Hello, friend, acquaintance, or stranger.
As you must know by now, the British boy band One Direction has decided to take a break for at least one year. This is of huge concern to the media, even though Beyonce herself takes a minimum of two years between each album to bathe in the blood of the innocent and devise new and exciting ways to pronounce the word “surfboard.” Seriously, the coverage of this very uneventful event has brought about an embarrassing regression in the people who’ve assigned themselves to deliver our news and comedy. And let it be known that I hate any mass idiocy that forces me to refer to them as “the media.” I feel like I’m seeking the Republican party nomination.
Here’s what happens if you Google “one direction fans hysterical” right now.
And here’s a discussion of that loaded adjective, which has a storied tradition of being used to gaslight women.
“Hysterical. It’s a word with a very female-baiting history, coming from the Latin hystericus (“of the womb”). This was a condition thought to be exclusive to women – sending them uncontrollably and neurotically insane owing to a dysfunction of the uterus (the removal of which is still called a hysterectomy).” – Gary Nunn, The Guardian
Yep. Our uteruses make us unstable. So, guys: what the fuck? And I’m talking to feminists and allies too, now. You wouldn’t allow a woman protesting the proposed de-funding of Planned Parenthood to be called “hysterical.” Is it the context of these attacks that make them okay? If it does in your mind, then congratulations: your feminism is flawed.
It’s all just so mean. The promo machine and its various channels spend five years shoving a product down the throats of teenage girls (and boys!) everywhere. Performances, award shows, branded merchandise, magazines, a feature film. They tell these fans that loving this band is an indivisible part of their identity. You are a Directioner. You’re a Niall girl or a Liam girl. You’re a Larrie or an Anti. You’re a family. You are the reason for their success.
Which makes the response when there’s band “drama” to be reported feel like a adult kicking over a kid’s sandcastle and then rubbing that kid’s face in the ruins. So much time and money and energy and hoo-doo from Simon Cowell’s radioactive life-extending underground lair is spent convincing girls that this band is the most important thing in their lives. Then they’re ridiculed for buying into it. Everything about the coverage I’ve seen has been gross, especially the gleeful compilations of fan Twitter reactions. A.) I praise Heathus every day that social media was not around when I was a child. I cringe in embarrassment at Timehop posts from 6 years ago, when I was a 26-year-old tax-paying grown-up with a full-time job. I can’t even fathom the kind of bullshit I would have put out into the world at age 11. B.) Oh, you found an extreme opinion or 50 on Twitter? Where all the calm and sophisticated discourse happens? What skill. What research. C.) WHAT ARE YOU ADDING TO THE CONVERSATION? Think about this: there are adults who get up, shower, commute to work, make shitty office coffee, pay their gas bill online, and then point and laugh at heartbroken teenage girls from their position of power and influence. There’s nothing new about 24/7 internet news cycle’s need to “report” on the reaction to the reaction to the reaction to the thing, but, as I’ve pointed out before, the implied judgement is especially hostile when it’s in reference to a cultural phenomenon that falls into the domain of the young and female.
The very best piece I’ve seen so far in the overblown aftermath to the break news came from Vice’s new lady-oriented channel, Broadly. “Why Do Adult Women Love One Direction Slash Fiction?,” in addition to being the title of my upcoming autobiography, is also a clearer picture of one slice of this fandom than any of those dashed off “nyah-nyah, we killed your heroes” responses have offered. The focus here is mostly on the older, straight, and female fanbase, so obviously I identify. One read of this by a lay-person (a sad, non-Directioner, with no joy in their life) and several stereotypes about the kind of people who love this band and the reasons why they do come crashing down.
1. All One Direction Fans Are Teens
Like writer Miranda Popkey, I too have a core group of 401K-holding fellow 1D fans with whom I trade fic recs and impossibly beautiful photos of Harry Edward Styles. The existence of adult Directioners is something that the media would mostly like to ignore, since liking boy bands is stupid, and women who have surpassed puberty are presumed to be at least marginally less stupid than they used to be.
2. One Direction Fans Are Only Fans Because They Want To Marry One Or More Of The Boys
My favorite statement in this whole article comes from a fic writer with the screenname wandaplenn: ‘I kind of want to be [Harry],’ she said. ‘But I also kind of want to be his mother, and I kind of also want to be his girlfriend.’ GIRL. This. That’s why the Tumblr fandom pinballs between calling the boys “my sons,” “dad,” and, in a fabulous Twitter typo gone full-meme, Harry and Louis (Larry) are become: “my larents.” The kind of closeness that a fan feels for one of the guys can change from photo to photo and sometimes within the mere six seconds of a Vine. Observe.
