Sunday, 23 February 2014

Obsession: When Fandom Crosses A Line

Keeeeep telling yourself that, guys....

Being a fan of someone or something is great.  It can give you something to look forward to (a gig, a TV recording or even just an album release).  It can make you smile when there's not a lot else going on in your life.  It can introduce you to new friends who are also fans of the same thing.  I even know couples who met as a result of their mutual love of a band.  But there's a line when it comes to fandom.  And crossing it is dangerous.

I speak as someone who knows I can be a tad obsessive over the things I love.  I can easily lose an entire night, watching Doctor Who episodes.  I'm into double figures when it comes to seeing the Manic Street Preachers live.  I will queue for hours to ensure I'm at the front of their shows and I even have their lyrics tattooed on me.

This was taken when it was freshly done.  Or, to put it another way: WHEN IT WAS RED RAW.

But I am more than aware that there's a point at which loving something can change into a level of obsession that's not healthy.  Going to a Manics gig is one thing.  Hanging around afterwards for an autograph and a photo is fairly harmless.  But if I was to be contacting the band on a daily basis, proclaiming my love for them and demanding that they show me some kind of appreciation for the years of dedicated fandom I've shown them, I'd be bordering on harassment.  If I started trying to cultivate a personal friendship with the band members, by stalking them when they do press interviews, or sending endless gifts to them, I'd be heading down a troublesome road indeed.  Thankfully, I have no intention of doing any of those things.  But recently, I've begun to realise that there are many people out there who do.  I'm not just talking about Manics fans here.  It would seem that for every celebrity these days, there's a fan who has crossed a line.

The invention of Twitter has made celebrities seem much more accessible.  Suddenly, if you have a crush on someone on TV, or a member of a band, you can contact them instantly.  That freedom is great if you're a fan who has always wanted to ask a question of your hero, or who simply wants to congratulate someone you admire on a number one single or a great review for their latest TV venture.  But if your admiration of a celebrity has crossed over into obsession, that accessibility can make things much, much worse.

When Caroline Flack dated One Direction's Harry Styles, she received death threats on Twitter from Harry's ardent teenage fans.  Death threats.  One such tweet read: "If Caroline Flack flirts with my boyfriend, I will personally hunt her down and shoot her."  Ignoring the whole "threatening to kill a complete stranger" thing, it scares me somewhat to think that there is a hormonal teenager out there, who already thinks of a pop star as belonging to her, when in reality it's likely they've never met and never will.   I mean yes, yesterday I jokingly referred to the Kaiser Chief's Ricky Wilson as "my future husband."  But...  I was clearly kidding.  And I wasn't sending abuse to his girlfriend at the time (someone asked who "that fit bloke" I posted a photo of on Facebook was and I responded hilariously).

Even more scarily, a quick check on Twitter shows you that fans still send this sort of crap to anyone associated with the band.  Remember when GQ had five separate front covers with each member of One Direction on the front?  Underneath the picture of Harry Styles was the tag line "he's up all night to get lucky."  One Direction fans reacted in a typically measured fashion; by sending tweets threatening to bomb the GQ headquarters and "mutilate" the person who wrote the tag line.  So, we're dealing with multiple death threats to various celebrities and publications and worse, some fans are rather proud of themselves for it.

"HEY!  Remember how proud you were to send death threats to a total stranger?  MEGALOLZ!  We aren't twats at ALL!"

NEWS FLASH: You totally are.

The thing is, celebrities are people.  It's such a blindingly obvious thing to say, that I shouldn't even have to say it at all, but apparently I do.  If you're famous and on Twitter, you're exactly the same as me:  A person with a Twitter account.  The only difference is that you probably have hundreds of thousands of followers, whereas I feel lucky to have 500 people who've not gotten bored of my Who-isms and my random rants yet.  And just as I deserve not to receive online bullying, libellous comments (I've experienced both and I can honestly say that the people who write such things are scum bags) or death threats, so do celebrities.  If you're the sort of person who genuinely thinks it's okay to send crap to a celebrity because "they put themselves out there" (I've honestly read that as an excuse for it), then you're also the sort of person who deserves a dial-up Internet connection in a house with no phone line.  The Internet is NOT FOR YOU.  

Of course, we all develop crushes from time to time.  It's perfectly healthy to fancy someone and to fantasise about them.  If dreaming about Matt Smith mud-wrestling with Ricky Wilson is wrong, then God knows, I don't want to be right...

I Predict A Riotous Fan Girl Moment...

