Sunday, 16 June 2013

Facets of Fandom: Can obsessive musical appreciation ever be healthy?

(Part 1 of a University Assignment Series)
Has Beatlemania been overtaken by Bieber fever?


To anybody who has seen the classic scene from The Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night where the band are chased through the streets by hoards of screaming girls, there is no question that young women can be a dangerous breed when placed in front of their idols.However, obsessive pop fandom is no longer just the domain of teenybopper girls. With social media making our favourite celebrities more attainable than ever, identifying as part of a team has become commonplace. Are you a Belieber? Or a Directioner? The chance to plug your allegiance now knows no limits, with fans doing and indeed saying the most inflammatory things online.
Chris Brown - inspiration or instigator?
Take ‘Team Breezy’. Devoted to Chris Brown, they are brainwashed by the singer’s music to the extent that they overlook his previous domestic abuse towards fellow star Rihanna with worrying abandon. ‘You don’t know what Chris Brown goes through,’ feverishly tweets young fan Kassia. ‘Y’all don’t know what she did to make him hit her.’ An argument Chris had with comedian Jenny Johnson via Twitter prompted thousands of abusive tweets from the fandom, with @breezysthug suggesting that Johnson should ‘go get injected with cancer!’, and @trigga-breezy somewhat colourfully contributing ‘STFU bitch, I want to stab 1432 needles in your eyeball, you son of a motherless goat.’Concerning stuff indeed, but a trend that looks set to continue. Laurence Green, confessed pop fan and editor of Music OMD, has seen first-hand the kind of abuse that certain celebrities can attract. ‘There’s a real mob mentality to fanbases: online, it’s so easy to bang out a couple of hostile tweets, not thinking of their potential impact’ he says. ‘I’d like to see repeat offenders and the worst instances resulting in instant bans from Twitter. There’s a total disconnect between online and ‘real’ life – people need to become culpable for their online actions.’
Some fans are simply overzealous rather than malicious, misled by technology’s lack of boundaries. Twin Atlantic frontman Sam McTrusty crossed this fine line trying to adjust to his bands growing fame. ‘I had a Facebook account to stay in touch with friends when we were away, but people who we’d met at shows would add me, and I thought saying no was ungrateful’ he explains. ‘I started accepting everyone and I soon had so many people messaging me I had to create an alias. I was essentially whoring myself out to the internet.’But can fandom ever be healthy, if channelled appropriately? Musicologist Nick Williams thinks that the support networks that come from attributing oneself to a particular musical tribe can be beneficial. ‘There's two types of obsessive fandom - the adolescent, blind hysteria that's been going on since Elvis’s day, and the more mature type of obsessive fandom that manifests itself through completist collecting and collaboration,’ he explains. ‘If bands facilitate their audience, they can provide a safe space for individuals who are often not comfortable anywhere else. I've met obsessive Bob Dylan/Grateful Dead types who put each other up, trading bootlegs, making fanzines, running websites. The Grateful Dead even actively provided space at their gigs for bootleggers to record. It seems to me that big artists nowadays like Justin Bieber have a much more cynical, business-like attitude towards their fans, purposely building up hysteria as a marketing tool.’Making fans wait for over two hours in London before taking to the stage on his latest tour, Bieber’s sympathy for his audience is certainly questionable, but he is not alone. Many of the world biggest artists have been accused of fan mistreatment or setting a bad example, whether that be Rihanna nakedly cavorting on Instagram, BeyoncĂ© charging the hardly pocket-money-friendly price of £65 a ticket for her 2013 tour, or Kings Of Leon berating their Reading Festival 2009 audience for not screaming loud enough. But isn’t this what celebrities are meant to be? Unobtainable and mysterious, on a plane of higher being?
Mark Chapman and John Lennon, right before the shooting
Whilst a normal music enthusiast might be content to accept this, others actively seek to immerse themselves in their favourite stars lives, to the point of lawlessness. The 1980 shooting of John Lennon by Mark Chapman, a psychotic Lennon fan and born again Christian who took umbrage at the singers claim that ‘The Beatles were bigger than Jesus’ is an extreme example, but recent years have seen the availability of information on the internet fuelling stalking cases. Devon Townsend, the Linkin Park fan who was sentenced to two years in prison for hacking the private emails and phone of lead singer Chester Bennington, or Karen McNeil, who was issued a restraining order in 2009 after camping outside the house of Justin Timberlake, would never have found the resources that fuelled their fire without online access.
Amber and Bombay
Clearly these cases are the result of deeper underlying psychological issues, but it is possible to befriend an artist whom you admire in a mutually beneficial setting, as 23 year old musician Amber Wilson discovered. ‘I’ve always been a massive Bombay Bicycle Club Fan: I stumbled across their album four years ago and fell in love straight away’ she says. ‘After their former backing vocalist Lucy Rose released her own album and couldn't commit to touring, I was recommended as a replacement. The last year has been an absolute dream; being part of my favourite band is just incredible.’
Much like a cheeky trip to McDonalds, fandom seems to be perfectly healthy in moderation. For many, it’s a vital part of growing up and cultivating interests. For those born in the consumer age, it’s ingrained in daily life –high street fashion stores now stock band t-shirts for even the most casual of fans to pledge their allegiance. With studies proving that an active interest in celebrity livelihoods can boost levels of aspiration, sociability and creativity, subscribing to fuckyeahalexturner.tumblr.com might not be all bad. But if you find yourself longingly stroking his pixelated features and posting love confessionals under the username ‘Mrs Arctic Monkey’, it might be time to step away from your computer.

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