Week Three | Fan Mentality

This week in Fandom, we discussed Fan Mentality and how Fan Groups and the subcultures within develop and maintain structure through social and cultural norms formed within the group. Fandom cannot exist in solitude — by design, it is a social activity that must include the interaction with others. These Fan Groups form because of a shared love for the same Fan Object and the basic human need to feel belonging within social context. To bridge these ideas, we read chapters 10 & 11 in the scholarly book, Consumer Tribes.

In chapter 10, titled Temperance and religiosity in a non-marginal, non-stigmatized brand community, Hope Jensen Schau and Albert M. Muniz Jr explain how brand communities, such as Star Trek and Tom Petty have strong followings, yet have very different levels of stigmatization surrounding the brands as well as the fans of these Fan Objects. The goal of this chapter was to identify why fan communities have developed and have also been the strongest among heavily marginalized communities. To express this idea, the authors describe how fans of Tom Petty (TP) as well as Tom Petty & The Heart Breakers (TPATH for short) have built and maintained a community of a non-stigmatized Fan Object and how the community comes together in order to keep the fan base on-brand.

Although Tom Petty is considered a rockstar, TPATH fans are not held socially outside of their Fandom Groups as anything but ordinary. TP fans will congregate at concert venues, private residences, and in chat rooms/online forums to pay homage and share experiences and expertise within a shared group of aficionados. The authors interviewed fans with varying timeframes in their length as a fan and the results show that TPATH fans are very welcoming to one another, all sharing a common love for Tom Petty and the individual connection fans feels towards him. Each fan documented in this chapter shares their rituals, traditions, and moral obligations that bring fans of TP and TPATH together, proving that the TPATH community is strong and holds a moral obligation to keep faithful fans in cohesion.

In the TPATH fan community there are cultural norms and rules that must be followed when engaging with other fans — in this, we see that there is a policing of sorts over inappropriate behaviors that are deemed against the interpretation (or assumption) of Tom Petty’s personal values, which hold God, family, friends, environment, and America in his highest regard. Online, fans monitor and police other fan postings on the official message boards — they determine what content is appropriate or requires age restrictions. If fans post something that references overtly sexual desires or drug usage (outside of alcohol or marijuana) , the more established members of the community will chastise the poster and in turn potentially ban them from the site. Fans will also unite and defend other fans in the case of being rumored to have been involved with activities that do not align with the image of TP that is held by the fan community.

Fans of TP and TPATH relate to the music and stories linking them intimately with their own personal life narratives. What I find most interesting is the religiosity of the TPATH Fan Groups and how spiritually supernatural they can be — in the instance of a guy healing his injured knee after seeing TP perform with also a rumored injured knee and feeling absolutely fine the next day we can see that miraculous things happen within these fans’ lives and create a more connected and romanticized relationship with their fan object. The power of will is also apparent here — but what I find so appealing with this is that these stories and meanings that fans give to these experiences are far more valuable than the experiences themselves. There’s so much here that is potentially ritualistic in nature, that sharing these experiences with others can bring even more validity to an event.

Tom Petty is pretty removed from his fan base and his fan base is not really much of the groupie type — they tend to engage more with the idea of connecting to the music and not the artist. This is fairly strange for a rockstar as they typically (or historically) have more of a symbiotic relationship with their fans. When reading chapter 11, titled Imprinting, incubation, and intensification: factors contributing to fan club formation and continuance, Paul Henry and Marylouise Caldwell depict that fans of Cliff Richard are more of the groupie type — supporting the stigma around Cliff that he is indeed a sex symbol and holds a layer of escapism. There lies a more interesting experience around celebrity worship and how Cliff Richard needs his fans in order to survive. It is a symbiotic relationship at its best and is a necessary interaction for both fans and Cliff himself. The authors state that “when a celebrity’s need for adoration fuels celebrity worship, the celebrity-fan relationship takes on a symbiotic character; fans and celebrity develop a dependency on each other. Each party becomes ‘willing prisoners’ of their expectations of each other”.

In this type of celebrity worship, what tends to show up are para-social relationships where person
A has a fully developed relationship with person B, but person B has no idea that this is going on and in most cases does not know person A at all. Especially a dynamic where a rockstar who holds a superficial allure, these types of relationships develop. It’s so interesting to think that based on the media people ingest, they are at risk of potentially developing this kind of attachment. When the relationship dissolves or if person A meets person B, and the feelings are exposed as being in person A’s own head, it can be devastating and heartbreaking to the individual who has created this idea of connection.

The celebrity or fan object can be such a huge part of their life that there can be a lack of understanding of differentiating knowing and not knowing them personally, in some cases. For example a kid of a fan ran up to Cliff Richard and hugged him in a public setting, never meeting him before. Because Cliff was a ‘friendly’ face in the home, the child unknowingly placed this connection upon him when first meeting. It is this and other types of para social relationships that are developed simply based on human’s need to connect and belong with one another over a shared space.

In some cases not being able to interact with other fans is an extremely lonely experience and takes away from the value in fandom all together. Fans describe meeting other fans as exhilarating and great to share commonalities with like minds over their love for Cliff Richard. Fan clubs are the goal and when found, they create so much relief in the fan in the desire to connect within a fan group. Feeling accepted is the most ideal aspect of joining a group and diehard fans are in it for the long haul. In some cases, fan clubs can be almost a surrogate family for many members of the group and that several members who developed personal relationships often become the most important of their lives.

The need for belonging and connection is one of the strongest desires that humans have — we can create these chemical releases that evoke the feeling of bonding and belonging even when it doesn’t fully exit; but also thrive and hold a more important value on the experiences we have when we do feel belonging. Being a member of a fan group, where all parties share one common adoration towards a fan object can hold the most important value within some people’s lives. Even so much as to replace their family bond entirely.