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.

  1. 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….
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

 

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Your Fave Is Problematic, What Happens Now?

This is not a new topic.

This is not something that has started happening suddenly. You just didn’t hear it, either because there wasn’t a platform that could let people be heard so quickly or so easily, or because those voices are the voices of people who are ignored and oppressed.

That’s right, a book you love, a book that may even be your absolute fave, has been called out as problematic.

So no book is perfect. I know, I know. But the sooner that is said, the better. The whole reason this discourse exists is because of that sentence; it is physically impossible to find a book that no matter who reads it, everyone will love it. Because it doesn’t exist.

With that in mind, let’s give this blog post a bit of context:

The online book community is a big one, especially on Twitter, where we are constantly in discussion about everything and anything, which is fantastic. But one thing that continually has the community divided is the calling out of problematic content, either already published or about to be published. Like I said, this is not something new; problematic books have been called out for years, but it’s a little more recent that it’s been done using Twitter threads by bloggers and other authors.

An example of universally accepted calling outs are Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey (and I’m lumping them together because a) one is a product of the other, and b) they both fall victim to the same criticism). These two series are well criticized for being misogynistic, perpetuating rape culture, glorifying abusive relationships, and romanticizing abusers. People got defensive, and instead of actually listening, they shouted.

This reaction is natural, but also does nothing to help the matter.

More recently, and on a smaller scale (to a certain extent), minority voices in the online book community have started calling out problematic books on Twitter. Examples include Sarah J Maas’ books, soon-to-be-released The Continent, and in the last few weeks, Nevernight. I wanted to write this blog post because before, I felt I could not speak about this subject from a personal point of view; but now that one of my favourite books of 2016, Nevernight, has been called out, I feel like I can talk about this in a way that will hopefully speak to others who have been in a similar situation and even perhaps dealt with it in the wrong way.

Because ooh boy, does it get dealt with in the wrong way.

So I read Nevernight around mid-July as an ARC. I loved it, and bought a shiny new hardback version when it came out. I raved about it in almost every bookish chat I joined on Twitter, and gave it a glowing review on Goodreads. Cut to a few months later, after seeing multiple call outs about other books that I neither care about or haven’t read, I see Nevernight be add to the pile people like to call ‘do not touch with a barge pole’.

Shit, I thought, and began reading every single thread and consistently monitoring Jay Kristoff’s Tweets like a hawk. Why? Why is this happening to a book I love?

In all seriousness, this is probably going to happen to a book you love.

So, while I’m bisexual and female, I still have a lot of privilege; I’m white, cis, able-bodied, and middle class. But let’s focus on white. As a white person, I have not been subject to racism. I have seen racism, most definitely, but I have never experienced it personally. And so it’s harder for me to notice implicit racism in the books I read because white people can very easily ignore racism, and they do, because that’s what society has taught us to do; everybody is a little bit racist, to quote Avenue Q.

So when I read Nevernight, I did not see racist depictions of any kind. But just because I did not see them, does not mean they’re not there, and this is why the online book community is causing so much drama.

Anjulie, a fellow book blogger, has a very insightful and educational blog post on her experiences with Nevernight and how, as a WOC, she read the book and saw these depictions, and better explains it all than me.

Now, this has happened, and people are calling my favourite book ‘trash’ and tweeting ‘yeah, this is coming right off my TBR pile’, what the Hell is going on? And what can I do?

The reality? Nothing.

Me reading Nevernight is in the past. Me falling in love with Nevernight has already happened. On the one hand, I could stand up and say ‘Yeah this book sucks’, but there are tweets and reviews and instagrams of me saying I love it, and so me saying I think this book sucks would be a fat lie. To me, it does not suck, but at the same time, I cannot ignore what people are saying about it. I can’t disregard how hurtful these depictions are to people just because I like the book. What, if you’re in this position, you should be asking yourself is not what should you do, but what shouldn’t you do.

