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The good, bad, and the ugly of social media's fandom culture

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Karishma Jangid
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Fandom culture

Social media websites are full of fandoms but inside this world of fandoms is a lot of love, passion, and hate. Here's a look at what motivates people to be a part of a fandom. 

If you want to learn how to celebrate someone or something, learn it from the fans. It is a beautiful sight when people or fans from all across the world come together as a part of fandoms. What is a fandom, though? An informal and loosely bound group of fans of a particular celebrity. Social media, especially, is a haven for fandoms. You know that song, "Follow karu Twitter pe, tag karu Facebook pe, tere quiz me Google ko beat kar diya?" Yes, fandoms do exactly that! But a single word like fandom holds a lot of power, passion, and even toxicity. The world of fandoms is loving but complex. 

Also Read: The sudden birth, death, and extremities of Twitter's 'micro trends'

It started with Facebook. Facebook groups and pages about celebrities would update fans with what’s going on in their favorite celebrity’s life. The comment sections would be a celebration. One Direction and Justin Bieber fans were especially in full swing. Good old days! Then came Twitter. Artists would tweet about random things from their daily lives. This made fans feel connected. “Artists were very genuine back then. They would put behind-the-scenes photos or just pictures of them having fun and those tweets would go viral. One Direction would tweet even when they were eating pancakes or stuff,” says K, an ardent Louis Tomlinson fan. 

One Direction Daily

Back home, we have Shah Rukh Khan, the charming king of Bollywood. He routinely does #AskSRK sessions on Twitter, where his fans ask him questions and he replies during the session. “Even celebrities tweet in the hope that SRK will reply. There is hope that he will know us, even if just for a second. SRK’s one second is also a lot for fans. Community feeling drives people; people like to be a part of something. Why not be part of a fandom?” asks H, who has always loved SRK but sank deeper into the actor’s fandom when Pathaan was released. 

While to many, it may just seem like a futile obsession, for some, their idols are everything. Sharing her story, BTS ARMY (Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth) member i.e. BTS fan, Aishwarya says, “During the lockdown, I had taken a break from work. I would watch K-dramas to pass the time. So, one day YouTube recommended a BTS interview. I clicked on it, and I've never looked back since. They have really great stage presence. I love their choreography and energy. I realized I wanted that kind of happiness in my life. They never told me to work hard or earn money. But you see them working hard, pushing limits… So, I woke up and I thought, “No, I cannot be lazying around like this.” There was a backstage video of them. They had used up all their energy and had to use oxygen pumps. I don’t want to push myself to that level. But when I see them working hard, it motivates me to work hard as well. So, I got a job within a few days and I felt really proud of myself. Now, I earn and I can afford things that make me happy. When Black Lives Matter protests were happening, BTS had donated money. So, ARMYs also collected the same amount and they donated it. We have also donated to charities. When you're a part of this fandom, you realize that it's actually filled with a lot of love and positivity."

 

The fandom culture is not limited to the online world. Fans make WhatsApp groups and arrange events. For instance, there are Swiftie Nights in India. The recent screening of Swift’s Eras Tour in Indian theatres is proof that fandoms are asserting themselves and their love is being recognized and being catered to. There are organizers like One Direction Mumbai and Louis of India. Bang Tan Chef Restaurant in Mumbai arranges BTS events too. They call key influencers, and DJs and sell merchandise and Korean food. Aishwarya says, “When we gather in theatres, we gift each other stuff. At the first concert that I went to in the theatre, a girl was giving BTS postcards to everyone - on the front was a BTS group picture, and the back had a poem that she had written based on their songs. I think that is beautiful.”

However, this love is also be looked down upon by many. Some people think of fans as naive. At Taylor Swift's Eras Tour in theatres, people were seen singing and dancing their hearts out. It attracted a lot of criticism even though Bollywood fans have been doing the same for ages. When a Swiftie, Vibali Joshi, shared a video of the same, many trolled Swifties in the comments and quotes. From “a crowd of clowns” to “middle-class embarrassment,” a lot of insulting labels were thrown around.

The BTS ARMY is often misunderstood too. “There is a lot of judgment from non-Kpop fans. We get told that we are following gay men which gets to me the most because BTS has never spoken about their sexualities outright. They have a lot of fanboys as well and they all seem very secure in their masculinity. Their definition of masculinity is so different from what we've grown up seeing over here, perhaps this is why many judge them,” complains Aishwarya.