But knowing where to draw the line is vital.  You can go to see your crush in person, if they're in a band or if they're acting in a play (I saw Matt Smith in American Psycho at the start of this year and was blown away by what an incredible actor he is).  Heck, you might even get the chance to meet them (I didn't, but I did get a wave from Matt as he was leaving - and yes, I did squee my face off over it).  And what do you do next?  Well, a person thinking clearly and logically will tell their friends how awesome it was to meet their idol and they'll post a photo on Facebook, get a bit excited about it for a while and then life will continue as normal.

However, more and more, I'm seeing people behaving very differently, especially on Twitter.  I've already mentioned that Twitter makes celebrities seem instantly accessible, but sometimes, that can be a really bad thing.  It boggles my mind when I see what some people tweet to their celebrity crushes.  I mean, last night I tweeted about the new Kaiser Chiefs song being awesome (which it is and you should watch the video), but then I immediately panicked and wondered whether I sounded like a scary fan. In truth, all I did was tweet a band I've liked for almost a decade to say their new song is great.  But I've become so coloured by the stalker-like weirdness I've seen online, that I feel like I have to defend myself for doing so, in order to separate myself from the things I've witnessed.  

It actually saddens me that I worried for a good ten minutes about a perfectly innocent tweet.

The thing is, I've seen adult women send messages to famous men, telling them they're in love with them (and vice versa; men sending celebrity women messages).  Not "hey, I love your band/TV show/thing you're famous for."  I mean actual, full-on declarations of romantic love, coupled with requests for the celebrity to give the person their number.  I've seen tweets that say "I'm outside your recording studio with a present for you.  I'm so in love with you, please let me take you out tonight!"  

I guess some people would suggest that that's harmless.  The celebrity has no obligation to reply (and if I was a famous person getting tweets like that, I'd be too busy hiding behind my sofa to do so).  The only person set to get hurt is the one with the crush, after all?  But consider it from the celebrity's point of view.  You're just doing your job and suddenly the same person is tweeting you at all hours of the day and night, declaring their deep love for you.  They're sending you gifts and sometimes the gifts are intimate items of clothing, or sex toys.  They're turning up to your gigs/plays/TV recordings on an almost weekly basis.  Nothing you do, even your complete lack of reply to them on Twitter and purely professional politeness when you stumble upon them in person, is putting them off you.  They tweet your bandmates, or your TV colleagues, begging them to set the two of you up.  They tag you in tweets talking about what they want to do to you.  Any slight piece of professional politeness (reading a tweet from them on the radio, or posing for a picture with them after a show) is taken as a sign that you might actually feel the same.  It's not a healthy way for a person to behave.  It's harassment and it's completely delusional.

If you analyse the behaviour of the people who take their obsessions too far, it's possible to almost understand how a crush snowballs into something borderline dangerous.  Say you're single and you've fixated on a celebrity who, in your eyes, encompasses everything you're looking for in a partner.  Perhaps you tweet them, perfectly innocently and to your surprise, they reply.  So you tweet again and they reply again.  You get a little buzz, a thrill because that person you've been fantasising about has suddenly made contact with you.  Say you then meet them, a few weeks later and they're nice to you.  You mention the conversation you had on Twitter and they remember it (or at least claim to).  Suddenly you feel special; you're not just any old fan.  You've met the person, you've chatted with them online and you feel as though you have a connection.  That rush of adrenaline you get when you meet someone you've admired can be addictive and you can find yourself wanting to get it again and again.  And of course, the more you meet the object of your affections, the more you convince yourself that that adrenaline rush - that crush - is actually love.  Except you're forgetting one, vital thing:  You don't actually know that person.  They're not your friend.  But try telling that to someone with an obsessive crush, bordering on being massively unhealthy and they'll tell you that you JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND.

And that, friends, is where obsession starts to become dangerous.  It's fine to like someone.  It's fine to fancy a famous person (if it wasn't, we'd probably all be in big trouble).  But at the end of the day, you have to respect the facts.

That celebrity doesn't know you.  Even if they've met you in reality - even if they've met you several times - they're not really a friend of yours and you can't truly claim to know them.  Do you have their mobile number?  Do you receive Christmas cards from them?  Do they message you on Twitter, rather than the other way around?  Have they ever accepted your offer of a date?  In reality, the answer to most, if not all of those questions is likely to be "no."  And here's some tough love for you:  THAT FAMOUS PERSON YOU HAVE A CRUSH ON?  HE/SHE OWES YOU ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

The one thing you can say for almost all people who harass celebrities, or bombard them with declarations of love, is that they often have an entirely skewed sense of reality and with it, a completely warped sense of entitlement.  

Last night on Twitter, I noticed a fan of a TV presenter I follow was sending him increasingly abusive tweets.  Why?  Because he doesn't follow her on the social networking site, but he has followed some of his other fans.  The implication in this girl's angry tweets was that after all the time she had devoted to going to see this celebrity live and all the money that she had spent on gifts for him, he owed her a follow.

