“We are not overly obsessive, this is not us!” exclaimed thousands of angry One Direction fans after the airing of Channel 4’s Crazy About One Direction. However, it is pretty difficult to argue that these fans are not overly involved in the lives of their favourite celebrities. At a small glance, their twitter profiles reveal that their display name, username, biography and a high percentage of tweets are all about One Direction.
Crazy About One Direction depicted fans as willing to cut off an arm in order to meet the boys, break into hotels for the off chance of seeing them, and to use twitter in order to find out their home addresses. It seems as if the line between harmless pastime and extreme obsession has become blurred, and there is one major culprit: Twitter.
The line between harmless pastime and extreme obsession has become blurred
A girl’s fascination with her favourite boy band is not a new thing. With the phenomenon of Beatlemania in the 60’s to the heartbreak of thousands upon hearing of Busted’s split, it is no surprise that a band like One Direction would drum up a large female following. If we’re honest, pretty much all of the teenage female population (and our mums) have probably googled Harry Styles at some point. However, with the growth social media, such as Twitter, millions of teenagers now have the ability to see hourly updates from celebrities, and even have the opportunity to directly contact them.
This has allowed us personal access into the lives of those who we will probably never meet, and could be seen as a catalyst for a developing obsession. Through Twitter, we can come to feel as if we know our favourite celebrities, which can be a hugely positive experience. Harry Styles has commented on how “interaction” with the band’s “passionate” fans is one of the best parts of having a strong social media presence. In a BBC interview, he said: “Obviously there’s a line and some people cross it – but most people don’t.”
Harry Styles: “Obviously there’s a line and some people cross it- but most people don’t.”
However, there is a more sinister side to constant access into a celebrity’s thoughts. For one, it allows fans to see those they once looked up to in a nastier light – for instance, pop artist Example telling a fan to “fuck off” and calling another a “prick” after pulling out of playing at the University of Southampton’s Graduation Ball this year. It also allows a fandom to show it’s more unpleasant side, for example Taylor Swift receiving countless death threats after her Grammy’s performance included a sly dig at Harry. Imagine waking up to people saying “I’ll kill you, you fucking bitch”, “I hope you go die in a hole” and countless other tweets. It’s clear that twitter can create toxic relationships – and show the true sides of fans and celebrities alike.
The effect of this more immediate relationship on fans is the most focused on aspect in the media. The amount of information about the boys that is available online is staggering – and of course, fans will stop at nothing to find out anything they want. The boys’ birth certificates, heights, and (allegedly) their penis sizes have all circulated around twitter, and because once one fan has posted that information, it is available to anyone who can search hard enough. The competition between fans to be the “biggest” fan is undeniable, and this is definitely something that has developed through twitter. It was only last week when the disturbing #justinpasswordattempts was trending- a hashtag where self-confessed ‘Beliebers’ worldwide were trying to guess Justin Bieber’s twitter password. A harmless joke perhaps, or is this crossing the line between “mega-fan” and “superstar”?
As little as 13 years ago, when N’ SYNC rose to fame and gathered a similar demographic of fans, there was no opportunity to post about the band on a mass social media site, or to interact with the members directly online. If someone met their favourite celebrity, it would not be posted online for the world to see, whereas now similar photos are posted online and result in hundreds of angry tweets from other jealous fans.
The community spirit that twitter builds is most controversial.
It is the community spirit that twitter builds that is most controversial. Teenage girls can interact with like-minded people, to follow other girls who share the same interests of them, but it can also result in fans forgetting what is socially acceptable. If everyone on their timelines are constantly tweeting One Direction, then they think that this is the norm and do not question if their behaviour is bordering on obsessive. Many accounts are created under the guise of anonymity, imitating celebrities (such as the Will Smith parody account, filled with pseudo-inspiring quotes) or devoted to celebrities – meaning there is no reason to worry about what you are saying being traced back to you.
After the airing of Crazy About One Direction, the girls featured in the documentary were bombarded with death threats. It’s clear that twitter can fuel behaviour that would not be acceptable in everyday life. Lady Gaga’s fans’ harassment of Perez Hilton after she tweeted that he was stalking her in particular raises the question on whether twitter is responsible for creating an illusory bond between celebrity and fan, to the point where a fan feels it is acceptable to constantly pester someone who upsets their idol. This is one of the scariest elements of how social media is affecting us: people do not act like they would in normal social situations, which can have sinister and upsetting results.
People do not act like they would in normal social situations.
Twitter and other social media are great platforms for keeping up with your favourite celebrities’ lives, but it is the illusion of a real connection with someone who you will never really know that precipitates obsessive behaviour.