First off, please, do not defend the book. This is not the same as disagreeing with a review where someone has said the book is shit, this is you, a person not affected by the problematic content, denying a person who is affected by the problematic content a voice. At this point, in a world where minorities are still oppressed through even craftier ways such as casual racism, we need these voices to call us out! And if you are a person who cares more about the book than the fight for equality within literature, then we’ve got a real problem on our hands. You also do not need to defend the author; a lot of people rushed to Jay Kristoff’s aid to harass the teenagers who were hurt by the depictions in his book. Jay Kristoff is a grown ass man and handled the situation fairly well, and you tweeting ‘They’re just cry-babies’ just makes you look like a cry baby.

You also need to not ignore these criticisms, just like you wouldn’t if you were considering reading the book. Nevernight has been slated for having the ‘savage’ depiction which, when based off of actual indigenous or native cultures, can be really damaging and racist. I am not about to ignore these criticisms; I want to know why I didn’t pick up on it before, and also I want to listen to the people who are speaking about it, because it is them who understand better than I do, and it is them who have to deal with this shit day in day out.

This doesn’t mean I have to toss my copy of Nevernight in the trash. But this also doesn’t mean I have to persuade people to ‘read the book then form an opinion’.

The best thing, at this point, is for me to understand that Nevernight is problematic, and to support the voices that are saying so by hoping that Jay Kristoff can do better. Because that’s all you can hope for; I don’t want Jay Kristoff to stop writing books, nobody wants to say to an author ‘You need to stop writing’, and so when problematic content crops up, all you can say is do better, please, because this should not be happening in 2016, in a community that prides itself on being diverse and inclusive.

Maybe an example with a much wider scope is Sarah J Maas…yeah, all of her books. SJM has a massive following, but almost all of her characters are white (with the POC characters appearing in one book at a time and dying at the end), as well as having skewed portrayals of healthy relationships and weird carbon copies of male characters that have ‘animalistic’ traits that force them to be dickheads. Despite mass uproar about this, people still try and defend their fave by calling POC jealous of SJM’s success, as well as voting for a SJM in every goddamn category in the Goodreads Awards. But you know what? You can still enjoy SJM while still calling for better, you can still hope that SJM sees the criticisms of her book and how they affect her readers (‘I want a boyfriend like so-so’), while reading every single one of her books, and the only way to do that is to make sure that the criticisms are heard loud and clear, instead of seeing the people who are genuinely affected by SJM’s lack of racial diversity as the enemy.

So what happens now?

The book you love is problematic, but that does not mean you are not allowed to like it anymore. Sure, the way you feel about it might automatically change, but this is pretty healthy. There are many people who still read/watch content that know how problematic it can be and have an awareness of the things it needs to improve on, but can still say they enjoyed the content as a whole. Coming up soon, I have a post where Nevernight is listed as one of my favourite books of 2016, because it is, but instead of pretending the criticisms never happened, I will explain them and hope people will take them into account before reading. Will this mean less people will pick it up? Probably. Are some people going to see the criticisms and call Nevernight a ‘dumpster fire’, hell yeah they are! This is the internet. But you can still listen to the people who are deeply affected by this on going racial stereotype that just does not seem to stop. It is far worse to flat out ignore what has been said than to acknowledge that sometimes even your faves don’t get it right.

But hey, there will always be better books. As long as you find them and read them and love them. There will always be books that get it right, that deserve to have the exposure.

Only you can decide if you like a book or not, the rest is just influence. I wrote posts on why liking things isn’t a bad thing and why disliking things isn’t a bad thing either. But completely disregarding problematic content is blind faith, and is part of the problem of why there is a lack of diversity within books.

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Author Intention vs Reader Interpretation

So Twitter can sometimes be a bit of a witch hunt, can’t it?

It really depends on which side you’re on; a lot of people will get unnecessarily harassed, but there’s also the case of calling out people who say silly stuff. You could say ‘problematic’, which is what it is, but it’s got to the point where the word is meaningless now.

This topic has been one that spans decades. I even did a few classes on authorship and the ‘death of the author’ because of the opinions on how subjective a text can be when it’s brought out into the world.