But it’s not just trolls trolling fandoms. Even fandoms themselves can be very ugly to other fandoms. When Pathaan was released, due to the Twitter algorithm, H came in touch with many SRK fans. Sharing his experience, he says, “Bht logo ko follow kiya tha, dheere dheere unfollow kiya kyuki they were toxic. They cuss at other celebrities and people who defend those celebrities. Gaali-galauj karna, all type ke slurs use karna…” Not only SRK, Deepika Padukone, and Alia Bhatt fans fight with each other too. “They use crass language about the other celebrity’s physical appearance. Kaafi SRK fans bhi Deepika ke critical the, kaafi Ranveer Singh fans bhi Deepika ke critical the. They get abusive. You don’t wanna be in those circles. You don’t wanna see those tweets,” he adds. 

H often conducts polls aka brackets on Twitter about the best songs of a music composer. Earlier this year, when he conducted an Amit Trivedi bracket, he faced massive trolling from one fandom. “When I put the song “Jhallah Wallah” in a poll, Shreya Ghoshal fans, who were not following me, started voting for it - not for Trivedi but for Ghoshal. This was a way of rigging the game. When I blocked people, I saw ke some were trolling me behind my back on Twitter. They were literally abusing me, calling me all sorts of names. Jab bhi polls hote hai, fans ki bombardment hoti hi hai. There are groups on WhatsApp, Telegram, and more. Tum agar ek link share kar do ke yaha support ki zarurat hai, pohoch jayenge sab. When another Twitter account hosted an A R Rahman bracket, he too got trolled a lot,” informs H.

“Fandom me jhagde hote hai. Iska faayda uthaati hai music companies or radio shows and unke Twitter accounts,” informs K. “They hold fandom competitions. In a radio contest about the best fandom, one fandom, I won’t name them, convinced people to vote for their fandom in exchange for feet pictures. And Swifties fight the most btw. In fact, recently Swift traveled in a private jet. So, many criticized her for being careless towards the climate. But because Swifties have such toxic loyalty to the artist, they started attacking the people who are criticizing Swift,” she adds.

BTS ARMY is often at loggerheads with Blackpink fans ‘Blinks’ too. Aishwarya says, “We argue a lot. And Blackpink fans won’t like this but Blackpink does not release as much music as BTS does. And I am sorry, but recently they were on a World Tour, and I saw videos of them half-heartedly performing on stage - no energy, no interest. Blinks love them, fine. But then they come for us, for BTS, who are giving their 200%, and you want to question them? That is what gets to us.” ARMY themselves are divisive too, at times. Sneha, an ARMY herself, says, “So, this is a very controversial opinion but international ARMYs do feel that some Korean armies are obsessed. For example, if a BTS member starts dating someone, it is a big no-no for them. They will be like, “Oh, that is my person. No one can take them.” I feel some ARMYs do have communities like hate clubs. If this obsessive army does not like someone, they'll start a hate club for them. And then eventually it's like, for people as well as celebrities.”

These fan wars can sometimes reach dangerous levels. K reveals, “There is one American One Direction fan. She is very rich. Most 1D fandom members know about her and hate her because Asian countries rarely get concerts, and even when they do, she goes and buys tickets there robbing Asian people of their rare chance to attend concerts. Her information is all out there- where she lives, what she does, etc.”

However, H says, “Everybody gets hate. It tends to happen when you love a certain celebrity too much. It’s not that you will want to insult rival actors, but you will be much more attuned or vigilant about their flaws.” Meanwhile, Aishwarya defends, “When trolled, the BTS won't say anything, won't react. That's why we react. We definitely can't hear anything wrong about them. It’s the same as calling people out if they're doing something wrong. We are not saying that if you don't like the music, we will hate you. We totally understand that K-pop is not for everybody. BTS music is not for everyone. If you like it, great. If you don't like it, and you have valid reasons for not liking it, we'll fully accept that. When you start making personal remarks, racist, sexist remarks, that we won’t tolerate.”

It all narrows down to hero-worshipping. It is natural to fall for celebrities, and love them, especially in a culture that worships them. The world can be harsh and artists provide escapism in the form of art. However, one can be mindful of how it affects them, and their behaviour towards others. K mentions that because we know very little about celebrities’ personal lives, the fandom culture can suck you in so strongly that it changes your perception. “There is a phrase we use ‘touch some grass’ meaning get off the internet, interact with the real world. There is a world beyond fandoms,” informs K. So, love is a beautiful thing, even when it’s for a celebrity. But if it makes you toxic, it might be time for self-reflection and as they say, touching some grass. 

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