I Still Support You! Fan Culture & Cognitive Dissonance
Blind faith is one helluva drug, ain’t it?
I’m almost 25, and throughout my life, I have loved, obsessed over, and blindly followed celebrities and shows and films to the point where my life had been consumed by them. It got easier and easier when the internet became more accessible, when I finally was allowed to have a computer in my room, when we could use the internet while my mum was chatting on the phone. It became easier when social media rolled out, when I got a smartphone, when I was so wired into what my faves were doing, where they were going, and who they were dating, that I could literally find out anything I wanted at the swipe of a screen.
While this celebrity obsession may have died down for me, it certainly hasn’t for teenagers and many adults across the globe. The internet is now rife with celebrity information and a new type of person who is there purely for you to adore. But of course, with an overexposure of information (and misinformation), comes nowhere to hide. Social media and the internet have created new ways in which people can clash with each other, whether that be in opinions (Twitter) or actions (Youtube). Things you might not have known about your favourite celebrity are surfaced, and thus you are faced with cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive Dissonance has been around since always, and I remember trying to learn about it during a sociology class about cults. It never truly stuck into my head until we all started having conversations about blind faith towards celebrities. Blind faith is usually linked to religion (the reason we were talking about it during a class on cults) but it can easily be adapted to celebrity and fandom culture.
Note: From now on, when I use the term “fandom”, I am not including communities who share their love of television shows, films, books, or fictional characters/couples.
Cognitive Dissonance is is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. People experience cognitive dissonance when someone they love does something that goes against their values. So, you love or ‘stan’ a celebrity. You would do anything for them. You consume all their content whether it be music, movies, or Youtube videos. However, they then go against something you believe in; you find out they take drugs, for example. There are many that would find this behavior to not be against their own beliefs. I mean hey, it’s not hurting anyone but themselves and it’s their body. What’s the problem? You end up justifying it to yourself and continue to believe this person is perfect.
This cycle continues on for a lot of people who blindly follow this celebrity and the celebrity will notice, eventually. For many celebrities, this is as far as it goes. Nobody is perfect, despite what your brain tells you when you look at a picture of Harry Styles. But there are some who will push and push your cognitive dissonance so far that eventually your blind faith will be shattered. And to be honest? This is a minority. If you’re already following someone’s life to this dangerous degree then I believe you’re more likely to let larger things slide… say, watching your favourite Youtuber film the body of a suicide victim in the Japanese forest of Aokigahara?
Celebrity culture, fandoms, ‘stanning’, the whole thing has become a marketable way of making a shit ton of cash for your faves and their team. And while I think it’s great to find friends who have the same interests as you (e.g. I’ve found a lot of friends through blogging and our love of books), I think there is a lot of ways in which celebrities, but more commonly social media influencers, do this.
- A collective fan name. The Jake Paulers, The Logang, Cumberbitches, Beliebers. Some of these are created by the fans, for the fans, and that’s as far as it goes. But it’s also a clever way to create, rather than a community, a ‘popular clique that you can only get in to if you buuuuuuy….
- Merch. T-shirts, hats, bags. This isn’t the same as a singer who sells albums. This would be if that same musician then brought out like…fidget spinners, or biros. A lot of the time, an influencer only brings out merch because there’s a demand and fair enough. But merch is a great way to influence your fans into thinking that they are a part of this group, but only if they have merch.
- Targeted tweets. This one is particularly popular with male viners/music.ly stars. You know the tweets, the one’s by Jacob Sartorius that say ‘You look so good today’ where it comes across that he’s speaking to you personally. While I feel Jacob Sartorius is quite young and maybe has a team of adults who does this for him (I mean he might understand how to exploit his fanbase but I’m not sure), I feel people like Cameron Dallas, Nash Grier and other white boy names I don’t know are especially guilty of it. You can also get targeted song lyrics, One Direction songs are full of them.
So, you are a part of the group, the clique, the fanbase. You have the merch, and you have made friends who are just as obsessed as you are.
And your fave does something horrible.
Of course, being a fan of something/someone is all apart of the experience of entertainment. My dad gets excited when a new Star Wars comes out, my mum is in love with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders and even bought a coaster with his face on. My brother loves watching angry white guys scream at games and use the N and F words liberally and experiences cognitive dissonance constantly. I have had my experiences being obsessed with things and people like Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Glee, Marvel, Disney, the cast of SKAM, you name it.
I am a firm believer of enjoying something you love. Do not be ashamed of listening to music that a lot of people hate, read that book that people have been saying is shit. But please, please be aware of the people you are a fan of. My advice? Don’t become obsessed. It’s hard, the internet is so accessible now that it’s very easy to be whisked up in the madness that is fandom and celebrity culture. But the consequences are dangerous. You’ve seen the defense against Logan Paul from his fans, the way fans of footballers and rockstars send sexual assault victims death threats because they dared speak out about their experiences. The environment is too toxic at this point and I just don’t want to contribute to it anymore.
The best thing is to remind yourself that this person is a human. It may seem ridiculous to say it, to even think it because of course you know that. Don’t talk down to me Hollie! (I know I’m sorry). But reminding yourself of this small fact is such a powerful tool to combat this blind faith.
Person is a human.
Person may say and do things I do not like.
Person is a someone I do not know. (As much as you think you know Person, you really do not know them).
You have to know when to stop supporting someone, when to identify what they did was wrong, and not to change the rules because it’s Person. I’ve started to really embrace this new way of thinking about celebrities. I used to see them for the first time in a film, and then Google them for the rest of the night. This sort of came to a halt after SKAM ended, and people started doing the same to the actors, some of whom were underage. I began to feel uncomfortable knowing so much about these kids. I didn’t want to know the names of their siblings, or what school they went to, or if they were out shopping right this second (???).
Maybe I just don’t care about it all anymore, maybe I’m not cool anymore. But I do love stuff, and I love supporting artists on Patreon and ‘liking’ Youtubers videos when I’ve genuinely enjoyed their content. I will support and enjoy being entertained by actors/musicians/Youtubers. But I cannot be a ‘big fan’ of a person anymore. And if a person who’s work I have enjoyed in the past turns out to be awful, I will remain critical and mature in my decision to stop supporting them or not.
I hope this post does not come across as a preachy way of telling you not to like things, or to stop liking someone because they’re a bit of a dickhead. Stan whoever you want, buy all the merch, do whatever makes you feel happy. But don’t fall down the rabbit hole. They see what you do, and if they truly are a horrible person, they will use your love to their advantage.