What’s the Difference?

From time to time in this blog, I’ve tried to bring up issues that aren’t necessarily central to our community, but about fandom in general.  One of those topics is fanaticism.

From the time I was a child and really became aware of what being a “fan” was all about – it became very clear to me that you can be a fan by enjoying someone’s work (whether that is a sports team, an actor, a band, etc.), and that experience can be very positive.  Somewhere along the line, however; there is a point where fandom can be very negative.  The love and appreciation for a certain entity can become something very ugly, and even dangerous.  There is a very clear difference between hanging posters on a wall and say – photoshopping pictures so that it appears that your life is somehow entwined with the obsession.  Even more drastic, there’s a difference between leaving a kind “can’t wait for the album” comment on a facebook page and writing a threatening and long winded “love” letter to the band.  I think most fans can see that difference and recognize when another “fan” has indeed crossed that line.

What tends to be more blurry, and far less black and white, is when someone who has been a fan for years starts to become frustrated with the band’s situation, or with the fact that in their opinion the band hasn’t “delivered” in many years.  What was once kind appreciation becomes anger and again, frustration.  Of course, this is much different than just not liking a specific album.  The problem is when, for the same fan, over the course of a few years or a few albums, it’s as though the band can do nothing right.  Again, many can say (and would be right and fair in saying!) that perhaps the band/artist/etc. has hit a very bad patch – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with having an opinion.  That isn’t my point at all, and that’s also what makes this type of negative fanaticism difficult to identify, both in ourselves and in others.  It has much more to do with a cycle of behavior than a few flippant comments.  After all, there are many fans who haven’t liked an album or two.  There are still plenty more that joke about “Durantime”, or comment on the bands’ chances of hitting the charts again.  Those comments do not indicate the behavior of a fanatic, other than the fact that we spend an awful lot of time discussing the band!  I would assert, however that there is a distinct point when the negativity becomes much more fanatical than fan.

In the time I’ve been involved in the community, I have noticed there is a definite roller coaster feeling to this nonsense we call fandom.  There are huge highs, and very low points that can sometimes be very difficult to even out from, and gigantic hills to climb to get to the good parts.  I don’t think it’s unlike addiction, to be honest.   At first, the ride is fun – even the drop offs and hills don’t seem so bad because everything is moving so fast.  All we want to do is ride the coaster again and again.  Then slowly, we start to get tired of it all.  We only want the good parts – and yet those seem so far back, and so hard to reach in front of us that we start to hate the ride.  We want the band to play on tour so that we can feel that high again, we want to get new music because we want to feel that shiny and new feeling again and again.  The band doesn’t move fast enough to keep up with our own “needs”…and we start really getting down on the band.  Then the album comes out, and while it’s OK, it’s not exactly what we wanted.  What we wanted was back 20 years ago, or maybe we want more of what was on the last album – but in any case the current album doesn’t give us that high at all.  What’s up with that?  Then they tour, and while the shows are OK, that exhilarated feeling we used to have after the shows seems to be missing.  We want that high – desperately so – so we continue to go to show after show and still nothing.  At this point, we’re getting angry because the band just isn’t meeting our needs at all…yet we can’t seem to tear ourselves away.  We just want the band to respond correctly, and maybe if we complain loudly enough, they’ll hear and fix it.  And so the roller coaster begins again.

The trouble comes when we don’t recognize the behavior for what it really is.  As I said above, there’s nothing wrong with disliking an album or a direction the band is taking.  That’s part of the normal give and take of fandom.  There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed, and it’s very normal to vocalize that disappointment, whether that’s in a discussion with fans or on a message board.  It’s something far different when over the course of extended time there is nothing positive coming from the fandom, whether that’s in words, actions, or feelings about the band.  What is the point of being a fan if there is nothing about the band that feels positive?  It’s behavior that isn’t entirely unlike addiction, which can truly be ugly.

As usual, this subject leaves me with far more questions than answers, and is something I will continue to focus on from time to time.  What makes a self-described fan go from sincere adoration to critical on all counts?  Is it something that happens to all fans over time, or is only a select few?  Is it that longtime fans see where the band has been, and realize the fun is over and that it’s time to quit?  Why bring down the entire community if you never have anything positive to add?  More importantly, why is that these fans don’t always leave the community? Is it really addiction to the band that keeps them around, and if so – what is the real defining difference between fandom, fanaticism and addiction, or is there really any difference at all?

-R

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