It’s a multi-faceted relationship between fans and 1D: sometimes hormonal, sometimes nurturing, sometimes exasperated. The band is on tour right now, and on show nights, Twitter and Tumblr blow up with reports – not just on what the band is wearing and if there have been any set list changes, but also about whether or not they look happy and how much they seem to be enjoying each other’s company. I felt the same way at both concerts I went to this summer. I paid *muffled mouth noises* to be entertained by a boy band, but ultimately what I wanted most out of the experience was to see them having a good time. And by “them” I of course mean my sons.
3. One Direction Fans Are Timid Creatures Who Are Scared Of Sex
Ah, my favorite fallacy. And my second favorite quote from the Broadly piece: ‘I think it’s actually kind of fucking radical that teenage girls on the internet are writing custom porn for each other for free,’ [author Zan Romanoff] told me in an email. ‘Like, hello, every dude who thinks women are undersexed as a gender: check and mate, motherfucker.”’ Also, it’s GOOD custom porn. “Where are they learning these things?” I asked a friend after reading a particularly detailed gay sex opus. “From other fan fiction,” she answered. What a beautiful cycle.
And what a foolish assumption to make, that the only sexual interest that any famous dude or dude character can generate is A) solely within straight cis girls, and B) manifested always in a desire to bone or dream about boning him herself. I’m sure there’s fan fiction out there about One Direction and original female characters designed in the author’s image (“Mary Sues,” for n00bs), but that’s not the richest part of the fic canon about the band. 1D slash fiction isn’t taboo at all; it’s such a visible, known part of the fandom that fans come to concerts waving signs that reference the most popular smutty love stories. (Jack McQueen, for the win.)
I’m not ashamed to say that it was my exposure to the history of Larry (short for Larry Stylinson, the great ship Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson) that pulled me into this fandom in the first place. I’m never one to turn down a gang of cute, singing boys; but, to be honest, I’d been busy and hadn’t noticed they’d gotten hot. Well, about 20 minutes into my Larry indoctrination and I was hooked. Shipping can and does happen in any circumstances, even between fictional characters from different shows and movies who have and will never meet. Fangirls and boys are persistent like that. But Larry has such a fandom foothold because it feels like so much more than wishful thinking. Sometimes the existence of a current or previous relationship between the two is referred to as a “conspiracy theory,” and it is, in that shippers theorize and collect proof wherever they can. But is it so far-fetched to believe that at least two of these five boys who auditioned for the X-Factor experience attraction to other boys and maybe had a special connection to each other? Part of the appeal for Larries (that’s Larry shippers – try to keep up) is the belief that a tyrannical management team not only forbid them from going public but also put strict limitations on any kind of visible interaction. Old interviews show Harry and Louis full-out gazing at each other, touching each other’s thighs, singing each other’s praises, and being generally hands-y. Now, they barely look at each other on stage and are rarely seated next to each other at any appearance or interview. Pair the perceived longing of an alleged pair of star-crossed lovers with the sexual potential of two dreamy boys in the prime of their lives and a preponderance of slash fiction is the only possible result.
Like Popkey says in her article, there are universal personality traits and little details that span much of the 1D slash fic canon. In fact, I know it was my growing fondness for Fic!Louis that bled over and enhanced my feelings for the real one. It was Louis who I connected with the least at first, maybe because I came in during the “party boy” PR period. (First impressions of the other three included admiration of business-like Liam’s attempts to corral the others; affection for Niall’s harmless bro-iness and Irish brogue; and straight-up awe of the beauty and kindness of St. Styles. If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a ryde or die Harry girl and have been since day one.) But Fic!Louis – mischievous, witty, and sometimes doubtful of his own worth – that guy, I could get a handle on.
4. All One Direction Fans Are Straight
One Direction are gay ICONS. I don’t care that none of them are publicly out. The band has a huge LGBT fanbase of every gender; rainbow signs, flags, shirts and other paraphernalia are in the crowd whenever they perform. There are a lot of reasons for this support, though I’m sure an LGBT fan could be more articulate and specific than me. I’ll try.
(Also, there are obviously LGBT fans of every boy band ever. The difference here is the visibility and the “we see you!” acknowledgement.)
Whether or not Harry and Louis are or have ever been in a relationship, Harry Styles has run out of fucks to give in regards to his perceived heterosexuality. I won’t attempt to label him, but he’s refreshingly free and forthcoming with his support of gay rights issues; known to pull the aforementioned rainbow flags out of the crowd and drape himself in them; fond of rocking designer fashions from both the men’s and women’s sides of the store; an excellent player of “the pronoun game”; and generally a fan of shooting down silly questions that serve to underscore the importance of heteronormativity. I love him for this, and so does his mom. This tweet kills me.
— Mama Twist (@MrsAnneTwist) August 10, 2015
LGBT 1D fans have also found community around the band; Rainbow Direction is an organized movement to raise awareness about intra-fandom homophobia and bullying. Members have represented at every stop on the current tour, sometimes carrying signs emblazoned with an altered lyric from a song off the Midnight Memories album: “You make us strong.”
