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If you’ve spent twenty minutes on YouTube, five minutes on Twitter, or even one second on Tumblr, you’ve come across fandoms and the people in them. They all have their own names and their own indicators, but they’re all equally insane. I’m allowed to say that as a former member of tons of fandoms myself, and from my experience, it’s the greatest and the worst thing to ever happen to the internet.
From the Barbs to the Beliebers, fandoms are fueled by one crucial group: teenagers. Specifically, teenage girls and gay people. It’s a well-known fact that being a teenager is hard, especially when you’re a questioning queer person or a teenage girl with niche interests. Their emotions are ten times stronger than ever, and they’re more passionate and loud about everything.
Fandoms and idols are no exception. They are a way to escape from the real world, and social media is getting more and more convenient for fandoms. With the rise of social media like Tumblr, YouTube, and Twitter, fans are able to engage with their favorite creators and celebrities almost instantaneously. This creates what can only be described as a one-sided friendship between the fan and the idol. The fan feels personally connected to the idol, while the idol might not even know that they exist.
This can cause a really toxic relationship between the two, where the fan feels like they’re allowed to speak to their idol as a friend, and the line between being a fan and being a creep gets blurred. There are even fans who become so obsessed with their favorite thing that there is a term created for the craziest ones on the internet: Stans. Stans are named after the crazy fan depicted in Eminem’s 2000s hit “Stan,” where the fan becomes so angered by Eminem’s actions that he commits a murder-suicide to his pregnant girlfriend.
Big fandoms have a reputation for being full of “crazy teenage girls.” We all know the image. A sea of young girls all crying and screaming from pure ecstasy, grabbing at their idol’s clothes and losing themselves to an almost manic state just at the sight of their idol. This image, while somewhat true, can be seen as rooted in misogyny.
It is not a hot take to say that teenage girls are not treated well by society. Everything they like gets ridiculed and brushed off, and when they show emotion they’re disregarded as crazy little girls with no control of their feelings.
Boy bands like One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer had this stigma around them because the bands were strategically built on the attraction that young girls had to these pretty boys with pretty vocals. They were specifically targeted to young girls because these corporations knew that sex sells, especially to young girls just discovering their sexuality and their attraction to the opposite sex. Now don’t get me wrong, I was a Directioner, but even I could spot the toxic behaviors in the fandom and in other fandoms just like it.
Fandoms are also seen as “crazy” due to their members’ deadly defense for their idol. The “Ginny & Georgia” scandal is a great recent example of this. This new Netflix show centers around a white mom and her half-black daughter who move to a new town to start a new life. Netflix shows targeted at teens have a reputation for having very bad and out-of-touch writing. In the show, they even had a scene where two mixed characters had an argument over who is the most “white-washed,” and they even went so far as to use the term “Oppression Olympics.”
Within three weeks of its release, the show was already getting backlash for the lack of awareness that was apparent in the writing. They even made the deadly mistake of making a tired joke against one of the world’s biggest pop stars. One of the characters in the show said, “What do you care? You go through men faster than Taylor Swift.”
The Swifties went up into flames. Taylor Swift herself had even posted the line from the show and was very disappointed about the obvious misogyny and slut-shaming. She tweeted on March 1, 2021, “Hey Ginny & Georgia, 2010 called and it wants its lazy, deeply sexist joke back. How about we stop degrading hard working women by defining this horse s— as FuNnY.”
Fans of the artist also expressed their rage in… interesting ways. One of the ways was trying to cancel the show entirely by sending hateful messages to the actors involved. Some of those comments even went into racist territory as fans of Taylor proceeded to use racial slurs towards the Black actress when attempting to defend their precious idol. Even though the actress who said the line had no control over what the writers wrote into the script for her, she was ruthlessly attacked for it, and unfortunately, her race had made her an easy target.
Swifties definitely aren’t the only fandom that will go to dangerous lengths to protect what they love. The BTS ARMY is also known for its furious protection over their favorite band. BTS released their smash hit “Dynamite” in August 2020. It is a fun disco-pop number that debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
All of the members had their own verse and a part in the chorus except for the oldest member, Jin. Jin’s stans were angered by the unfair treatment of their idol, so they decided to raise enough money to rent a truck that would park in front of the record label’s building and blast threats to treat Jin fairly. This protest went on from the morning of Aug. 25, 2020 until Sept. 29, 2020. Four different trucks were used for the display. The record label never commented on the protest, and the protests ceased after Sept. 30, 2020.
Fan wars are a huge part of fandom culture as well, and it’s especially prevalent when it comes to musicians’ fandoms. Fan wars happen when two different fandoms start fighting over the internet, and this can have serious, real-life consequences. Fans will use death threats and racial slurs to get their point across. They’ll create imaginary beef between two artists, and they’ll even fight in real life if it comes down to it.
A feud that’s been going on for what seems like forever is Nicki Minaj vs. Cardi B. Nicki Minaj’s fans (The Barbz) and Cardi B’s fans (The Bardi Gang) have been following in their separate idol’s footsteps, and they have been beefing online since Nicki and Cardi looked at each other sideways.
Another fan war that’s been going on for years is the Swifties (once again) vs. Harry Styles’ Stylers. Ever since their very public relationship and consequential split, the two fandoms have been at war while the two singers seem to be perfectly content with each other. A select few Stylers even went so far as to put their own ship into the situation. That’s right, instead of accepting that Taylor and Harry can be friends, they decided to add the infamous Larry ship into it.
“Shipping” is when you imagine a relationship between two people (usually celebrities or fictional characters), and root for them to be together or even believe that they’re together secretly. Harry Styles has been shipped with his former bandmate Louis Tomlinson ever since One Direction was first televised on The X Factor. The people who ship them call themselves Larries, and they are terrifying. Shipping two fully grown men that exist in real life is already weird, but creating scenarios where they’re secretly engaged and have been living together for years is just borderline delusional.
Shipping in general is very weird and invasive. Celebrities, especially women and queer men, are notoriously sexualized by their fans and the general public, but when people imagine them in romantic and sexual relationships with people that they might not even know it is terrifying. It’s seen in fanfiction, and it even turns out to be true in rare cases. But shipping is just another example of fandom culture being very toxic, even towards their own idol. The line gets blurred, and the fans think that they can study the body language of celebrities and determine if they’re madly in love with somebody.
I’m ashamed to say that, as a former member of multiple fandoms, I’ve taken part in a lot of these aspects that I’ve mentioned. It sucked me in for years and affected the way that I interacted with people online and in real life. I still enjoy the media that my idols make, and I really did enjoy the communities that I was a part of and the friends that I made through the things that I love. I just wish that some people would stop taking it so far and just enjoy their favorite thing peacefully. Please.