By Akshara Karthik (’22)
Close your eyes. Pretend the world is back to normal. Imagine that you and your best friend got meet and greet tickets to your favorite artist’s concert. For the past 5 years, you and your friend have been “obsessed” with this artist, buying all their albums, merchandise, and even having a fan account with over 10,000 followers on social media. You are waiting in line for the auditorium doors to open your friend, anxiously excited to see your idol. Finally, you get inside. The concert starts. You and your friend sing all the songs at the top of your lungs, surrounded by other fans who are just like you. Once the concert is over, you and your friend get escorted out to privately meet with the artist. You are exhilarated on your way to the room, telling yourself that this was quite literally the best night of your life. They let you in. You are now standing face to face with a person who has no idea who you are, but who you know all about.
Whether it’s an actor, actress, or singer, everyone has a favorite celebrity. What varies though, is the impact that these celebrities have on each person’s life. Some people simply enjoy watching their favorite actor or actress once in a while. On the other hand, some people take their love a step higher, where they become loyal supporters of their idols and will do anything to see them succeed. Nowadays, many of a celebrity’s most loyal fans create a subculture known as a Fandom. But what is a fandom and what is the purpose of it?
“Fandoms” as they have evolved to be called, are groups of hundreds or more people who staunchly support or admire a pop culture figure, especially from the entertainment industry, whether that be books, movies, television, or music. The word “fandom” was derived from the term “fangirl”, which was used, in the past, to describe female fans. Now that we know what a fandom is, what is the purpose of it? The answer is actually simpler than you might think: fandoms are all about fostering a sense of community. In fact, fandoms are one of the easiest ways to connect with people all over the world who have the same beliefs as you, and that is precisely why fandoms are so popular. With a social media platform and a click of a button, especially in the case of fandoms, a person is easily able to share their thoughts, jokes, videos, memes, and more with others.
Consequently, it is evident that the entertainment industry is heavily benefiting from fans and their fandoms. Especially during this pandemic, artists and actors alike have been putting out exclusive content for their megafans or doing virtual events to raise money for different charitable causes. For example, former The Vampire Diaries star, Ian Somerhalder activated his “Close Friends” story on Instagram for a limited number of fandom fans willing to pay two dollars a month to see exclusive content about his present pursuings and throwbacks from his TVD days. Of course, all of the profits will go towards charitable causes, this time for an environmental film he is starring in and producing. In addition, many actors and actresses used their quarantines to catch-up with their former castmates on a variety of shows and movies, including the casts of Victorious, Community, The Office, and Mean Girls. While some of these were free for fans to enjoy, others were ticketed to raise money for different charitable causes. Other celebrities utilized Instagram Live, to let their fans watch their virtual hangouts. Miley Cyrus created a “mini-talk show” series on Instagram Live, called Bright Minded: Live With Miley, where she chats with other stars, including Demi Lovato, Ellen Degeneres, and Hilary Duff. On the other hand, some musicians spent their quarantines creating workarounds for their canceled tours. Singer/songwriter Billie Eilish hosted a virtual concert for megafans willing to pay for a ticket starting at thirty dollars. Eilish’s immersive “Where Do We Go? The Livestream” donated proceeds from select items to Crew Nation, a fund created by Live Nation to aid crew members who have been affected by concert cancellations due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
What’s more interesting, is that research studies have shown that fandoms can have an incredibly positive impact on a person’s mental health. Fandoms are mostly composed of teenagers, and research on fandoms’ impacts on mental health is especially important since, during a person’s teenage years, they are going through a crucial developmental psychology phase. Known as “Identity vs. Role Confusion”, this is the time when a person starts figuring out who they truly are, through exploring different beliefs and values. It is proven that depression is positively correlated with a frail sense of community. However, when a person feels like they are a part of a community, they find a greater sense of purpose and determination to overcome all the challenges life throws at them. Dr. Laurel Steinberg, a psychotherapist and professor of psychology at Columbia University, explains how this notion is true for fandoms as well, “Belonging to a fandom group helps adolescents…feel like [they] are part of a group, can help one define [their] identity, and give a sense of purpose to what might be an otherwise routine lifestyle.” In addition, she adds that “Connecting with people [and] over shared passions and interests is good for mental and emotional health because it helps to create a fraternity-like or family-like sense of security.” Lisa Bahar, a therapist that specializes in working with teenage girls, agreed with Dr. Steinberg, though she also noted, “Make sure being a ‘fan’ doesn’t develop into an obsession.” According to Dr. Bahar, staying balanced with other activities and keeping a healthy viewpoint can aid in preventing an unhealthy obsession.
Overall, fandoms are a welcoming social fabric composed of people from all around the world. Fandoms are a driving force behind the entertainment industry and are quite honestly something people should not underestimate. Numbers are a force of power and in turn, numbers can create a strong community.