part of being a fan. Fans fall in love with the music but they join a fan community to share that love with others. Some people might argue that the film should have focused more on a band. It should have had more concert footage or band interviews. Yet, the live shots brought it all together as the viewers could see that the band created this. Their music matters to people and has been the conduit between people. In this way, it celebrates Depeche Mode in a way that just a concert or interviews with the band could not. Fans are the results of producing material that matters.

-A

Here’s the trailer if you are interested. If you get a chance to go, I definitely would.

Crazy About Boybands, So They Say

Sorry the blog is late today. I’m trying to steal away the last few days with family for a summer “staycation” before we are back to school.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been doing some reading as of late – and yesterday I found myself watching a British television documentary on One Direction fans. The program was titled “Crazy for One Direction”, and chances are – everyone on the planet has already heard of this but me.

Crazy sells

I sat down to watch knowing that One Direction fans were furious when it was originally aired. They felt betrayed and a bit cheated because the director tended to weigh filming more heavily on what the fans felt was the most extreme portrayals of fandom, rather than focusing on how the overwhelming majority tend to express themselves. I watched purely because I wanted to see how those fans were really portrayed. The title alone, complete with the word “Crazy” – made me cringe.

As I watched, I saw behaviors that were not really that far off from what I’ve witnessed even as a Duran Duran fan. Sure, if you took specific incidents to heart – I suppose some situations felt a bit out-of-hand. Context matters, but I suspect the full intention of the director was to show the extremes. This is something I’ve grown very accustomed to even as an adult – as I’ll come back to a bit later.

What I will say though, is that despite fandom itself being a gender-neutral sort of activity, this documentary focused SOLELY on females. No males aside from the band and perhaps a wayward adult male or two were seen in the documentary, and certainly not interviewed. I highly doubt there are zero male One Direction fans in the same way that I know for certain there were male Duran Duran fans back in the day (and many more now!). This very obvious slant enrages me as someone who not only studies, but participates in fandom because of the obvious implications that continue to be made about female-specific fandoms.

Context is everything

The director speaks with two teens (the interviews were done in the girls’ bedrooms – and in every case, their walls were wallpapered with One Direction pictures and pinups) about what they might do in order to meet the band.

The girls giggle, as one answers, “I wouldn’t kill a puppy, but I might kill a cat!” She is chided by her friend – and she quickly backpedals. I suppose that to some adults, that answer might seem a little too far into crazy-town, but they’re KIDS. Exaggerations go with that territory. Maybe it is comes with being a mom, but I wouldn’t have been worried if it had been my kid. We would have, however, had a little chat about wording and context while in the public eye.

We know the exact time of their birth, and the hotel they’re staying at!

They speak about Twitter, explaining, “We can find out everything about them.” Even the tiniest personal details about the band, such as their exact birth times, can and have been mined and shared via Twitter. Directioners rely on Twitter as though it were a life line, particularly when they wish to track the band’s every movement. It surprised me to see how easily the teens were able to find the band while they were touring, and of course this subject sparked discussion of actually meeting the band – which for this community (as well as our own in many aspects) is of paramount importance.

The girls seem to take pride in giving exact numbers for the amount of times they’d met One Direction, explaining (just as fans who have met Duran Duran multiple times) that finding the band “takes time and a lot of patience. We’re not lucky, we work hard.” They suggest that other fans just don’t bother, or don’t try and that because they go the extra mile – they are rewarded for their efforts. “They say I’m a stalker and that people [presumably she means the band themselves or management] don’t like it, but I don’t care.”

Border-policing

One of the teens interviewed comes across an online post suggesting that one of the boys (the band, of course) should die. There is an immense line of cursing and violent suggestions of what should happen to the person who created the post. It is border-policing (what fans do to keep one another in line) at it’s most extreme.

I don’t think anyone would disagree when I write that fandom can be intense. It certainly was portrayed as such in the documentary. That intensity runs like a river throughout every possible nuance of the One Direction fandom, good and bad. These are young women who recognize that much of their fandom has to do with being a part of a larger group. It is a community. More than one of the girls interviewed commented on the friendships she’d made as a result. That can’t be bad….although one of those interviewed mentioned that she is part of a fan community that “can kill you if they decide”. That’s the double-edged sword of fandom. What builds you up can also slice and dice like a Ginsu, I suppose.

Is it Larry….or JoSi???

Then there are the shippers. One Directioners have a fantasy/fanfic going about Liam and Harry – they call it “Larry-shipping”. There are stories, memes, and even fan drawings and paintings about “Larry”.

Before scoffing, I’d just like to remind everyone of “JoSi”. It is indeed, a thing.

Ultimately, the longer I watched, the more I realized that these teenagers are no different than I was at their age – although most of them enjoy far more freedom than I did. However, as the documentary concluded, I recognized something more.

I can’t really say that these girls are much different at 15, than many of us are at 40, 45, or even 50. I still see people my age chase after the band after a show. I’ve watched people follow Simon right into a restaurant, or wait just outside. Many of us have shed tears at concerts, or become tongue-tied when we meet the band. Information of all-sorts is spread via social media, and we border-police ourselves as good as it gets. The label “stalker” is thrown around rather liberally – and truthfully, we are the kings and queens of double standards when it comes to this band. Anything we do to meet them is fine until we see somebody else doing it, then it is judge, judge, judge all the way.

