While twitter trends are unpredictable and oftentimes not a good reflection of what is actually happening in the world at that moment, there is one amorphous group that can be counted on to consistently be in the top ten: they are of course, the various pop fandom groups made up of preteens and teens (mostly) that back one singer, tv show or band and work hard to defend their identities. They go by cutesy names like “gleeks”, “directioners”, “twihards”, “beliebers”, etc. and they can be found all over twitter fighting the good fight.
Preteens and teens are especially good at doing this because they literally have all the time in the world. They have absolutely nothing better to do than to sit online and stoke virility. Their trends have become so common that seeing something like “#43millionbeliebersstilllovejustin” trending is par the course on twitter, something to be ignored and skipped over as more serious trends like “Cairo” or “#badbandnames” engage your attention.
Last night though, the preteens rose their little idol worship obsession into something more: the collective consciousness of the rest of us. Sometime on the night of August 16th, a hashtag began trending that was obscure enough to beg for the uninitiated to click it “#RIPlarryshippers”. Who was Larry Shippers? Did the world lose another celebrity struggling with substance abuse and paying for a life of excess? No.
— RIPLarry + Elounor3 (@ellie_chase7) August 16, 2013
Reading a few tweets exposed that Larry Shippers wasn’t a person but in fact 14 young, fresh faced One Direction fans who, like sunni and shiite muslims, had been recently engaged in a sectarian war with other One Direction fans over whether two bandmates (Louis and Harry) were romantically involved. It’s apparently a big deal if your version of a big deal is following the lives, rumors and Public Relations releases of pop bands. Unfortunately, it took tragedy to remind these preteens that even if Louis and Harry weren’t together, ALL Directioners were deserving of life. The tragedy was the alleged suicide of 14 (or 28 or 42 or 56?) “Larryshippers” (Larryshippers = people who were pro-louis and harry having sex) after a scathing documentary that was released on England’s Channel 4. So damaging was the documentary, so tasteless and unfair, that teens were driven to suicide over just watching it. It was like a more efficient “Ring” video.
Also it happened to be complete nonsense. It is, without a doubt, not true. Not one scrap of evidence supports that a single child killed themselves over the Channel 4 video. It simply did not happen. But that wasn’t going to stop the Directioners who were really gaining traction with this thing.
Manufactured outrage is nothing new. Fox News has built an entire network on the premise. People love to feel outrage. I suspect it has something to do with the simplicity of it. Channel 4 is a “hater” and because it hates One Direction (probably from jealousy), it made an unfair and untrue documentary that was so mean that it drove kids to suicide. Immediately after the outrage began, One Directioners started posting anti-bullying pictures and numbers to suicide hotlines. It’s well meaning, but completely misdirected. The message being lost when the same “anti-bullying” fans threaten to kill people working at Channel 4 for being mean. It also assumes that a documentary picking on One Direction fans is somehow driving people to suicide, which it wasn’t. These kids are at risk of bullying and do commit suicide sometimes, but for all the uninteresting reasons that most kids do.
The general sense of bafflement (as an outsider) continues as you watch other “fandoms” come to One Direction fans’ defense. Directioners started retweeting this picture, taken from a tweet of a belieber:
Which then led me to learn that until recently One Direction fans and Justin Bieber fans had been engaged in a twitter war (as a preteen there are lots of wars you need to keep track of, none of which have the names Syria or Egypt in them).
I would give almost anything to watch this night unfold from the perspective of the Channel 4 team that made the documentary. So many emotions were probably at play. I’m sure there was a mix of bafflement and surprise, but also perhaps a sense of powerlessness. Do they need to respond to something so silly? The public at large would probably mostly miss the fake, viral, twitter story but still… a bunch of preteens were going around saying that their tv show just killed 14 (or 28 or 56?) Larryshippers. I still would love to find out what they made of the situation. As far as addressing the outrage, Channel 4 wrote a piece about itself and calmly documented the oddity of the rumors.
It would be easy to believe that this type of event is unique to the unchecked speculation machine of the 21st century Age of Social Media, but I’m not so sure. The faces are probably younger (adults move on to more mature forms of gullibility such as Birther movements and Death Panels) but the premise of an unfounded claim whipping an ignorant group up into a frenzy is a common human experience: think Jews poisoning wells rumors common in the Middle Ages, or Salem Witch Trials.
As I wrote before, these events are probably extremely satisfying to those who allow themselves to become wrapped up in it. It’s so rare these days to be able to freely and openly lose yourself into a self-righteous, targeted outrage frenzy. The sense of community it builds – as proven by the uniting of even the bitterest of enemies: Beliebers and Directioners – has to feel great. It’s also rare to be able to feel like you are really having an impact and by seeing your group’s hashtag trending or retweeting a picture you are made to feel as if you, individually and in a group, have contributed to the success of something big. That’s gotta feel pretty satisfying.
As a whole, the experience of fandom is replacing religion. And here politicians and clergy were terrified that science would destroy people’s belief in God, when it has now been replaced by worship of another kind. It is only when looking at fandom as frantic as this that the Old Testament’s God’s commandment to not worship any god but Him is so reasonable. I guess, in his mysterious way, God knew that in 4000 years he would have to compete with Harry Styles and his smile.
A dangerous threat indeed.
But what is also remarkable is how much fandom borrows from religion: Unquestioningly loyalty, policing of group membership by self-appointed members, fanaticism, fantasy, and even group ritual.
One of the things that struck me about last nights twitter event was how many Directioners invented ways to show solidarity with their (not at all) dead comrades.
— xJUSTINxAUSTIN♡ (@xJETSKEEHx) August 16, 2013
GUYS IN 45 MINUTES pic.twitter.com/iKslENLjF4
— ☆ josine ☆ (@paynerhampton) August 16, 2013
— chloee (@Chloenicole1D) August 16, 2013
— #RIPLarryShippers (@wishyouhadme87) August 16, 2013
i have an idea!tomorrow write in your hand 1DFamily and send me an photo!rt if you will do that!please #RIPLarryShippers
— ♥RIPLarryShippers♥ (@Proud_Directio3) August 16, 2013
It’s enough to make a Directioner get dizzy. If I wanted this much group enforced shared ritual I would be Catholic!