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!
A few days ago, after attending the funeral for James Gandolfini, Alec Baldwin got home to find that a reporter working for the the UK’s Daily Mail had written a (really dumb) attack piece criticizing Alec’s new wife for allegedly updating her twitter during the funeral. Alec Baldwin is not a man who calmly or rationally handles any thing so he disproportionally reacted in a fashion that Alec Baldwin may well go down in history as making an artform out of.
Ending there would have been bad but of course he continued:
Buzzfeed has a roundup of the tweets in which Baldwin labels Stark a “toxic little queen” and a “lying little bitch.” And that’s hardly the worst — see tweet #5, the one about where Baldwin would like to stick his foot.
So like a child getting spawn killed in a game of Call of Duty (editor: is this how we get the youth page views?), Alec Baldwin resorted to the worst and most pathetic insults he could think of, and just like the child, he gay bashes. Because when you’re angry at someone and you want to hurt them, they can’t get any worse than being gay, right? It’s getting old, I’m getting sick of it, and we need to be more vigilant in our condemnation of this kind of behavior (especially when its our friends, the ones who value our opinions and want our respect). But I’m sure Alec Baldwin will get tarred and feathered because at this point we’ve been doing it so long and so frequently that we don’t really know how to stop.
Even while the world collectively scrambles to get another hit of pure, uncut outrage – this time targeted at Alec Baldwin – we must admit that Alec Baldwin isn’t really a homophobe. Not in the traditional sense, not in any sense. Unlike Paula Deen whose revelry in “Southern Culture” makes it unsurprising to find that she has a backwards view on what is appropriate and what is racially insensitive, Alec Baldwin is one of the “good guys”. As he correctly points out in his (non)apology letter, he does have a lot of ties to the gay community. As GLAAD correctly points out in their response to his (non)apology, he has been a huge supporter of gay activism and has donated both time, money, and recognition to gay rights issues.
Let’s face it, Alec Baldwin doesn’t hate gay people, not even a little. Which is why it may seem odd that he can so publicly and hurtfully attack a person using shamefully ignorant slurs. But a closer examination makes it a lot more understandable (if not justifiable).
Just like when Paula Deen tried to explain her use of the n-word as being in response to an aggressive act by a black man, making her “not too happy with him”, Alec’s use of gay slurs arose out of a place of anger. In Alec’s case, judging by his tweets, he was beyond the point of rational thought and was seething with a blind anger only felt by Rocky Balboa after Ivan Drago kills Apollo Creed or Alec Baldwin when his wife got attacked by a gossip magazine writer. In that state, the prefrontal cortex that is in charge of impulse control and “better judgment” is suppressed and your reptilian lower brain has the upper hand. It’s in this state, I would argue, that the deeply normalized beliefs are allowed to come out unfiltered. And the n-word and gay slurs that come out of even kind and caring people seems to suggest that what we normalize is kinda nasty.
We’ve got work to do as a culture, and that means from the ground up, to reduce the subliminal levels of hate towards the gay community. It’s easy to laugh off an angry bigot crying about marriage being ruined because same sex couples get to share it too, but what about the implicit stuff? What about gay jokes in movies and on TV that aren’t meant to be taken seriously but still lightly suggest that there is something different about gay people? What about “no homo”? And what about the stereotypes that Jason Collins is helping to dispel but still pervades sports that gay people can’t play at the same level as straight players? These are examples, and by no means a complete list, of areas in which we are still struggling with the inclusion of LGBT people into our larger in group. And when Alec Baldwin got mad enough, he went there. That’s not a good sign.
GLAAD was right to accept his apology, even though they are already experiencing intense backlash for their perceived capitulation to a “celebrity”. But with these cases, we have to take the whole scope of the person into consideration before we declare them unredeemable. In Alec’s case, as I’ve already said, I think it’s safe to say he’s done more good in the gay community than bad. Even though this recent outburst was wrong, it should be embarrassing for Alec Baldwin, but not damaging for the gay community. The people who are overtly homophobic (like, for example, owner of Chick-fil-a, Dan Cathy) aren’t really huge fans of Alec Baldwin anyway, and the people who are fans (or at least like him on 30 rock) are probably not going to go around beating up gays.
Anderson Cooper tried to highlight the hypocrisy of the relative pass Alec Baldwin is getting compared when he tweeted:
Why does #AlecBaldwin get a pass when he uses gay slurs? If a conservative talked of beating up a “queen” they would be vilified.
