Friday, May 5, 2017

When Does Fandom Overstep?: Youtube Idols, Real Person Slash, and Pedestals

I'm old.

I think that's the best way to start this off. While I've been involved with fandoms on and off since I was about twelve (or for over twenty years), there are certain things I've missed out on. I'm not very good at Instagram, and I haven't been active in really bustling fandoms in about six years. I also think, due to just my age and experience, I've missed the boat on Youtube-based fandoms. I like Youtube. I have favorite movie reviewers there, but I don't think I quite understand being Youtube famous yet. I guess I'm too used to the celebrity things prepackaged for us by the big movie and TV studios. That said, I was talking with a relative who is going to help volunteer as staff there this weekend, and she was explaining the ins and outs of PlaylistLive, and I realized that there were themes in even the newer Youtube fandoms that made me think back to stuff  a decade before in my television fandoms. All of it made me think about both a) when does support for representation become fetishization of its own and b) where are the lines, especially if people get heavily into real person slash and/or real person shipping?

So basically, my relative compared what she sees in some superfans at PlaylistLive in contrast with what she used to see as a fangirl of Aaron Carter and the Backstreet Boys back in the early 2000s. One thing that happened was that in the 2000s, girls tended to meet up with the boy banders at concerts or mall stops or arranged publicity tours and to go "I like you. You're cute." It was more about just liking a guy for his cuteness factor. However, she pointed out that sometimes among the kids in Youtube fandoms (again, not all but it's an undercurrent), the fans tend to talk about the people they follow in different language, talking about "My idol" and being obsessed with the Youtubers' daily social media influx and "being complete or excited that my idol smiled or was happy today." One of the extensions of this is being obsessed with sometimes gay guy Youtubers or Youtuber couples and, yes, being supportive, but also being obsessive about it.

I just wonder where the line between being supportive and open crosses into a fetishization. Not sexually in this case as the kids are usually too young. I mean more like revering someone so much that you still put them on a pedestal and remove them from true acceptance and a typical range of empathy.

To be fair, you see this in real person slash fandom and fanficcing for non-Youtube based entertainment. This same relative, who has sometimes still channeled her inner boy band lover, has told me that in One Direction, two of the members can't stay in the same hotel, sit near each other in publicity shoots, or be on talk shows as a duo. In that fandom, it's been popular for fans to create fan images as well as fanfic about the two real life band members in a homosexual relationship. It's gotten so problematic, that it literally has included sending death threats to their real life girlfriends and, in one of their cases, their infant child because these women (and the baby) had to be beards hiding a relationship that doesn't exist. While real person slash is its own animal and not the same as just rooting for a favorite in real life gay couple, it still seems to be a way in which fetishization and extreme treatment can thrive. Personally, whether its fanworks about a real life het or real life homosexual couple, I think it's inappropriate. Those are real people with real lives one is portraying and it seems to cross some fandom lines. If it gets to the point where people believe it is true, despite everything else and reality, and where it causes fans to harass family and actual girlfriends (boyfriends) then it's a huge problem.

I've also seen it from afar by being familiar with, though not in Supernatural fandom. I know that when Jared Padalecki announced he was expecting a child with his wife, fans were extremely angry as they had in some extreme segments convinced themselves that "J2" existed and that the lead actors of the show, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles were also having an affair. Some then wanked that the pregnancy and marriage were a publicity stunt by the CW to hide the real relationship between the actors (again, one that didn't exist). Those fans who got angry, literally sent the wife messages on Twitter and message boards along the line of hoping she'd miscarry.

It also affects fandoms in which at least one of the actors in the real person slash pairing is gay. Chris Colfer and Darren Criss had a similar vocal subset of fans who wanted them together in real life and not just on Glee. So both had nasty messages sent to significant others and sometimes would get fanart (explicit) given to them at fan signing events.

Again, at the risk of starting a meme, this is not all fans or not even a huge proportion of fans. However, real person slash and being extreme levels of excited excited for every picture of the Youtubers kissing seems to have some similar feel or overlap. Apparently, per my relative, the young fans will get so excited they'll collage all the images or cry over the posts. I get that in some cases with Youtubers who are honest and out, it is a matter of representation that is giving hope to other queer youth, but some of this feels like almost a form of ownership of someone else's public image. The fans, whether of Youtube or TV shows, expect and want certain relationships to exist (even when they don't in reality) and they elevate the (usually) m/m interactions to a point that feels less like being happy for people in love (in the cases where it's actually happening) and more like reveling in cute boys kissing and idolizing people without really caring about them as individuals.

I guess I don't have a conclusion for this outside of real person shipping is a slippery slope and that when you go to the extremes of sending the stars' underage siblings and parents the detailed fanart images of the slash sex or posting death wishes to babies, then you need to step away from the keyboard. However, as far as PlaylistLive, Youtube fandoms, and the elevation of idols, I don't know if I have a conclusion to offer. I'm glad that Youtube allows for more representation (when their algorithms work right), but I worry sometimes that when it becomes more cultish/based around "my idol" talk and that the young fans may be dehumanizing the gay stars in a different direction, where pedestals replace actual empathy. Thoughts?

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