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I think most people take some joy in being right. I’ll certainly admit that I’m one of them. But as a critical academic I’m often going around making dire predictions or showing awful intended and unintended consequences of things, so when I’m right about those there’s some disappointment mixed in with the glee (as there is with all glee, Ryan Murphy).

So when Julie Levin Russo, my fan studies buddy, copied me on a tweet about a blog post she’d found, Fangirls, Stay Away From Tumblr,  it was “I am so right!” followed by “I am so right.”

In the post, the author (who @j_l_r informs me is an undergraduate and so I’ll be playing even nicer than usual this week) critiques what she considers the excesses of fangirls who use microblogging platform Tumblr.

The post is in fact quite prescriptive, telling said fangirls how they ought to behave: “they need to change how they fangirl over it. They need to stop focusing on what shoes their favorite actor is wearing, and remember why they became a fan”;  “if you want to run your blog ‘right,’ you need to make your posts about why you’re a fan of so-and-so.”

The author also parses out more specifically what it might look like to not be doin’ it wrong. Thus, she declares, “there’s nothing wrong with listening to the same band for weeks on end, or paying an absurd amount of money for a concert ticket in the nosebleed section.” (Donning the Marxist hat for a second: note that engaging in consumer capitalism is what’s a-ok.)

Moreover, she distinguishes such people from “normal fans,” even insisting that “these fangirls aren’t fans anymore; it’s a race to be the most obsessive, and it isn’t genuine or fair to actual fans on the website.”

Now, @j_l_r quipped “paging Bourdieu?” in the original tweet, and she’s not wrong about that, of course—and maybe my response is because my queer hat just fits me better than my Bourdieu hat—but I want to go a different direction here.

Because the author also noted in the blog post that the Tumblr style of fangirling “makes everyone involved uncomfortable,” and I’d like to argue that this is actually the crux.

This is to say that, as we can see from the definition given—”A fangirl is someone who takes that one thing he or she (usually a she, though) really loves — such as a celebrity, television show, or band — and loves it to the point where their life revolves around it”—fangirling is both highly gendered and an issue of large-scale affect (itself also highly gendered). It’s girls, having extravagant feelings.

But there’s another layer. She says, “Unfortunately, fangirls have taken to blogging their unhealthy obsessions on Tumblr.” Girls have long had feelings deemed extravagant by social standards (ever since rationality became gendered as masculine, in fact), but now they’re doing it in public. And that reminds me vividly of my theorization of fandom as like public sex.

Yes, the blogger’s discomfort (and that of many others) is about what is and isn’t a tasteful way to appreciate cultural objects (obligatory Distinction reference), but engaging in the wrong kind of appreciation shouldn’t produce such a strong reaction. And yet it’s a moral panic. Why? Because such fans become perverts.

The post parses the problem: “It’s a competition — who can post the most pictures, who can get a reaction from a band member or actor via Twitter, who can attend the most concerts or know the most quotes from a show, or who can make the most ridiculous comment professing their undying love,” and complains that such activity is not about the object of fandom.

But here’s the thing you learn about norms and deviants if you can look at it from a certain angle and let go of the panic about contamination: it’s never about the object of fandom.

These girls’ behaviors are scratching some itch they have, providing them some pleasure they desire, and they’re not ashamed to do that even if it does look only tenuously related to the object that is supposedly the point.

Ultimately, love is not rational, and you can write all the essays you want detailing the fine points of a band or TV show and it will always come down to a certain something that produces feelings. What these fangirls are doing openly, everyone does covertly.

And it’s desire, and its excessive feelings, and it’s femininity, and it’s not inside the confines of normative development  (the author identifies it as a “stage”). And it freaks people out.

And this blog post is exactly why it matters to bring queer theory to bear on fandom. Because the power of the norm is such that we get female youth hating on feminized youth practices because they know that having that much desire can’t possibly be right.

Posting early because it’s timely and because I’ll be traveling for the next 10 days or so. Look for my next post probably in June.

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  1. By » Fandom as Counterpublic? Mel Stanfill on 04 Jun 2012 at 9:36 am

    […] sharp division from that larger public in a context of subordination; for our purposes that’s fangirls or girl fans or fans engaging in feminized practices like fiction and […]

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