People are quick to judge passionate fans as obsessive, but is this always accurate?
From Beatlemania to the Marvel film franchise phenomenon, the way audiences go gaga for musicians, blockbuster films and book series is nothing new. Even though what was once maligned as ‘geek culture’ has found its place amongst mainstream audiences, fans are still stigmatised by outsiders looking in as over-the-top, frenzied and obsessive. After all, everyone has heard the stories of enamoured fans taking it too far. But is this always the case? Is there a more positive way we can respond to fandom?
What is fandom?
Compare these dictionary definitions:
- Fandom—the fans of a particular person, team, fictional series, etc, regarded collectively as a community or subculture; or, the state or condition of being a fan of someone or something.
- Obsess—to preoccupy or fill the mind of (someone) continually and to a troubling extent; or, be constantly talking or worrying about something.
Can you spot the differences? Fandom is, by definition, a positive thing; a community of people who are excited about something and share it together. In comparison, obsession is all-consuming, and leads to a negative impact on not just you but, inevitably, those around you as well.
‘…We don’t have a word for healthy fandom, and so we struggle with that idea as a culture’–Sarah Sloat
Is fandom okay?
The Ten Commandments are clear that we should only worship the one, true God.
‘You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below’ (Exodus 20:3–4).
However, our God is creative; you only have to look at nature to see this. He made us with unique talents and interests, and he wants us to engage with them. Music, films, novels … these are passions he gave us in which to express ourselves.
Psychologists have found that fandom members (particularly teenagers) are generally happier; they have a strong sense of belonging, and many display strong critical thinking skills due to the hours they spend analysing, engaging with and creating content. As they discover and develop their identity amongst a community of like-minded people, they boost their self-esteem and confidence.
However, if your chosen fandom becomes a religion, and you begin to idolise the object of your shared affection, then it becomes a problem.
Fandoms bond over an intense degree of engagement—often exceeding the length of the original content—expressed through activities like live tweeting, cosplay (dressing up as a film, book or game character) and fan-produced content (e.g. fan fiction, podcasts, websites, cover recordings, etc). They invest their time, finances and emotions, which can lead to genuine grief when the band breaks up, the season finishes or they turn the final page. These artists or characters are like family to them.
Because of this commitment, it can be difficult to distinguish the obsessed fans whose devotion can put both celebrities and fellow fans at risk. Authors have received death threats when fans don’t like the way the series ends. Celebrities have had their online accounts hacked and stalked. In tragic cases, people have been stabbed, bullied and hurt by hysterical fans. Their devotion can even turn fatal; in 2016, singer Christina Grimmie was shot by an infatuated admirer at a meet-and-greet.
While a healthy fandom community provides a sense of belonging, on the flipside, obsessed fandom members can mobilise into a mob when they feel provoked, and jealousy becomes rife when they do not feel they are being properly recognised for their level of commitment.
There is a healthy way to be a fan; there is no such thing as a healthy obsession (even if it does not manifest into bullying or violence). Belonging to a fandom is reported to lead to positive mental health, whereas there is a strong link between obsession and depression. Engaging with art and culture is part of being human. Obsession, and putting someone or something before God, is a sin.
You do not need to be cynical about joining a fandom, but it is important to know how to protect yourself (particularly online) and not place all of your self-worth within it. In an article for Vice, writers Daisy Jones and Alexandra Pollard say ‘… fandoms aren’t necessarily just about having a joint love of one particular artist. They’re also about having a support network of people who are just like you, and a vessel in which to channel your energy and enthusiasm’. However, they warn that when you build your identity around a fandom—like any other obsession—you risk having little or nothing left if you decide to leave it behind one day, whether that is because your interest wanes or because those people are making you feel bad rather than good.
It is important for others to try not to dismiss genuine, passionate interest as a useless pastime. To generalise all fandom as obsession can damage the self-esteem of those who need it as an outlet the most. Fans are enthusiastic, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s great. God has blessed people with gifts that have the power to move us emotionally and unite us. We can, and should, celebrate those gifts, but we shouldn’t worship them. It is up to you to discern when fandom morphs into something unhealthy and know when to step back.
Sources: teenvogue.com, vice.com, dictionary.com, Lexico—Oxford University Press.
Am I being a fan in a mentally and physically healthy way? For example, does keeping up with this fandom cause me to stress, ignore responsibilities or lose sleep?
Does the time I spend engaging with this fandom leave me feeling drained, or fulfilled?
When I interact with other fans (particularly online), am I staying safe and enriching the lives of the people I speak with? Or do I become angry, violent or jealous?
Is it important to me to be recognised as the biggest fan? Why?
Does this person/book/series, etc, send a good message, reflect good morals and/or align with
How much of my self-worth do I place in my identity as a fan? What else do I value about myself?