Audiences, Representation and Industry in practice: Fan Studies

I don’t know much about being part of a fandom. According to Kent, M (2006), a fandom can be defined as “a collective term for all the fans that devote parts of their lives to following or admiring a particular person, group, or team”. Learning about the details of fan studies in this weeks BCM110 lecture, made me realise that besides the classic ten-year-old Justin Bieber crush, I’ve never really cared about something enough to commit to being a serious fan. Even during my short-lived love for Justin Bieber, I kept this a secret as I didn’t want to be associated with other girls I’d seen that were literally crazy for him. So at the young age of ten, how did I already have this fear with being associated with a fan base?

Justin Bieber’s fans were almost always portrayed by the media as young, obsessive and more than a little crazy. Not an appealing title to be associated with when you’re ten years old. Some of these young girls, although having never met Bieber, devoted their lives (for a time) to being noticed by the star. Pictures and videos of girls, head to toe in Bieber merch, screaming and crying at the sight of the singer, circulated the news and media constantly. Bieber himself commented on the ferocity of his fans by saying “I love my fans, but I just can’t be put into positions where I’m in danger. Sometimes, the girls get a little crazy and want to just grab me”. The young star was mobbed and stampeded numerous times by his fans when on tour in different countries. The media latched onto the drama surrounding his fans and the title “Bieber fever” was born. Had I not been subject to such footage, perhaps the thought of being part the fandom would not have sent me running in the opposite direction. Being at such an impressionable age and having this as my first fan experience, the connotations I still associate with the word fan are not positive.

I don’t think it is fair to blame my anxiety associated with fandoms, completely on the media. Growing up, I can remember people I knew talking negatively about fans of Bieber. Hearing people I knew look down on the idea of being a fan made me feel like it must be wrong to be so devoted to something or someone in that way.

The way fans reacted to the media Bieber produced is an example of Gustave Le Bon’s claim that “the unreal has about as much influence on them as the real” (1896). These fans seemed to believe that Bieber really cared about them each individually when in reality, he didn’t even know their names. Looking at some fandoms now, we can see the effect of media has led to a whole new level, with people burying their identity in their fandom. Joli Jenson, media studies professor says, “…fans make up for the lack of fulfilment in their lives with intense focus on fictional realities”. Although this is a serious issue, not all fans adopt this unhealthy obsession. It appears to me that many fans get stereotyped as crazy, geeky and scary based off the few that fall under that category. Perhaps if the media portrayed a range of different types of fans, a lot of people would not associate the word ‘fans’ with such negative connotation.

Kent, M (2006), ‘fandom’ in The Oxford dictionary of sports science & medicine, Oxford University Press.

Middlemost, R 2020, ‘Audiences, Representation and industry in practice: Fan Studies’, lecture, BCM110, University of Wollongong, delivered 20 April.

Grinnell College, Subcultures and Sociology, viewed 20 April, <https://haenfler.sites.grinnell.edu/subcultural-theory-and-theorists/fandom-and-participatory-culture/>

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