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​the all-consuming phenomenon of teen girl fandom

From the on cue fainting of the Frank Sinatra fans to the online trolling of the Directioners, fandom is a phenomenon that many find hard to comprehend. But there’s more to it than a bad rep in the media…

by Felicity Kinsella
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11 June 2015, 10:15am

The immediate image that comes to mind when talking about fandoms made up of teenage girls, is often one of a wild-eyed, lascivious, crazed posse that you'd be terrified of getting in the path of or, as GQ described, a bunch of "rabid, knicker-wetting banshees." But where do we get off reducing these girls' love for their idols into an unsolicited, out of control and purely hormonal lust? And even if it does come down to that, why is it ok to suppress and mock a young girls' sexuality, when the same is rarely applied to young boys? After watching the documentary Crazy About One Direction, Kingston University Graphics graduate, Lottie Hanson-Lowe, dedicated her final project to the phenomenon of teen girl fandom. Charting the ever-so-similar behavioural patterns of fandoms through the ages, exploring the ups of being a part of one and the downs of that level of hysteria, in her zine Love Me Do, Lottie gets inside the minds of those perceived "banshees".

How did early fandom prompt womens' sexual revolution?
You started to see it all the way back in Paris 1844 when Liszt's female fans fainted and screamed whenever he played the piano, but Beatlemania was the first widespread outburst to feature teenage girls in a radical context. They told young women they could be whoever they wanted to be, and this allowed these girls to break away from gender norms and openly discuss their sexuality by talking about which Beatle they wanted to marry.

What have you learned about the differences between, for example, Beatlemania, and the Directioners of today?
They're more similar that you might expect. They both feature teenage girls as a team and both allow young women to explore their sexuality as they grow up. The main difference has been the digital developments. The Screamers (followers of the Beatles) used to write love letters to their favourite band members, but with social media, all of that is more public and takes place over Twitter. Social media has allowed us as spectators to gain more understanding of these fandoms, but also allowed us to judge them, and that can sometimes have a negative impact on these young communities as we accuse them of scopophilia.

What are some of the strangest fandoms and their practices that you've come across?
Looking at the Brosettes was interesting as there were girls who literally gave up years of their life waiting for one of the Goss brothers to leave their home and go to Tesco. In any other sense, that would be called stalking. But from what I hear, there was a very strong sense of community amongst these girls and Matt Goss used to go hang with some of them in the park so I think it's less strange than you'd initially think.

A lot of people will find it hard to comprehend such an intense obsession, where do you think this stems from in the fans?
Love Me Do only really covers young girls and boy bands, so I can only speak for what I know of those fandoms. But a lot of these girls are young - they're going through puberty and figuring things out, and I think these obsessions allow them to focus on something while they develop as a person, and that can keep them grounded. These bands can have a really positive affect on these girls with the messages they spread. I mean, I was a 14-year-old girl once and so I know how intensely you feel about everything and that won't only be focused on the bands, they'll be feeling those feelings about a lot of things in their lives.

Why do you think music fandom is largely limited to young girls?
I think, to be honest, that is the way the music industry has made it. They literally started the mania - they used to pay girls to scream at Frank Sinatra concerts, until they no longer had to pay the girls because they would do it naturally. I don't want to say that there isn't gender expectation of boys, because there definitely is, but I think it is especially hard for young girls with how they are represented and exposed to the media.

What examples have you come across of fandoms - past or present - taking it too far?
Sometimes I really don't agree with the language used in these communities. You see girls threatening to kill each other over Twitter because one girl got a hug from Louis from One Direction. It's never, in my eyes, ok to threaten someone like that. But you always get bullies in every community, and it's jealousy at its worst. It is definitely not every girl in the fandom as well - only a select, bitter few.

From speaking to actual teen fans, do you think the media's perception of the girls in fandoms is wrong? Is it misogynistic?
We hear more of the negative stuff than the positive because the media always reports the extreme cases. But there are bloggers out there who are trying to write responses to these attacks and those are very interesting articles to read because they change your perception.

Loads of people remember when GQ's site crashed after they started getting death threats from One Direction fans after they insinuated how many girls Harry Styles had slept with. Do I think it is ok that the girls sent death threats? NO. But a lot of people didn't actually bother to read the discussed article and it was pretty disgusting to be honest. Where does a middle aged man get off calling 14 year old girls "eunuchs" and "rabid, knicker-wetting banshees"? That's the irony - that the media reduces these girls' interests to being purely sexual and then gets angry at them trying to correct that. That is all part of the rape culture that our society puts out. Suppressing female sexuality and making it something vulgar when no one would bother to write an article about 14 year old boys wanking in their bedroom over Cheryl Cole because it's simply not news. And actually, underneath the profanity, what you're witnessing are 14-year-old girls sticking up for themselves and saying that their sexuality is not something to be offered up. And they don't need to be nice to people who think that it is.

How has social media changed fan culture?
Sites like Tumblr have allowed girls to connect across the globe which is amazing. I heard this one story about a One Direction fan who posted online that she was intending to commit suicide, and all the other fans got her name trending on Twitter and made sure that an ambulance and police visited her because they wanted to make sure she was safe which, in the end, she was. That's amazing. But Twitter has also encouraged cyberbullying amongst the communities, and that is very sad.

Why do you think the fans think it's ok to react to any judgements of their idols with death threats?
I actually got really bothered by this whilst making my zine so came up with another project to try and address this, called "Think Twice". It's so quick and easy to fire off these huge statements that the girls do not think before they tweet, and they definitely don't ever think about the effect of the language on their victim. There aren't really any consequences for the cyberbully. If you talk to these girls, 9 times out of 10, they'll tell you that they didn't mean it. If we could find a way to slow down the ease of violent tweeting and encourage trolls to self-reflect, I think we would see a lot more self-monitoring.

Read the full zine here.

lottiehansonlowe.com