You saw the pictures: grainy black-and-white shots of teenagers, mostly girls, crying, screaming, waving their arms across blockades while police in vain try to restrain them. In photos, they look sore, ecstatic, desperate, selfless. The term that came to describe the phenomenon alluded to the irrationality of everything: Beatlemania.
Fifty years later, another British boy band landed in America with a fervor that seemed quite similar: One Direction. At that time, the nature of fandom evolved dramatically thanks to the internet, which enabled people to come together who shared only one thing, people to whom it was the most important thing in their lives. Beyond that, however, the fans who inhabited the internet also played a key role in creating it: the conventions, the language, the mafia mindset, the memes.
This is the subject of Kaitlyn Tiffany’s debut nonfiction book, Everything I Need I Get From You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It, which serves as an ethnography of Stan culture through the lens of One Direction superhero. Tiffany (who, frankly, was previously a reporter at Vox) provides a nuanced analysis of an often overlooked force in internet history, one dominated by the kind of young women the rest of the world has dismissed as little more than brainless teenyboppers. We recently chatted on the phone about the experience of writing the book, the fandom’s strained relationship with capitalism, and what can make the act scream for your favorite.
“There are no girls on the internet” was a common axiom on 2000s-era message boards, but clearly that’s not and never has been the case. What did women do in the early internet, and why were they less visible?
There was obviously a sex gap in the early days of the net, but it started to close much sooner than people think. It was around 2000 that researchers began to realize that women, and especially younger women, did not use it in the transactional or goal-oriented ways that men used it for work or promotion, but as a social tool. The Internet is much more like the telephone, which has become a home communication tool. With the rise of social media and interaction-based platforms, women were the early adopters, and especially fans were the early adopters of basically everything that was created.
Why has Tumblr and Twitter in particular been so fruitful for fans?
People are forgetting about it now, but Tumblr has been pretty unprecedented as a visual tool. GIFs that were invented on Tumblr became part of the cornerstone of fandom. It was also the equivalent of public platforms like Facebook, which is not where you would go to publish your oblique fiction. [fanfiction about same-sex romance] under your real name for your parents and grandparents to see. Tumblr had this very isolated feeling and gave fans a lot of tools that they didn’t have on other websites.
With Twitter, it’s the opposite. It was this vacant space that fans were among the first to talk about, like, a farm. That was where you would make the public front part of fandom, your favorite picture of Rihanna and a link to her song for people to buy it, and for her to become the most famous woman in the world, which is what. you want because you love her. Fans were like the first people to really try to play the trendy hashtags, like spam networks. They intuitively understood that if we all follow each other and expand on each other’s content about Justin Bieber or whatever, we can break the web.
La first chapter, called “Screaming,” delves into the almost religious ecstasy that fan girls feel toward their idols, and why that feeling is often dismissed as adolescent hysteria or marketing manipulation. Why couldn’t we capture a fuller picture of this extremely common phenomenon?
One of the main things that people find embarrassing about fandom in general and about fandom girls in particular is that they seem to have been really deceived by the most obvious expressions of capitalism and the brightest, dumbest things presented by the entertainment industry to young, sensitive people. people. . They spend all that money and time to be lulled into this mess.
I don’t want to go too far in the direction of saying that fans actually resist capitalism either progressive or revolutionary, because that’s not necessarily true either. But I think being a fan can encourage you to spend your time in “unproductive” ways.
Even if you buy the One Direction Valentines box and fall in love with the chemically engineered hook, you’re also thinking, “Why am I so happy to hear this?” Why am I enjoying being around other people who like to hear this? Why is it so funny for me to see these pop stars refracted in these extreme fanfiction scenarios? What does it say about what I’m looking for in my life? What kind of world would I rather live in? ” There are obviously limits to how useful this is. But I was definitely at a Harry Styles concert and said, “Why do I feel so different than the last time I was at a Harry Styles concert?” I think it’s good for people to mark times in their lives and think about questions they wouldn’t necessarily think about in an everyday context.
You do such a thorough job of showing how fans are often incredibly self-conscious, in contrast to the irrational sheep-like followers they are often portrayed as (“One Direction ruined my life,” e.g.). Why is it that outside observers can understand the layers of irony used by, say, 4chan posters, but not the self-respect of fangirls?
