Sunday, 17 November 2013

Idle Eyes

Something that I have never really understood is fanaticism. I mean I like a lot of franchises and movies from Doctor Who to Harry Potter, I like a lot of these shows, but I don't consider myself a "fan". Because fan is short for fanatic, which was originally a term for a devoted follower of a religion, someone who was loyal to a fault. These days is just means "an enthusiastic follower", but I still don't consider myself a fan of these shows any more than I'm a fan of chocolate. I like it and I tell other people they might like it, but I put more effort into writing and romantic pursuits. I just don't have the time or effort to care that much about something (or someone) that doesn't have any real impact on my life.

The worst part is, this isn't a semantic issue, there are people that are literally enthusiastic, euphoric and unconditionally devoted to certain celebrities; films; franchises; writers; books; television shows & artists. We've normalized the concept of fanaticism, this obsession with art, to the point where it's starting to concern me. The Word of the Day is: 'IDOLIZE'

Idolise = Idolize /'uydəluyz/ v.t. To regard with bling adoration or devotion.

To be clear, let's take a look at the root of the problem, the word: 'IDOL'

Idol /'uydl/ n. 1. A statue, etc., worshipped as a god. 2. Bible A false god. 3. Any person or thing blindly adored or revered.

There are too many fanatics in the world today. There are so many that we've started to segregate them, and class them in a hierarchy of madness. There are those that watch and appreciate, and they aren't fans at all so much as 'the target audience' but they often call themselves fans anyway. Then there are the newbies, and if a franchise is large enough they'll have a term for them (Newvians for new Doctor Who fans, Trekkers for new Star Trek fans, n00b for new gaming fans) which are often used derogatorily by the more knowledgeable fans. Then there are the hardcore fans, which often have a name all to themselves, like with so many TV shows:
Star Trek has its Trekkies; Doctor Who its Whovians; Babylon 5 has Babblers; Stargate its Gateheads; Glee, Gleeks; Quantum Leap, Leapers; LOST, Lostralians; Heroes, Sidekicks; Torchwood, Woodies & My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has Fillies (& Bronies).

Now, a lot of these fandoms have their own quirks and quibbles, but generally they talk amongst themselves about favourite episodes and characters; discuss the drama and plotlines; speculate on the magic and mystery of the show & (in extreme cases) write disturbing fanfiction.
Now, these kinds of fans don't bother me so much. They're still a little full-on since they seem to put so much effort into these fantasies, but overall they're harmless. Because even though they are fanatic and fantasizing about something to an unusual degree, the thing they're obsessing over is already fantasy. If you love or hate something that doesn't really exist, it effects your life (and those around you) but the show/book/movie itself doesn't care. If someone says they wish they could marry Harry Potter or that they think Dean Winchester should totally get in on with Castiel, then it doesn't matter because what they're talking about is already fantasy. Even if it's weird to me, it's not doing any harm. It's victimless.

However, fictional worlds aren't the only thing that people obsess over or idolize. There are those that are fanatically obsessed with the musicians, celebrities & tv personalities, to the degree that they too have a collective noun:
One Direction has its Directioners (although I call them Oneders); Benedict Cumberbatch has the Cumberbitches; Justin Beiber his Beliebers; Malcolm McDowall has Malcaholics; Beyonce has Beyhives; John Barrowman is followed by Barrowmaniacs; David Bowie has Areaologists; Tom Hiddleston has Hiddlestoners; Chris Brown has no shame; Nicki Minaj has Barbies; Helena Bonham-Carter has Helenaists; Lady Gaga has Little Monsters & Ke$ha has Animals.

These are but a few of the many names of fandoms that adore and idolize real celebrities and these people scare me. As in, if I learn that someone I'm talking to is a fanatic for a celebrity, I try to back away slowly until I've gained a good running distance.
As an example, I'm going to use Loki - from the Marvel Cinematic Universe - because Tom Hiddleston has his followers, so the Loki Fanatics (collectively known as Loki's Army) give me the heeby-jeebies, but they're still mostly safe. Not to mention, Tom Hiddleston is having way too much fun in this scene, but I want you to watch this clip from the San Diego Comic Con where a hall of almost six and a half thousand people are in the presence of Tom Hiddleston, in-character as Loki.

Ironic that, in-universe, Loki is fighting to control humanity, yet when Hiddleston appears in character before a screaming crowd they spontaneously begin chanting his name, and as one fall silent when he raises a single finger to his lips. That's both a sign of Tom Hiddleston's stage presence as well as the blind devotion of these people.
But the reason I wanted you to watch the clip is for the screaming. I'm sure many people have heard the term "hordes of screaming fans" before, but I have never understood that mindset that it requires.