As a writer, you get to know that when a story of yours is published, either through traditional publishing, self-publishing, or even just putting up stuff on your blog, it’s going to be interpreted in a different way to you. Know how I know that? Because that human who reads your novel is not the same as you; there are so many factors that makes a human so unique that their view and interpretation of the same things will be vastly different to yours.

A lot of writers, especially incredibly successful authors who may not have a strong connection to their readers (e.g. lack of social media presence, very few signings/event appearances, anonymous writer) seem to have a struggle processing this. There seems to be this discontent with readers interpreting something different to how you, the author, intended it to be. Now of course, you own these characters and this story (which has also been debated, but we won’t get into that) and so you are able to write these characters and this story in any way you see fit. I’ve touched upon this in my post on having a responsibility to represent in your writing, where I explain you shouldn’t be forced to write something you don’t want to, but as a person in power (in that sphere), you should be more open to creating an environment of inclusion and understanding (plus, having characters from minorities isn’t the hardest thing in the world).

However, you should not be bullied into writing something you don’t want to. You’re the writer, if your story is about a group of straight white men, then that’s what it’s about.

But reader interpretation is all about imagination, experience, and relationship. The reader, as a completely separate human from you, will read this text from a different perspective. Interpretation is completely different to canon, and you just have to accept that. You cannot force readers to see your novel how you see it. The majority of the time, your readers will have a very close interpretation to your intention, because that’s how books work. There is a general consensus on the story’s canon; for example, that plot definitely happened because the book is the evidence, or if it says ‘this character has red hair’, then the reader is probably going to picture a person with red hair.

Sometimes, author’s intention and reader’s interpretation can be blurred and also dealt with in a ‘silly’ (problematic) way. And here you’ll find the inspiration for this blog post:

A few days a go, S.E. Hinton, author of the classic and everyone’s set school text, The Outsiders, was asked whether or not two characters had romantic feelings for each other.

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The answer is no, which she does state. That really should have been the end of it. Johnny and Dally are interpreted by so many as having romantic feelings that she’s probably heard this a lot; this theory is not news to her. The problem is that she then goes on to have a little dig at the person, clearly annoyed that people have this interpretation for no real reason than it is not in line with her author intention:

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S.E. Hinton goes to the point of insulting her readers, calling lgbt romance a ‘weird fantasy’ and even pulling out the ‘I have gay friends’ card.

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Oh dear, oh dear.

Things have spiraled out of control. Not only has the author alienated a large part of her audience (who love her book BECAUSE of their interpretation), but she’s also just shown a part of herself that probably wasn’t a good idea to air to the public, especially when you rely on other’s opinion on your book because hey, that’s how you get paid.

Many people on Twitter took to S.E. Hinton’s side and said ‘hang on, they’re her characters, she’s allowed to write them however she wanted’ and yes, this is absolutely right. However, you cannot control a reader’s interpretation. Johnny and Dally, just like Sirius and Lupin, Spock and Kirk, and Dean and Castiel, are not gay and do not have romantic feelings for each other in the text. That is canon, that is what the authors/scriptwriters have said. However, you as a reader can think whatever the Hell you want about those characters. If you consider two characters in media to be in love then why should anyone stop you? These are characters for you to enjoy, it’s why they’ve been written, and just because the story’s canon may disagree with you in that case, does not mean you’re not allowed to think or interpret the text differently. You are not taking over the story or demanding ownership, you are merely enjoying the story in your own way.

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Hell, this is what English Literature courses are all about! I spent a whole term during my A-Levels discussing the homoeroticism in Brideshead Revisited and I came to the conclusion that these two men definitely had a lot of sex. If Evelyn Waugh rose from the dead and tweeted that wasn’t his intention, I don’t think English Literature would come to a screaming halt and re-work the whole curriculum, I think they’d just consider his intention to be another interpretation.

What do you think? Are you a writer and have strong thoughts about how you want readers to see your story? Do you like to take Word of God as gospel and like to stay strict to an author’s interpretation?

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