In his excellent book “Dead Famous,” which looks at the history of celebrity, historian Greg Jenner likens fame to “a form of harmless radioactivity” radiated by the famous and absorbed by their acolytes.
“They can’t cure cancer or turn fish into terrifying multi-ocular mutants, but place a devoted fan near their idol and you’ll expect to see such symptoms as sweating, increased heart rate, gabbling, stunned silence, shrill screaming, hysterical crying, and uncontrollable lust,” he writes.
As long as there have been famous people, there have been people who are very, very enthusiastic about them. But we’re in a cultural moment where “harmless radioactivity” is registering higher on the Geiger counter than normal and toxic fan behaviour is reaching a nadir. Thanks to algorithms that prioritize outrage and reinforce echo chambers, social media has become a breeding ground for extreme partisanship and inter-fandom clashes.
Dead Famous traces some of the earliest instances of organized fandoms, when people “cohered into powerful blocs, motivated by a desire to promote their favourites and scorch their enemies.” In the 1700s, fans of certain British stage actresses would infiltrate a rival star’s performances, boo-ing their hearts out or even blowing trumpets mid-performance to make it seem like the “enemy” actress was a flop.
Sound familiar? Swap 18th-century thespians for Harry Styles and Beyoncé, change the setting from a London theatre to L.A.’s Crypto.com arena, and you have what happened at this year’s Grammy Awards. Members of the Beyhive heckled as Styles accepted the award for album of the year, shouting “Beyoncé should have won!” On social media, virtual orange-throwers piled onto the backlash against Harry’s House‘s win over the highly favoured Renaissance. A sample of the comments on a single tweet about his win on the official Grammys account: “It should be Beyonce!!!”; “Mediocre album won over masterpiece”; “How much did Harry pay?”
There are good reasons to criticize the Grammy’s less-than-inclusive nomination and award-granting process, and an ill-considered line in Styles’ speech didn’t help. The quip “people like me don’t win awards like this very often” didn’t land the way he’d likely intended it to, as a reference to his beginnings in a tiny town in England and route to fame through a reality TV show. He’s a white cisgender man who would a week later go on to win the Brit Awards artist of the year from an all-male pool of nominees. (At the Brits, he seemed to address the furore by acknowledging his “privilege” in being there, and shouted out many of the female artists who’d been snubbed in the sausage fest.)
But stealing the joy of a huge moment in someone’s life—hoping they hear you telling them they’re undeserving—feels less like valid critique and more like unchecked aggression. Particularly since it seems the animus wasn’t shared by the artist they were defending: Styles was spotted at Beyoncé’s post-Grammys party.
This behaviour isn’t limited to the world of pop stars. In the run-up to the Oscars, some fans of best picture nominee “Everything Everywhere All At Once” have been on a rampage, mustering a particularly ferocious reaction to the film not making a certain “best films of 2022” list.
“This film’s fanbase is beginning to rival the Marvel cult,” tweeted co-director and co-producer Daniel Kwan, nodding to a fandom so notorious that it inspired Marvel Studios to make She Hulk in 2022, a satirical sitcom about the backlash the studio would no doubt receive if it dared to mess with the original, sacred text and make The Hulk a woman.
“As one of the people who made the film, this aggression will not stand, man,” Kwan continued, and addressed the fans directly. “I know for many, this story and characters mean a lot so any slight towards the film feels like a personal attack, but lashing out does everyone a disservice (and is counteractive to the film’s message). Next time you see something about our film that makes you angry, take a step back, remind yourself why you fell in love with our movie.”
The ongoing Hailey Bieber vs. Selena Gomez saga is another prime example of how we’ve reached peak toxic fandom. If your news feeds haven’t been charting every twist and turn of this drama, five months ago, Selena Gomez and Hailey Bieber posed for a picture together at the Met Gala. Given that the former is widely believed to be Justin Bieber’s “one that got away” and the latter is his wife, whom he married fairly soon after he and Gomez broke up for the last time, the Internet saw this as a big deal, a peace treaty between former and current flames.
Fast forward to now, and it’s an all-out flame war between their respective fans. That’s because Gomez posted a video TikTok about over-laminating her brows, and later the same day, Kylie Jenner and Bieber posted a video showing off their… not over-laminated brows. Stay with us.
This was immediately interpreted as “shade” against Gomez, and her fans took up arms. Given that the three women have a combined following of over 700 million on Instagram alone, that’s a lot of slings-and-arrows.
It gets messier: While both Jenner and Gomez denied there was anything shady going on, the latter went on to apparently click “like” on videos calling Bieber and Jenner “mean girls.” Shortly thereafter, Gomez deleted her TikTok account, but not before remarking she had “the best fans in the world.”
Gomez is now back on the platform, posting a video with the comment: “Please, please be kinder and consider others’ mental health.” That could be seen as reference to recent events at a Justin Bieber concert, when a section of the crowd began to chant “F— Hailey Bieber.” While they could have been the contingent of fans who’ve always hated the singer’s wife (presumably because she’s…not them?), it was likely an IRL manifestation of the kind of hate Bieber has been receiving lately, which has seen her lose over a million followers on Instagram. It makes the antics of those ye olde theatre fan clubs look tame by comparison.
When hyper-engaged, hyper-passionate fandoms put their massed energy together, they can accomplish a lot. (And no, Johnny Depp fans, we’re not talking about the way you rallied during his domestic violence case against Amber Heard last summer.)
K-pop fans, for example, got together to sabotage a Trump rally in 2020, booking a swath of free e-tickets to the event, in an attempt to leave the stadium full of no-shows in protest of the then-presidential candidate and party’s racist policies.
The same year, members of the Sussex Squad, fans of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle who sometimes show their support by attacking the rest of the royal family, raised over $40,000 for charity in honour of Prince Archie’s first birthday. And after the terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert in 2017, there was a groundswell of online support for the pop singer powered by an unprecedented show of unity between often rival pop fandoms, including Camila Cabello’s, Demi Lovato’s and yes, Selena Gomez’s.
Even on a micro level, there are measurable benefits to a parasocial relationship with a star. Being a fan is as much about being part of a community as it is idolizing the person you all love, bringing a sense of belonging that’s increasingly elusive in our isolating digital age. It enhances the simple act of looking forward to something like a concert or a new season of a show, which is good for you in itself, reducing stress and boosting your mood.
There’s also a dopamine hit to be gained from taking a pot shot at a celebrity you loathe, or a musician who made the fatal mistake of winning a category your idol was nominated in. The motivation to bully is linked to “inappropriate activation of brain reward systems in response to aggressive or violent social stimuli” according to research from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
But that’s not a collective permission slip to shoot poison darts from our keyboards in service of how much we love (or hate) someone we’ll likely never meet. That’s just plain toxic.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
does not endorse these opinions.
Denial of responsibility! galaxyconcerns is an automatic aggregator around the global media. All the content are available free on Internet. We have just arranged it in one platform for educational purpose only. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials on our website, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.