Part of it is just misogyny. Screaming girls seem like they might not be funny or smart or self-deprecating about what they’re experiencing. Even if you are a regular internet user, the fandom parts you are most likely to experience are not necessarily the good parts. You see a journalist is piled on Twitter, you don’t see the memes on Tumblr. There is a lack of curiosity on the part of an ordinary person, which is good, but it was this really intense urgency for understand the 4chan boys and the darker parts of the internet around the 2016 election, and that curiosity didn’t extend to the other huge cultural phenomenon that formed the web at the time because it wasn’t so scary and sad.
Speaking of that toxic side, part of the book is dedicated to the notorious theory that two of the members of One Direction, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson, are secretly newly in love. How big was that fandom?
I was surprised at how painful of a topic it was for many people yet. It really moved a wedge between the two sides of the fandom. Lots of people who were busy pushing [the theory] at first and then spreading misogynistic vitriol about Louis’s girlfriend – scolding other fans and telling them they were homophobic if they didn’t think Louis and Harry were newly in love – were really young, and now they have to look back on what it was. a really positive experience for them initially and counting on their own behavior. They followed the older women in the fandom who rode it, laid out theories and mapped the menstrual cycle of Luis ’child’s mother. It’s a pity they involved teenagers who now have to struggle with what they’ve been involved with. It wasn’t part of my fandom experience until I was looking for it, and I was like, “Alas, this is crazy that people believe this!” But it was really very tense and really serious. People’s friendships ended, and people did things they really regretted. It was pretty sad.
From the time One Direction started in 2011 until the time they split in 2016, mainstream attitudes toward pop culture and pop music have become much more festive. How has it affected the way we talk about fan girls?
There was a lot of blogosphere and Twitter discussion about, “You can’t dislike this thing if girls like it because girls are great and the future,” which was kind of complicated to watch. A lot of people who said that said it just to get people to buy things. There was a bit of over-correction where we felt we were so bad with these girls that now we have to talk about them as if they were saints and geniuses, when really all they ever wanted was to talk about them as if they were. were people, or should be left alone. It was a cynical turn where it went from “fandom is pathology” to “fangirls are heroes and everything they do is great.” You are referring to a group of millions of people: Some of them will be great and some of them will be scary, and it is useless to generalize in both directions.
The book is full of funny vignettes of One Direction fan girls – it’s the girl who literally screamed her lungs at a concert, the girl who made a shrine by the side of the road where Harry Styles once vomited – but who was your favorite?
The most exciting experience for me was when I was looking for the woman who scattered the thousands of tiny pictures of Pregnant Harry Styles throughout the state of Utah. I found an email address for her and she responded and agreed to speak anonymously. She was really confused; she didn’t understand why it was interesting to me and she certainly thought I was scared to follow up on something that is so clearly a little bit of what she is doing. I wondered why she felt she had to spend years of her life carrying bags of Pregnant Harry Styles, and she said she liked to put them in library books so that in 20 years someone would find this picture of Pregnant Harry Styles and be . like, “Why in the world is this here?”
You write that you undertook this project a bit like defending yourself as One Direction fangirl. What did you love about the band, and how do you look back on your place in the fandom now?
I have younger sisters who were actually in One Direction, and we happened to be watching the One Direction documentary when I was in college. College was not right for me. I did not prosper in that environment; I was very homesick, really lonely. I had a lot of friends I didn’t like being around, so I spent so much time on the internet, on Tumblr – so much time that I regularly received emails from college like, “You’re exceeding your assigned internet usage,” which is hard just by browsing!
The One Direction community was so vibrant, there was so much One Direction content to talk about all the time. It was also a way to keep in touch with my sisters and my high school friends who liked it because I would call them and it would be fun rather than me talking about how much I hate my life. It was a basic matter. The day the Niall Horan album came out was literally the day New York started locking in, so I just walked around the park listening to it, trying to calm myself down. Ever since I was in college, is this the area I can revisit to think about, how, what do I have in common with the 19-year-old version of myself? What am I worried about now that I didn’t care about then?
To draw some recent news from One DirectionWhat do you think of Liam Payne’s interview?
I read the quotes and I feel like they weren’t that bad! It was like, “We’re all used to getting each other excited and Zayn is a bad guy, but I support him.” He didn’t really say anything that people didn’t already know. Poor Liam. He’s a cryptic guy now, and he put it on four Christmas carols on his debut solo album. He’s just sad. I feel bad for everyone because none of them are anywhere as great as One Direction.
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