— Anderson Cooper (@andersoncooper) June 28, 2013
Yes, I’m sure they would be vilified, but let’s remember that unlike Alec Baldwin, many conservatives are actively pursuing to withhold rights from homosexuals. If they gay bash, it comes from a place of truly hating the idea of gay people. Alec Baldwin is just an angry blowhard with zero impulse control, but one who still thinks gays should be allowed to marry.
Instead, if I were Alec Baldwin and in anger I said something as vile as he has, I would feel like absolute shit. And that’s good. That means you don’t want to think that way. That means you’re truly sorry for what you said. And that means we should forgive him, if not forget his transgressions.
Well, I hope you’re happy. You begged and begged. You signed petitions. You wrote emails. You created “buzz” from the ground up. Finally, you got your wish and the powers that be greenlit an Arrested Development season four. Only now it would be released in full on Netflix instant. I bet you were so happy, weren’t you? You probably posted immediately about it to Facebook. You probably didn’t even bother checking your newsfeed to see that 50 of your friends had already beaten you to the punch. It’s not your fault. You were distracted by which clever “inside joke” to use. You decided on Mr. Manager. Yeah, Mr. Manager was pretty funny.
Time seemed to stand still. You would sit there staring at the clock ticking away and it was unbearable to think you still had five months to go before the new season came out. You couldn’t take it! Ugh. You tweeted that exact thing – “I can’t take it! Ugh.” – and all of your friends knew what you meant. You got a ton of retweets.
You poked and prodded. “Did you hear, they’re making a new season of ‘Arrested Development’?” You asked co-workers, cashiers, strangers. “What?!” You’d scream when they said they hadn’t seen the show. You’d make it sound like you were offended, but secretly, you were delighted. You lived for this. Missionaries landing in the New World for the first time must have felt the same way. Finally, some potential converts.
Around a month ago, you noticed a change. Everyone was talking about the new season. Twitter could barely handle the load. All of your favorite blogs were buzzing. Even cable television (yuck!) had promos for it which was weird, like a radio ad for Pandora. Orange was everywhere. So was Jason Bateman. You almost forgot to call off work for the release day and tweeted about it. It got a ton of retweets.
Here’s the debate. Do you “live tweet” it at midnight or should you wait to blog about it after a few episodes? What would Walter Cronkite do? Didn’t journalists back then always carry around a notepad? That was like livetweeting, right? You decide to livetweet. Let the bloggers get scooped.
You read somewhere that the premiere would account for roughly 5% of Netflix’s total bandwidth. This was bigger than the moon landing. You felt ready. All day you had prepared. If the power went out during the show you would kill yourself. You tweeted that. No retweets. They’re probably all getting ready for the premiere.
It begins and it’s all there. The whole gang. The music. The familiar atmosphere of a night spent with the Bluths. But then a joke doesn’t hit. You begin to wonder what happened. You tweet. Your facebook is refreshing increasingly pessimistic views on the season. Someone you went to high school with writes “This new Arrested Development blows”. You are worried he’s right. You tweet that you didn’t like the first episode and a few of your friends favorite it.
You want the old show back. That’s all you ever wanted. You want to be seven years younger, sitting alone in your studio apartment relishing every witty inside joke. Now it just seems like some show. You want it the way it was. Jason Bateman seems a lot more tired. Everyone seems slightly less fresh faced. This isn’t what you signed up for. Not to mention, you can’t figure out any of the inside jokes. They are all so new. Where are the old ones? You begin to worry that maybe you aren’t an Arrested Development expert any more. Now you’re just watching the show like everybody else. You’ve lost the ability to identify potential converts. They’ve all seen the episodes by now. They are just like you, and even worse, you’re just like them.
What were you thinking? Did you expect this to live up to your nostalgia laced fever dream? That’s a laugh. It was never going to. Even worse, the show was out of your control from the second it got picked up. The writers could do whatever they wanted with it and you’d just have to sit here and watch it. It would never be as safe as those first three seasons sitting comfortably in a box set in your TV stand. It was going to make things different.
It might even take time to fully grasp the show. What if it takes seven years? What if you aren’t able to livetweet? How are you supposed to consume this? There’s no manual on how to digest a show that isn’t meant to pass through you in seconds. You’re used to television that passes from eyes to finger tips as fast as the nerve impulses will allow. Now, you feel full after a half hour. You feel bloated and tired. You begin to wonder why you ordered this at all. You didn’t even want this. It was too much, you weren’t ready. Or maybe you were past ready.