Becoming Youtube And The Dark Side Of Fandom

I am a huge fangirl. I cry daily when I think about boy bands. I read fan-fiction more than I read books. I follow the Jonas Brother’s cousins on twitter. But there is a line to my fangirling, and along with that line comes a distaste for the absolute insane behaviour of many fangirls (and boys). The fact of the matter is, many fans take things too far. Groping celebrities (or even touching celebrities without their permission), asking personal questions, invading their privacy, shipping them (and telling them about your ships), linking them to fanfic…the list of uncomfortable fan behaviour goes on and on and on.

Earlier this week I watched Becoming Youtube: Youtube vs. The World. 

Background: Becoming Youtube is (eventually going to be) a twelve part youtube Documentary (with some fantasy elements) about, well, youtube culture. Created by Benjamin Cook (awesome British journalist person), it features the British Youtube celebrities every internet fangirl has grown to love. This week’s video, the tenth in the series, began with the idea of Youtube changing the world. However, it soon turned into a vicious commentary on fangirl culture. I sat there, thoroughly unnerved, but realising that Ben had put into words my darker thoughts about fandom life.

The horrible point that hit me over and over again was that while Ben was speaking, while he was going through all the reasons the fandom that surrounds youtubers (and fandom in general) is wrong, I could feel myself falling just a little bit in love with him. His mouth was making so much sense, and yet all my brain was interpreting was “wow, he’s cute. And talented. I quite like him”.

The video raised a lot of parallels to the overall message of Paper Towns, the novel by John Green. We fall in love with these guys from behind a screen. We see what they present to us, and then construct our own realities without a second thought of how this is affecting their lives. As Q discovers in Paper Towns, we cannot, and should not, create an idea of who a person is and let that idea define them. He says, What a treacherous thing it is to believe that a person is more than a person, and that is the overall truth of fandom. Those people we are falling in love with, obsessing over, devoting our lives to are just humans. Nothing more. Just like us they have flaws and fears and dreams. As Paper Towns says, There are so many people.  It is easy to forget how full the world is of people, full to bursting, and each of them imaginable and consistently misimagined. I feel like this is an important idea, one of those ideas that your brain must wrap itself around slowly, the way pythons eat.

In another of the Becoming Youtube videos, “Why Is A Nerdfighter? (And So Can You)“, Ben makes the following comment: “Just as it’s important to consider Nerdfighters complexly, we should consider our idols complexly too. Uninterrupted adulation is dangerous…The truth is your youtube idols are probably as flawed and as complex and as brilliant and as beautiful as you are.”

This is especially true when it comes to youtubers. They’re just regular people who sat in front of their computer to spread their thoughts and views and talents, and they got lucky and suddenly tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands, or even millions) of people around the world tuned in to watch. They (usually) don’t have agents or managers or PR people. It’s just them, sitting behind a computer and a video camera. And your comments hurt, because they’re only human. When you ignore the points they’re making, and focus on their appearance, or their relationship status, or something as equally mundane, you’re missing the point of loving youtubers (or anything, for that matter) entirely.

During the video, Ben and Tom Milsom sing a song called “Becoming Youtube Was A Waste Of Time” (around the nineteen minute mark in the video, if you want to skip to it). The verse of the song that spoke the most to me (and had, I believe, the strongest commentary towards fangirl culture) was, “but don’t be sad, you’ll soon forget me, when another boy with hair starts up a channel next week. And he’ll be cute and outrageous with a laugh that’s contagious, and a catch phrase that’s enduring for maybe one month or two, until you find someone new who has a face that’s even more alluring”.

In 2009, The Jonas Brothers were the biggest band for teens and tweens. They were unstoppable. And then, Justin Bieber appeared on the scene, and soon diehard JoBros fans were trading in their merch for Justin Bieber CDs. Justin was hot for a while, and then X-Factor UK  2010 happened and suddenly we were given One Direction, and Bieber was left to fly off the rails with no fangirls to catch him. The whole point about teen fangirl culture (as opposed to the main part of fandom that I’m engrossed in, where you really, really love something and never, ever give up on it) is that you love something until someone hotter/cuter/fresher comes along. Suddenly you’re the “biggest fan everrrr” of this Next Big Thing and you’re asking yourself “Justin who?”. It may not seem like it now, but in a few months, or maybe a year, all those girls angrily sending death threats to GQ for their One Direction covers? Yeah, they’ll be obsessed with something new.

It’s girls like this who give the term “fangirl” a bad name. I know many dedicated fangirls, girls who love tv shows, and bands, and books, and movies, who are in it for the long run and are absolutely 100% respectful of everyone who is involved with producing their obsessions. And then these other girls who are only looking for someone to ship, or someone cute to fall in love with, come along and they inspire videos like this one that give everyone involved with fandom a horrible reputation.

There is a scene in the video where Ben goes to the house of Jack Howard (from Jack and Dean) to say his farewells. The pair kiss. This kiss was to prove a point, namely that once the fangirls see two of their favourite youtubers kissing, they’d freak out and ignore everything else. Boy were they right. While there were some commenters who picked up on the tactic, a majority were “OMG THEY KISSED” and “I SHIP IT OMG”. Jack wrote a tumblr post about the video, which included the following quote:

But what about the thing before? The speech? You fucking goldfish! I love this episode and I loved being apart of it. But what Ben has perfectly accomplished with this episode is a case study of ‘fan girl culture’. It’s depressing how accurate Ben’s accusations were. The response has perfectly mirrored it. I know this doesn’t apply to all of you, I know a lot of you are smart and I appreciate that. But not all of you are smart. Some of you are fucking goldfish.

And isn’t that the truth of fandom life.

frangipani princess xoxo

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