And that bugged me.  It bugged me all night and it's still bugging me today.  Because I like to be able to understand things and I can't get my head around that mindset at all.

Here's the stone, cold fact of the matter:  A celebrity owes you NOTHING.  I've spent a fortune on travelling to see the Manics all over the UK.  I've forked out on outfits to wear to each gig, petrol to travel there, hotels to stay overnight in.  I've bought all of their albums.  I've bought magazines purely because the band are interviewed inside.  I own videos and DVDs.  I don't know that I'd like to work out exactly how much I've spent, being a fan of the band for the last 15/16 years of my life, but I bet it's a lot.  And it doesn't matter in the slightest.  They don't owe me anything for my fandom, any more than any other band or celebrity I admire does.  All that money I've spent going to gigs?  WAS MY CHOICE.

You tweet a celebrity?  That's your choice.
You spend money on going to see a band live, or travelling to see a show?  That's your choice.
You actively support a celebrity or a band?  That's your choice.
You decide to spend money, buying a famous person gifts?

Can anyone else sense a theme developing?!

It's ludicrous to suggest that a celebrity somehow owes you for your fandom.  Almost as ludicrous as it is to suggest that it's okay to harass them with your unwanted romantic declarations.  Almost as ludicrous as it is to be proud of threatening violence towards a total stranger, purely for being associated with the object of your affections.

Crushes are harmless in themselves.  Watching Doctor Who and thinking "man, Matt Smith has managed to make bow ties not only cool but bloody sexy" hurts neither him or me.  But at the end of the episode, I switch off the TV/laptop and I get on with my life.  If your celebrity crush has become your life?  It's time to draw a line and take one massive step back.  Obsessions can only lead to heartache - not only for you, but for the person you claim to love.  Sending endless, unsolicited romantic propositions to a celebrity is either going to get you blocked, or it's going to have you labelled a stalker.  Following those tweets up by trying to gain contact with that celebrity in real life could well see you being slapped with a restraining order.  Even if you're lucky enough to have "fallen" for a very patient celebrity, who's happy to force a smile onto their face and pose for photos, whilst ignoring your Twitter spam, you can rest assured that behaving in such a creepy manner will never have the outcome you desire.  I sincerely doubt Harry Styles has ever thought: "Wow, what I really need in my life is someone willing to send death threats to any other woman I speak to.  I think I'll propose marriage to this stalking cyber-bully."

Celebrities are just people.  And in much the same way as you surely wouldn't expect your average Joe to fall in love with you if you endlessly hassle them and turn up wherever they happen to be, you have to accept that ensnaring a famous person that way is almost certain not to happen.  It's creepy and weird.  And I don't know about you, but "creepy" is not particularly high on the list of qualities I look for in a potential partner.  And I only want someone who's weirdness matches mine.  ie. The good kind of weird.

Yes, of course famous people can and do end up with non famous people.  Masterchef presenter Greg Wallace met his (now ex) wife on Twitter.  I once randomly ended up going clubbing with the very TV personality I mentioned earlier.  Nothing happened, but that's not to say that these things can't.  But on the whole, a celebrity crush should be just that: a crush.  A mild, enjoyable "mental fling" with someone who has no clue who the heck you are.  If you find yourself bombarding that person with messages online, feeling so enraged at the thought of them being with someone else that you're willing to send abuse or threats to that person, or feeling as though that celebrity somehow owes you, as a result of your decision to support them, then you need to step well away from your computer and well away from that celebrity.

A crush is only harmless when it hurts nobody.  Harassment and dangerously obsessive behaviour has not only the potential to mentally harm the person you claim to care about, but will inevitably hurt you as well.  It's just not worth it. 

1 comment:

  1. wow! excellent post! I think all people who are into fandoms, should read this. I recently noticed that I was beginning to get obsessed with my fandoms, specially Divergent stars Theo James and Shailene Woodly (I would madly ship them of course and have a big crush on Theo), but today I read an Instagram picture where they talked about Theo´s true girlfriend and one of the followers made a clear point, that shippers should accept that how it is, that we shouldn´t hate the girlfriend, etc. It was a nice advise, and although I´ve never considered myself as obsessed as people who would harass or even threat others, as you, I´ve seen other fans in the same social networks I follow who go all that way and much worse.
    As you say, there is a line, we should not cross. It´s ok to have a crush on a celeb, but then to start obsessing about it every day and thinking that you know this person as a friend, and that in some way you can influence their lives (shipping), it´s another thing. I think all fans should really be aware of what you wrote, and more importance should be given to this, it´s not healthy for fans and totally unhealthy for celebs (who sometimes I pity for all this madness).
    Thanks for writing this!


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