Stick around the internet for a while and you’ll run into a fan – or more likely than not, hundreds or thousands of fans at once. We’re talking Barbz, Swifties, the Navy, the Beyhive, the Army, Selenators, Beliebers, etc. If you don’t belong to these fandoms (or their rival fandoms), it can be a bit like an avalanche burying you alive: out the nothingness, a sudden online burial of excitement, edginess and alienating jokes.
The Atlantic Ocean staff writer Kaitlyn Tiffanys, Everything I Need, I Get From You: How Fangirls Made The Internet As We Know It† which came out this week serves as a guide to moments like these and much more. Tiffany, a One Direction fan herself, takes fandoms seriously and in the process discovers something far more interesting and weird than most popular coverage of them allows. The fervor that fans have for their favorites, she argues, has fueled the social internet, shaping its voices and patterns, and, in some cases, what may or may not be a popular feature on this or that platform.
Tiffany’s goal was, in part, to replace the “inchoate image” of “a screaming, hysterical fangirl falling to the floor and overcome with emotion” with “more specific images of different fans using fandom for different purposes,” she said. on the phone to me recently. Below we talk about the benefits of fandom and its dark sides, from the conspiracy theories of Larry Stylinson to those surrounding Depp and Amber heard.
(One note before we get into the Q&A. I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask Tiffany, a Directioner, to define the complicated concept of “Larry Stylinson”, so here’s the absolute shortest explanation I can manage: a part of the Directioner fandom known as Larries believes that two of the five members, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson, have a secret relationship, but are forced to pretend to be straight to please the media and the band’s management. The decade-old fan theory, which isn’t true, has brought 1D ranks together, propelled them apart, and has been expressed in an aggressive online trolling of Briana Jungwirth, the mother of Tomlinson’s child. The latter situation is known as Babygate.)
Vanity Fair: Why was One Direction the right lens to explore fandom on the internet?
Kaitlyn Tiffany: First, it was easier to do something through One Direction because that was the experience I personally had. That’s nice for selfish reasons, but also useful for practical reasons, because a lot of things on Tumblr in particular erode or become hard to find over the years. So it was helpful to have something that I was immersed in at the time, and I could try to reconstruct it by finding people who had archived things and things like that.
So that was the practical reason. And the other reason is that I think pop music fandom is probably the kind of fandom that is most visible to most people on the internet. I think aside from, like Marvel fandom, which I don’t have any curiosity about, for that reason I thought choosing a pop music fandom would be important too.
And third, the One Direction fandom, to me it felt like a really rich example of pop music fandom on the internet because of sheer timing. That fandom basically started to take shape when Tumblr became a big platform and when young people first started taking to Twitter in large numbers. One Direction fans could very well personify this idea in today’s fandom because you do so much work promoting the star you love and love hanging out with them behind the scenes, you feel like you have some kind of creator in their career and a responsibility to them.
What are some features of how a fandom, Directioners or otherwise, has made Twitter or made Tumblr?
At the beginning of Twitter, it was basically an empty space and people didn’t really know how to use it or what it was for. So there were a few groups, I think, that started using the platform early on. One of those I talked about in the book was “weird Twitter.” So like you @drils who perfected this kind of internet humor and vernacular. Then I talked a little bit about Black Twitter, which at the beginning of Twitter was a huge cultural force that was actually a lot written about. I didn’t realize this until I was doing research for the book that has been widely written about, such as, what is black twitter† Why is my entire feed Black Twitter when I log into Twitter at night? Writers eventually figured out that this was because the Black Twitter community really followed each other and reinforced each other’s stuff, like, somewhat intentionally, somewhat unintentionally.