I love summer. It provides me the opportunity to not only work on projects that have been on my to do list but also the time to really digest them. This spring I read the book, The Fangirl Life, by Kathleen Smith. As I read it, I remember thinking that I would like to comment about this or that in a blog post, but never had the time to really dive into the book to do so. Now, I can. Before I do that, let me provide you with some background info. The back of the book describes it as a “witty guide to putting your passions to use in your offline life.” Basically, the idea is to use one’s fandom and passion to help with real life. The author is indeed a therapist.
While I appreciate psychology and therapy, I didn’t pick up this book in order to fix things in my life. It interested me as any and all books on fandom do, especially ones focused on female fans. I wanted to see how female fans were portrayed and what I could learn about fandom through reading the book. Not surprisingly, I found some parts of the book to be right on and other parts to be questionable. Before I dive into the book more specifically, I do want to acknowledge that the fandoms discussed were more likely to be TV, movies, comics, etc. Music fandom was often left out, per usual.
As the book begins, I found myself nodding in agreement about a lot of it as the author describes the fangirl stereotypes like the screaming 14 year olds at pop concerts but explains that the online communities of fans provide opportunity to form bonds with others. Right on, I thought! The author dispels the four big myths about fangirls, in fact. These myths include that fangirls are teenagers, they are trying to escape their boring lives, they can’t develop healthy relationships and that they spend all day on the internet. By the time I got passed the introduction, I thought maybe this book was written exactly for me!
Chapter one focuses on the fangirl brain and how hearing/seeing what we love actually does various things in our brains to make us happy. Cool. She even explains the post-fandom event let down and why we can all get down, emotionally. More cool. Then, though, the book takes a turn to assume that many fangirls actually struggle with depression or inability to find balance between real life and fan life, etc. The goal of the author is to have fangirls remove various dysfunctional behavior in order to be more successful in life and to be happier fans.
Okay. I get it. We all have crap to deal with, things to work on. Every single person, fan or not, would benefit from trying to improve themselves. I get that. Yet, as someone who is well aware of the stigma surrounding fandom, I have to wonder if a book like this isn’t reinforcing many of the stereotypes. Are fans really more mentally ill than the rest of the population? Do we really struggle with balance? Again, I appreciate the idea that is woven throughout the book, which is to use one’s fandom to be better, a little self-improvement, but I think the author needed to be cautious not to imply the fans are crazy.
Now, this isn’t to say that everything the author mentions reinforces stereotypes. Some of what she discusses is how to navigate through one’s fan community, including disagreements, negative comments directed towards you, etc. While I think that can all be well and good, I wonder that she isn’t missing something beyond the individual. There is no analysis of sociology of fan communities. Why do fans go after fans? This happens all the time, which shows me that it is more than just about the individual fan. There is something about fandom that causes this. Fandom too often contains social hierarchies, which we have talked about a lot on this blog. Why does this happen? The author wants the individual to be able to deal better. I want fandom to change so that individual fans don’t have to deal.
Overall, I thought the book was mixed. I did get some things out of it, such as the brain functioning with things we love and the post event let down. I recognize that the author is both a fan, which is obvious, and a therapist with the best of intention to help fellow fans be happier. That said, I think she should have been a bit more cautious not to imply that fans are crazy and I think she needs to acknowledge the community aspect to the dysfunction that can and does happen within fan communities.
Has anyone else read this? What did you think about it?