I had many reasons for wanting to write our book analyzing fandom. For the most part, I wanted to understand fans and fandom and I wanted others to understand it, too. I get so tired of trying to explain myself and what it means to be a fan, what it means to be part of a fan community. Sometimes, this misunderstanding is exactly that—a simple misunderstanding. At other times, this misunderstanding leads to judgment and negative conclusions about fans. These negative conclusions often form into stereotypes about fans. These stereotypes include ones that I’m sure many/most/all of us have heard at one point or another when we reveal that we are fans. There are less significant ones like “fans have no lives” or “fans haven’t grown up yet”. Then, there are the more significant ones like “stalker” or “groupie”. Part of me, a big part of me, wanted to write the book to stop these horrible stereotypes. I wanted non-fans to see that we were normal and that being part of a fan community didn’t make us weird, stupid or scary. Yet, I have to wonder. Are any of these stereotypes true or somewhat true? How did they come into existence? Why? If they are there, then, we are all suffer.
Are any of the stereotypes true about fans? Let’s look at them one at a time, but before we do, I openly admit that this post is as much about me trying to figure this out as much as anything I have written. I absolutely realize that what is extreme to one person might not be to another. I also admit that some of my behaviors might be seen as over-the-top by some fans but not by others. It seems to me that stereotypes are based on one’s perception and are truly relative. Yet, are there some behaviors that go too far, that go beyond common fan behavior? That’s is probably a discussion in itself. Yet, I bet that most of us would say that do go too far. These non-common fan behaviors, it seems to me, are the ones that form the real significant stereotypes.
So, are there fans that have “no life”? All of these stereotypes are based on one’s perception and truly is relative. That said, this negative assumption obviously says that a fan spends all of his/her time on whatever s/he is a fan of. This is not only about the time spent but also the lack of time spent in reality with elements of life like family, friends and career. I’m willing to bet that there are some fans who spend very little time a week with their fandoms. Maybe there is no time spent on fandom unless something special comes up—a TV appearance or a new album. Of course, there are some of us who spend a lot of time on our fandom. How much is spent? I don’t know. Are there some people who spend HOURS each day on their fandom? I’m sure that they are. Are there people who will choose to do something related to their fandom over spending time with friends or family in real life? I am sure that there are. Does this stereotype seem accurate then? Like many stereotypes, there is an element of truth to it. There are people who spend a LOT of time on their fandom. I know that I do. Of course, the way I could combat this stereotype, though, is to point out that many of us are able to have real life relationships, keep jobs, fulfill responsibilities, and more. Does every fan, though? Probably not. There are probably some that don’t maintain a balance.
On top of the frequently thought of stereotype of having no life, fans are accused all the time about being immature, not grown up. I think Duranies probably hear this one a lot since many of us became fans when we were kids. The assumption here is that we should have “grown out” of being a fan. For people who think this, they often think it is fine to be a fan as a kid but an adult should have better, more important things to worry about. Again, I have to wonder if there are fans who meet these negative assumptions. If so, how would we tell? Would it be because they live in their parents’ houses still? Could it be stated when people don’t have jobs or don’t have the jobs to sustain themselves? I don’t know. Would it be that people still live that teenage fantasy that one of the band members might become the love of one’s life? If these truly are the signs of fans that haven’t grown up, are there fans like this? I suppose there probably are.
This, of course, brings me to the dicey topics of “stalkers” and “groupies”. Both of those stereotypes are well-known and documented to exist in the world. After all, there have been “stalkers” who have been so obsessed about the celebrity of choice that violence has resulted even, but those are obviously the truly, truly, truly, truly extreme cases. Even though, those are rare cases, are there behaviors that would fit into this category that aren’t necessarily done by violent people? For example, John tells how in the 80s there were fans outside his house, in his autobiography. He describes most of these fans as good, well-meaning kids but he was bothered by the fan that went through his trash and found some journaling he did. Then, of course, there is the song, Be My Icon, which describes similar situations. Clearly, some of the behaviors that would be considered by many as stalking, including being at someone’s personal house, going through belongings, etc. have existed in the past. I’m willing to bet that there is some now. Of course, and this is where it gets dicey or hard to discuss, but there seems to be a fine line between say walking past a celebrity’s house and hanging out there in order to see the idol of choice. What about hanging out in public places? What about showing up where they work? Is it stalkerish or not to show up at say a lot where a TV show or a movie is being filmed, a rehearsal studio, or a hotel? Does that make it less stalkerish? Is it stalkerish if the behavior is only done a few times or does it have to be a constant, repeat behavior? Like the other stereotypes, my guess is that there are fans in any given fandom that might fit the stereotype of stalking, at least to some extent, especially depending how someone defines the term of stalking.
Likewise, I am guessing that there are fans out there that might fit the “groupie” label. Of course, this one, being that most people define groupie based on sexual behavior, might be the most difficult to determine its existence within fandom. We know that there have been people who have openly admitted to having sexual relations with celebrities, including rock stars. Heck, Pamela Des Barres has written many books on the topic. Yet, does it still exist? I have no idea. What I do know is that the accusation still exists. I know that people are accused of it when they do things like always have front row or other perks connected with seeing one’s idol(s). Maybe it is stated when the fans seems to hang out with the celebrity of choice or someone who works for the celebrity. Does that mean that they are actually participating in that assumed sexual behavior? Again, I have no idea but people have and do make the assumption about fans. It isn’t uncommon for non-fans to ask fans if they are groupies if they have traveled a lot to see their favorite celebrities. I’m willing to bet a lot of Duranies have been asked that, if they travel to shows. Do those groupie-assumed behaviors exist? Probably.
So what if some element or elements of these negative stereotypes are true about fans? Who cares? I do. I think we all should because those stereotypes affect ALL fans. How many times have you had to explain that being a fan doesn’t mean that you stalk the celebrity of your choice? How many times have you had to clarify that going on “tour” or traveling to see shows doesn’t mean that you are a “groupie” and all that goes with that label? I have been asked those questions many times. I have seen others asked that many times. I have seen the little flicker of judgment that passes over people’s faces when you say that you are a fan. I have felt the disrespect increase from others. So, how do we combat this? One way to fight this is to do what I have attempted to do in our book, which is to point that MOST fans are normal. They love their idols but they are able to maintain a balance between fandom and real life. They understand that fandom should be one part of their lives but not the biggest part of their lives. They are able to do many other things besides be focused on the celebrity of choice. Yet, this effort of mine only goes so far if there are other fans who do demonstrate some of the over-the-top behaviors. Non-fans won’t listen to my argument if it seems false, if fans seem to fit the stereotypes. I suffer and every fan suffers when fans chose to demonstrate behavior that could be construed as being stereotypical. I know what many of you are thinking. Who cares what people think? While I won’t disagree with that on some level, I still think it would be nice for it to be considered “normal”, acceptable, and RESPECTABLE to be a fan. I would love for people to just think of fans as passionate, dedicated and loyal. As someone who feels like she is doing her best to have fans viewed in the most positive of lights, fans who demonstrate behavior that might be stereotypical or extreme makes it all the harder. Thus, it seems to me that we fans have to work hard to ensure that our behavior does not become too extreme. Be enthusiastic but maintain that line of balance and help your fellow fans do the same.