Would you threaten to kill someone for your idol? Use the bereavement of a family member or pet to gain sympathy from your favourite band? Would you make a fake twitter account for your third favourite member’s dog? Would you follow that account? No? Then you’re clearly not part of an internet fandom.
It’s hard to believe I know, but when the Beatles were at the peak of their fame, the internet just didn’t exist. Yes, I know, it’s unbelievable, but all the footage of those screaming girls who stood screaming outside their private jet as they triumphantly alighted was by no means a result of a twitter tip off. How these fans were able to follow the Beatles’ every move seems baffling to someone from the internet age, and we can only assume that it was a mixture of frantic word of mouth and carrier pigeon that brought the Beatles to the dizzying heights of fame that they reached.
It’s interesting to reflect on something as ubiquitous as Beatle mania in a society where the idea of the ‘fandom’ has taken up a whole subculture. If anything, it has just been becoming rapidly more and more insane. This was emphasised to its inevitable peak with the recent documentary on the fans of One Direction (you may have heard of them) Crazy for One Direction. What was most striking about this documentary was not the fan’s unrelenting devotion to the band, but the fan’s ability to become part of an online community whose soul purpose was to discuss their every move.
It became clear that it wasn’t just about having group crying sessions about how much they love this band, but instead it was about executing a clinical operation of finding where exactly the band are, what exactly they’re doing, and who they hung out with. And with the dizzying possibilities of the internet to help them along, they weren’t exactly coming across many issues, apart from a possible group restraining order.
One particularly disturbing part of the documentary was when a group of Glaswegian teens located the band’s hotel, and ended up wondering the corridors like a swarm of particularly determined fruit flies, shouting ‘Harry’, a scene akin to a zombie apocalypse, but with disco pants and better hair. Another girl proudly admits that she located her hero Harry Styles’ hometown through a google search, before leaning down to kiss a bench where he might have sat. Of course, these instances are meant to shock us, and are probably an extreme example of band dedication, but twitter hashtags do not tell a lie.
It’s not even just the Directioners, the minute teen heartthrob Justin Bieber does something as ridiculous as say, allegedly write an insensitive message about Anne Frank in a memorial book or supposedly spit on a group of fans from his balcony (I wish I was making this up), the catchily named Beliebers are the first to come to his rescue with a series of irritatingly long hashtags. #BeliebersarealwayshereforyouJustinevenwhenyoudospitonus. It is clear that the seemingly accessible internet presence of young popstars is leading young impressionable fans to new, incredible lengths of lust induced madness.
Speaking of lust induced madness, a particularly internet centred aspect of the modern fandom is, of course, fanfiction. How wholly unlikely it seems that our ancestors were writing fanfiction about their favourite musicians on their typewriters, or parchments and quills. Being able to share fantasies such as these on an extensive platform with an equally devoted audience is surely the pre pubescent’s drug of choice. If you can’t make them love you, then make it so.
And if not that, at least make some attempt to construct the life of your idol, and put them into overblown and entirely unlikely situations that makes the reader on the other side of the keyboard hyperventilate with sheer anticipation (I know I did). The internet caters for every whim, every soar, and the sheer amount of possibilities for a young girl’s overzealous love come into play.
Some might say it is endearing to see young people become so dedicated to the musician or band that they love. And to some that may be true, but it is clear that the internet has highlighted the rather more disturbing aspects of a fandom. Devotion has reached terrifying heights in the digital age, and paves the way for denial and a slightly damaged sense of self. It gives the impression that your idol is closer than they really are, just a twitter reply away (for more on that, the twitter @harrymycatdied is a brilliant look at the more desperate attempts of Directioners to win their idol’s attentions).
The fandom is undoubtedly an internet sensation, and they know more about their heroes than their heroes probably do, or, at least, they think they do. To see these young people reach the point of woeful hysterics at the absence of their idols from their lives makes me wonder whether their own self-worth is in fact being neglected. Living in a digital world of difference and escapism that is just the click of a button away, you hope that’ll they learn to log off in time.