Then there’s the little matter of the two LGBT teddies that are mysteriously placed on a corner of the band’s stage by someone in the 1D camp before almost every show. (I can’t believe I’m attempting to explain this rationally right now.) The stuffed animals, known affectionately as Rainbow Bondage Bear and Sugar Baby Bear, are always outfitted with different clothes and accessories, which some die-hards believe to be the band’s way of communicating with their fans outside of the approved (and monitored) channels. I understand that this sounds insane, but whether or not the blue and green emoji stickers on the bears’ feet really signify the current status of Louis and Harry (the colors match their eyes, and their mics – just saying), this is a band that travels with two queer stuffed animals.
Of course, there are other misconceived fandom generalities that the Broadly piece doesn’t address. They’re still worth mentioning, especially right now.
4. All Boy Band Fans Are Fickle, Because They’ll Buy Anything We Sell Them
Why don’t you go ask The Wanted if that’s accurate?
The tone of so many of the response pieces that I’ve seen includes the allegation that boy band fans move on quickly and easily to the next big thing with barely a thought for their former loves. This belief would contradict the assertion that Directioners are setting fires and planning protests all over the globe right now, if not for the underlying principle of all of this nonsense: that they – we – are dumb. The implication is that we love this thing because we were told to, not because we’ve developed our own personal relationship to it and to each other. It’s been 15 years since No Strings Attached and I’d still rather shake Chris Kirkpatrick’s hand than any sitting world leader. Test my loyalty, I dare you.
5. Every One Direction Fan Is Despondent About The Break
Like everyone on social media, I follow people who are generally like-minded. Still, a lot of them are major fan blogs and Twitter accounts, all of whom are in strong support of One Direction taking time for themselves. Boy band schedules are usually punishing – managements subscribe to that #4 fallacy, believing that they have to keep their moneymakers working and circulating at a breakneck pace, fearing that they’ll lose their fanbase if they drop out of sight for a moment. Add to that the terms of a post-X-Factor contract, and these four guys – kids when they started – have been working non-stop for five years. NO ONE releases and tours five albums in five years. This output is not sustainable. I would rather have them pause the game for a year than to keep going and flame out completely. Besides, Harry and Louis need a minute to Netflix and chill. *saves post, opens AO3, searches “Netflix and chill”*
That’s not to say that fans don’t have a sense of humor about this or that the break news can’t inspire some actual funny content. (It does, on Tumblr.) But satire is ineffective unless it comes from an educated place. When someone sends me a humor piece that implies that Harry is fiercely guarding his sexuality or incorporates any one or more of the above fallacies in a serious way, it’s no good. All the jokes collapse. At least for someone like me. I like good jokes, from people who know what the fuck they’re talking about.
I’ve been tagged multiple times in that essay warning One Direction against the break, jokingly attributed to Joey Fatone. This, I’m supposed to think is hilarious, because he’s now “irrelevant.” But again, this kind of humor ain’t gonna work on me, because Joey is still more relevant to me than 98% of people you’d call famous currently. Change is the only constant in the boy band life cycle. I don’t think it’s pathetic that Joey is an actor, host, husband, and father. I don’t think it’s pathetic either that the Backstreet Boys still put out great albums and sell out shows, even if the venues aren’t as big as they were in 1999. Sustaining the level of fame that a boy band has in their prime is impossible and I don’t think any of these guys would want to live this pandemonium for his entire life. Yet, the inevitable come-down from the height of it all, wherever that leads, is considered failure. It’s celebrated.
But you, friend, acquaintance, or stranger – odds are, you’re not a journalist. You have no control over the Daily Mail. But I’m sure you see these pieces on your newsfeed. And perhaps, part of you is compelled to send a couple to the One Direction fans you know. But before you hit that share button, think about what you’re doing and why.
Are you seeking out a reaction for your own entertainment? Don’t be a dick. When you ask for information about the state of the band, are you doing so in order to have more ammunition to rag on them to someone who really doesn’t want to hear it? Don’t be a dick. Are you putting your need to have the circumstances explained to you over the feelings of the person whose time and knowledge you’re demanding? Don’t be dick. Do you like it when people judge you publicly for whatever weird shit you’re into? (And you know you’re into some weird shit.) DON’T BE A DICK. I’m not ashamed of the stuff I like, and I don’t believe in the existence of “guilty pleasures.” I understand that that openness makes people who don’t get it want me to explain myself. I don’t mind being the first person you think of when you see some Zayn Malik meme; I realize I’ve brought this on myself. Just remember that I spend a good deal of time every other night squinting at cell phone pictures trying to decipher the hidden meaning of a couple of Build-A-Bear outfits. I know way more than you about this, and I care more too. Sometimes, you just got to keep your opinions to yourself and respect the fan.