I don’t know how I feel about that connection. On one hand, I can see the obvious – perhaps we never quite grew up. I became a Duran Duran fan at the age of 11 or 12, maybe I still feel that way when I hear them play to some extent. Feeling young again isn’t a bad thing. On the other hand, I’m nearly 49. I’m still trying to sort that out, I guess. My advice? Watch the documentary for yourself and decide. I’d love to read what you think!

Watching these girls tell their story was very much like watching us tell ours – and then having the media decide to play it up as though we’re far too crazy to be roaming free on the streets. For me personally though, this documentary wasn’t nearly as cringe-worthy as watching “Something You Should Know” – which is our own fan documentary. The fact is, extremism sells.

This is something that Amanda and I know firsthand. We’ve written more than one manuscript that has been submitted and rejected by publishers at this point. While with each one we’ve sharpened our pencils and improved our research, writing, and voice(s) – we’ve also learned that virtually no one cares about the positive things that fandom has done. Publishers aren’t interested in reading about friendships that have been created, or the sense of community. They want to know the dirty. Editors want to read the torrid tales. Slept with the band? Snuck onto a bus? Verbally threatened another fan who dared get in our way? They want to read about crazy. The widespread belief, of course, is that female fans are crazy.

It is unfair when you think about it. Men could follow Bruce Springsteen around the country on tour, and not only would they be held up as heroes amongst fellow fans – they’d get press, and the slant would be incredibly positive – “it’s about the music and the brotherhood, man”. Let women follow Bruce around, and it suddenly becomes a whole lot less about the music…because what could women possibly know, right?

Let me know what you think after you watch the documentary!

-R

Can You Hear Me Now

It has been a long week, one that I alternatively spent either super busy with work or contemplating.  The two activities are connected, of course.  The fact that I have worked way too many hours on top of criticism of my work led me to ponder a lot.  Finally, yesterday, a thought came to my mind.  I had this thought while writing directions on the chalkboard for my students who were about to take their Women’s Studies final.  I wanted to find a quote or some inspirational phrase for them to leave with.  As I thought and began searching for the perfect statement, I remembered how often we talked about the importance of voice, of not being silent or silenced.  While I emphasize this in class, I’m not sure that I’m really living it in all aspects of my life.

When I tend to think about who I am, the three things that immediately pop up are fan, teacher and activist.  Do I have a voice in all areas or am I silenced?  Let’s take it one at a time.  As far as my activism goes, I generally do feel like I have a voice.  Last year on this day, I was driving to Washington DC with a few friends to participate in the Women’s March.  I’m proud of that.  Today, I will drive to Milwaukee to participate in another women’s march.  So that area of my life seems solid.  What about the other two?

Teaching is a far different story.  It is an intense job that takes up both a lot of time and my energy.  Honestly, I feel like I could talk about my job not just hours but days.  Maybe weeks.  Yet, I often find myself only dropping hints, little thoughts, bits and pieces.  The reason for this is simple.  As much as I am bursting to talk about my job and everything that goes with it, I cannot.  It isn’t a simple job of “do I like it” or “do I hate it”.  It is a job that everyone thinks they know about but the only ones who really do are the ones who have done it themselves.  The public watches and uses what teachers say to fit whatever beliefs they have about education or teachers.  Thus, I don’t say more.  I simply cannot explain the full spectrum of thoughts and feelings I have about my job.  There is too much there.  Does my being silent about my job hurt me?  Probably.  Yet, I lack an alternative.  For now.

So, what about this?  What about blogging?  What about being a fan?What about being a Duranie?  Hmm…I never really thought about my voice when it comes to fandom.  When Rhonda and I started doing research on fandom and applying what we had learned to our fandom, the reason was simple.  We wanted to better understand ourselves and our fan community.  The plan, of course, was to share our learning with others.  Then, we added this little blog here.  In thinking about both book work and blogging, clearly, we have found means to share what we think and feel when it comes to our fandom.  We have spaces for our voices.  Many people can choose to read this blog or participate in social media with us, giving our voices acknowledgement.  As the blog moved from infancy to what we have now, a place in which not only our voices are heard, but a place where other fans can be heard, too.

When I think of teaching and being a political person, having a voice is a big deal.  When I think about fandom, it is a big deal there, too.  I think about how often fans have been criticized or mocked for having such passion for whatever it is that they love.  This has led a lot of fans to be silenced.  Too many hide that passion, that love.  Rhonda and I chose not to do that here.  We give voice to our love for Duran Duran.  We don’t hide it here and never will.  On top of that, we welcome others to do the same.  In thinking about the stigma that too many adult fans face, it seems to me that one way to fight this is to speak out and speak up about being a fan.  I am a fan.  I love the band, Duran Duran.  If being a fan seems normal, common, won’t that stigma die?  I sure hope so.

What do the rest of you think?  Is it important for fans to find and use their voice?  What other ways can fans speak out about their fandom?

-A