Deconstructing Storyboard’s 1D fandom coverage
So far, so good. ”Gleefully obsessed” is a fuck of a lot nicer than “crazy” and “hysterical.”
Over the next 24 hours, a quarter of a million One Direction-related posts flooded Tumblr: animated GIFs of the boys’ performance, photos, poetry, letters, fans vowing to stay “up all night” for the end of the “Up All Night” tour. But make no mistake — this was not a celebration. It was more like a raucous funeral.
“Raucous funeral” is actually a pretty great phrase, and I think it goes a long way towards describing the complex kinds of emotion and affect play that fandom engages in. But what’s really key here is the crux of why Storyboard is covering this topic in the first place: to the people behind the scenes at Tumblr, our kind of fannish activity is weirdly a big deal. Our traffic puts a load on their servers and stands out amongst their analytics. What we do certainly isn’t unique, but it is significant to Tumblr.
I feel two ways about this. On the one hand, it’s actually pretty awesome that Tumblr as a platform not only allows our fannish activities but even kind of encourages them by making us newsworthy. Think back to the LJ Harry Potter fandom mass deletion meltdown—fannish activity is not a right on platforms like Tumblr. It’s a privilege.
On the other hand, Storyboard’s coverage smacks of some sort of weird self-congratulatory faux journalism from people who’ve never been in fandom. Tumblr is speeeecial, they seem to be saying. Look how special and cool we are.
Well, we only have to think back to the fact that HP fannish activity was so prevalent on LJ that it caused a meltdown to point to the inherent flaw in this argument. We’ve been fandoming since long before Tumblr, and we’ll be doing it long after. And in the meantime? I think most of us would rather not be thrust into the spotlight.
One girl uploaded a video of herself watching clips from the concert — because she wanted to show how emotional she was. Others posted photos of their eyes puffy from weeping. One girl blogged an image of herself in the dark, eating Nutella with a spoon (Niall once held up a jar of it during a video interview). “This is what I’ll do now,” she proclaimed. “I’ll just sit here and wait.”
As I mentioned before, I think there are layers of sarcasm and earnestness that are getting collapsed here, but this topic is much too complex for me to fully address in this post. (My academic work focuses on affect—disembodied emotion—so I could quite literally write a book on the subject. I actually might.) But my thoughts on this kind of performative emotion tie directly into the next bit…
But first, a sidebar:
You see, a Directioner does not just treat this fandom like a hobby — it is a religion, complete with its own language (“feels” is short for intense feelings for the band; “Narnia” is what fans call anything that is not Britain), responsibilities (a duty to update other fans at all times), and code of conduct that will shun the weak and reward the worthy.
(I’m honestly not sure why journalists feel the need to create these odd and often insulting metaphors for fandom. It’s not a religion, it’s a hobby—just one that we happen to feel intensely passionate about. And then there’s the bizarre quality of this list; “feels” did not originate in 1D fandom and isn’t exclusively used by it, and I’m just side-eying the other items on this list. Intense side-eye.)
But back to my point about performative emotion.
If it sounds exhausting, that’s because it is. And in order to keep up with it all — in a space where news becomes “old news” in an instant — fans must go to extremes. Girls describe hacking school firewalls, missing tests, even avoiding summer camp, all for fear they might miss some minor tidbit of news.
This is where I think the author starts to wildly miss the mark. Fans aren’t abandoning all other pursuits because they might miss “news” about the band. They do these things because they want to communicate with each other. We’re telling each other stories. To cast this as solely outwardly focused on these 5 boys is naive and misrepresentative.
The source material—in this case One Direction, but you can sub out pretty much any source that inspires an active fandom—facilitates and organizes our interactions with each other. We refresh Tumblr for hours on end to read the commentary someone else has included on the gif we’ve already stared at for hours. We stage emotional performances to explain, to display, the affect the stories have on us. Sure, it helps to have fresh source material flowing in, but trust me when I say that even on a slow news day, we can craft enough alternate universe visions and behind-the-scenes daydreams to keep each other entertained.
And that’s my main problem with this piece of coverage: it erases the powerful and revolutionary community that fandom participation creates. One Direction, Tumblr: they only facilitate. We’re the ones doing the heavy lifting when it comes to community building and identity-based group formation. That it’s newsworthy proves it’s revolutionary. But that’s not a band or a blogging platform. That’s us.
You can’t get a more direct response than this.
Fanmade applauds Storyboard for exploring fan culture — but we will always love fans first for creating, exploring, and documenting their own fun.