I get that these people are very passionate. But screaming? Really? How is that a good way to show your passion. To be clear, I'm not talking about what I would call "crowd-noise", just everyone sort of going "yeah" or "woo!" at the same time. That's, effectively, the same thing as applause, just the audience letting the one on stage know that you appreciate them, as a a collective group.
When I say "screaming" I mean the desperate squealing, pleading & professions of love from the people in the audience and the people that yell so loud it hurts. Who does that?

I haven't mentioned it yet, but I've actually got a girlfriend now and have done for almost two months (which means I've officially completed all three of my news year's resolutions for 2012). The reason I bring it up, beyond the fact that she's constantly on my mind, is that, as much as I love her, I don't scream at my girlfriend. Not once would I consider walking up to my Beloved and - to show my devotion - squealing in her face or crying or jumping up and down or waving banners while shouting.
Admittedly, that is a personal relationship it's a little different from the relationship between celebrity and audience, but the principle remains. That principle being: I don't scream or cry when I see her because she's a human being.
No one I know enjoys it when someone screams at them, especially if it's a stranger. So, why do fans do it? Well, I have a theory . . .

See, I think that the word idolize is very apt because an idol was, originally, just a statue that represented something more (just check the definition). It was just a statue, a thing, an object. An idol looked like someone, but the idol itself is not alive and it doesn't have feelings, it's merely the figurehead.
So, considering the way that people seem to be able to scream at celebrities and fantasize about them without considering the feelings of that celebrity, I can't help but feel like, to celebrity fanatics, their celebrity might as well be a statue, or in the very least they treat them less like people and more like things. Because it doesn't matter what the celebrity does, they will continue to see them as this idealized concept of a supreme being.
In this way, the word idolize can be seen as similar to the word objectify. If hardcore fans thought of these people as people, they wouldn't treat them the way that so many do. That's how you can tell the difference between an agreeable audience member and a fanatic; the fans are the people that can get angry when someone tries to change their perception of their idol.
When celebrities commit a crime, their fans defend it. When celebrities say something stupid, their fans justify it. When celebrities are wrong, their fans agree with them.
Fanatics don't think of celebrities like objects, but they don't think of them like humans either. "To err is human" and hardcore fans don't allow their idols to be flawed; they refuse to believe it even if they see it with their own eyes. There's a reason it's called blind devotion.

There is a problem with this mindset. It's delusional for one, nobody is idyllic and to think otherwise is to believe a lie, it's mentally peculiar. But more than that, these are real people with feelings. Obsessing about someone without their permission and idealizing them to the degree of supremacy is just a few steps removed from erotomania or stalking. And there are a lot of cases of celebrities that hate talking to fans and they hate paparazzi because of the degree to which they invade their private lives.
Now, I'm not saying that this means that celebrity fans are all stalkers! There are actual mental disorders to identify that kind of thing, and fanatics are not that. I don't like this fanaticism of real people because it encourages a similar kind of unrealistic thought process, that's not to say that they're the same thing. In cases of stalking, it's the celebrity that is the victim, but for fanaticism I see it as the fans themselves that are the victims, because they are inflicting themselves with this unnatural mindset towards another person.

So, what does this mean for fans? Does that mean that the Absurd Word Nerd thinks that all idolization is unhealthy?

Well, no. Because there's something very simple that you can do to stop from being an obsessive fanatic: humanize the object of your idolization.
There are good, beautiful, kind people out there that are celebrities and the key word to remember is people. I appreciate Tom Hiddleston myself, that's why I used him as an example. But I won't ever scream about him.
I just think he did an impressive job of acting as Loki, he's an attractive man [citation: my girlfriend] & from interviews he seems like a genuinely nice guy. I don't see any more than that because that's all there is to see.
Even if you do enjoy that euphoria of being swept up in a celebrity's mythology (as some celebrities encourage, such as Lady Gaga) and treat them like some kind of god, then I'm fine with that too - so long as you always remember that they're human beings and deserve to be treated like one.

At the end of the day, both idolization and demonization have a degree of dehumanization, we remove that element of empathy so that we feel less guilty about letting out emotions take over, be they positive or negative. Yet, if you could see these celebrities as actual human beings, with scars and flaws and idols like the rest of us, then you'd be much less likely to act so childishly around them.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and if you'll excuse me, I'm going to run off and join Loki's Army. Long Live Lord Loki!

1 comment:

  1. Idolization is a tricky thing to ignore. On one hand, we want to believe that someone who creates a perfect product-- be it a book, character, or even a piece of art-- is a perfect person. We believe the stories that the press releases about their lives, about the single mothers who write in coffee shops.

    The other problem is that the media doesn't always tell the truth, and neither do the subjects, so when a celebrity is accused of a crime -- say J.K. Rowling accused of plagiarism-- and there's no clear evidence, we fans often default to defense mode because we have no truth on which to found our conclusions, only loyalty.

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