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Fandom Culture and Problematic Faves

Updated on August 1, 2015
The Hollywood sign. A famous symbol of celebrity.
The Hollywood sign. A famous symbol of celebrity. | Source

Fandom culture is gaining some prestige these days. It’s become less of an embarrassment to label yourself a member of one. People, in general, have become more accepting of the idea. As a member of a good number of fandoms myself, I’m all for that. However, it’s also become clear that the growth of fandoms also emphasizes some of the problems in fandom culture. Because just about everything has some problems.

I think fandoms are amazing. They provide a great sense of community, and they can help fans feel like they belong. I think that sense of community is a big reason why fandoms have an increasing appeal to young people who are “finding where they belong.”

That’s just a small sense of what can be great about fandom culture.

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However, there are negative aspects of fandoms, and those tend to get the most press. Sometimes, I hate that because the people who read about those problems seem to only be able to see these negatives and not the good of fandoms.

On the other hand, I welcome it. These are often serious problems that need to be addressed and worked on if fandom culture is going to evolve into something even better.

As I see it, there is one big problem in fandom culture that a handful of other problems stem from: groupthink. This problem is in no way limited to fandoms. Just about every group on the planet is susceptible to it, but fandoms are one huge source for this phenomenon. It’s a good thing to openly discuss because a large group going along with one opinion without thinking is always a terrible thing.

Of course, in order for groupthink to occur, there has to be a certain idea or way of thinking that others can rally behind. This is pretty easy when the fandom revolves around a celebrity. The celebrity provides one person whose thoughts and opinions can be adopted by fans. Not all fans will take on a celebrity’s ideology, but the phenomenon is common enough that I’ve seen it countless times.

I don’t believe most fans realize they’re doing it. They come to idealize the celebrity so much that it never enters their mind that the celebrity could be wrong about something. They have a perfect image in their head that is difficult to shatter. They never bother to stop and think about how that could be wrong.

As exaggerated (or flat out crazy) as it sounds, these celebrities do become some sort of gods in the minds of some fans. Not all fans view them that way by any means, but it is a mindset that’s present among their fanbase. Of course, the younger as a whole a fanbase is, the more likely they are to be influenced into that sort of thinking.

When the fandom is for a group of celebrities, such as a band, then fans typically pick a “fave” of the group. This fave is often seen as being able to do no wrong and elevated above other members. This can happen on top of idealization of the band as a whole.

That mindset would work except for the fact these are human beings we’re talking about, not gods, and human beings screw up. A lot.

This isn’t to speak badly of any particular celeb. Everyone screws up. Celebrities, politicians, normal people. I’m sure even Mother Theresa screwed up a time or two.

Same for every other celebrity out there. (Except for the ones that are flat out terrible because we know they exist, but I won’t get into that.) They can be great people and still screw up. The fact is, they’re human and are going to make as many mistakes as any other human on the planet. That includes doing problematic things, and since their lives are public, these things are likely to be seen.

Some celebrities screw up more often than others. That’s no different than how some “normal” people screw up more than others. The point is that every person alive is going to screw up at some point. How bad their screw ups are will vary, but they will happen. Since everyone screws up, one instance doesn’t mean that person should be labeled as a terrible human being. That is, unless they show they were malicious on purpose.

That doesn’t mean certain problematic behaviors shouldn’t be called out. Calling out problematic behavior is not the same thing as hating on celebrities for no reason. Even your friends should be called out for problematic behavior, but it’s only helpful if it’s done in a calm way. The person will get defensive otherwise and not listen to anything you have to say. Most people know that when it comes to face to face interaction.

With celebrities, however, there is a heightened sense of taking any negative criticism as hate. There’s no such thing as constructive criticism in the eyes of some fans. I can understand how this mindset develops when said celebrity is inundated with hateful comments that have no justification as well. Even those of us who aren’t subject to that sort of scrutiny have a hard time taking criticism of any sort.

Even fans get tired of seeing hate towards their favorite celebrities, and that is on top of their already jaded view of those they idolize. It can be hard to get either celebrity or fans to understand when a comment is one of genuine concern versus mindless hate.

There are many times when these fans are socially aware, but that all goes out the window when they have their celebrity to defend. Behaviors they would criticize in anyone else are something to be ignored or even positive. Any criticism is a personal attack that must be countered with a personal attack.

Celebrities deserve to be called out too.

This isn’t the right mindset.

Celebrities deserve to be called out too. And yes, I said “deserve.” That has an important connotation. I think it’s basic human decency to let them know when they messed up to help them become a better person. Of course, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that, but the goal should be helping that person, and therefore the world, become better.

Because the world can’t get better if we keep letting anyone, especially celebrities with large social influence, off the hook for problematic behaviors.

We all commit problematic behavior, and I know I want to be called out when I do so that I can work to better myself. Since the golden rule is “treat others as you wish to be treated,” I consider this an extension of that. When I call out a celebrity’s problematic behavior, I do it based on what I would want someone to say to me if I had done the same behavior. I wouldn’t want to continue on in ignorance and hurt people by my actions. I want to assume that others feel the same way unless it’s proven otherwise.

Not only is it possible to be a fan of someone and also call them out, it is important to do so. If you care about someone at all, you should want them to be the best person they can be. That means helping them realize when they make mistakes and be willing to voice when their behavior makes you or someone else uncomfortable for any reason.

It is something I would do for my friends, and it is something I would hope my friends would do for me. It’s not an attack on any particular person. It is letting them know in a civil manner that what they did was hurtful to someone. That can be done without hating them as a person. Seeing criticisms as nothing more than hate trivializes the issue and the celebrity’s actions. It makes something seem like it’s okay as long as the person has enough fans and power to silence the criticism.

No one is helped when you let behavior like that slide or attack people who rightfully criticize. That only allows the problematic behavior to continue to be viewed as acceptable. There are issues more important than individuals, and those issues deserve to have attention called to them, not at the expense of the individual but in a way that increases awareness and allows others to learn that they are wrong. That is the only way things will change.

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