Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stalkeriffic! When does being a "fan" go too far?

I can spare you the English lesson about how the word "fan" is derived from "fanatic." But why, I wonder, do we give such a negative connotation to the latter when the former is perfectly acceptable? Everyone is a "fan" of something. But if you add those extra two syllables, you've basically just called someone "batshit crazy" and "obsessed." So where does one draw the line?

I bring this up because of the recent brouhaha over at Oh No They Didn't!. (Let's skip past the whole "yeah, yeah, I'm a card-carrying member and contributor" bit, shall we?) A rundown, for the TL;DR crowd (that's "too long; didn't read," for you non-netspeak types):

A teenage girl - 13 or 14, it seems - somehow purchased the address of her favourite singer's private residence, got her mother (!!!) to drive her and a friend to said house, took a bunch of creepily intimate pictures (things like the guy's dogs, who were inside the house, and what was on his front porch, etc.), and then stuck around for 2 hours until he got home so she could get his autograph and take photos of him with them. (All of the photos and screencaps are at the above "brouhaha" link. I'd rather not host the Facebook profile 'caps of a kid here. Just in case.)

I haven't quite made sense of what happened in which order, but it would seem that the girl proceeded to post the pictures of this guy's house (it was Alex Gaskarth from All Time Low, for the record) all over Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and anything else she could get her hands on...and someone, I suppose, directed Alex's attention to the things she posted. I guess he'd assumed, when he signed the autographs and took a picture with her, that she and her friend had just been passersby who were fans, and didn't realize that this girl had, in fact, hatched one hell of a scheme in order to get to him that night (including, as she so wisely posted back and forth with her friend on her public Facebook status, "Oh we are totallllly stalking him...we cann get arrested together...OMG we can tell the cops he raped u[s] and then we could ride in the same police car as him! FUCK I AM GENIOUS" / "oh my god. perfect! alex fucking gaskarth is a [r]apist! fuck yessss! now we just need someone to drive us.....").

Needless to say, the foul language and spelling errors are not mine. The way moronic teenagers "spell" today is a subject for another blog entry entirely(yyyyy). I weep for our youth(hhhhhh).

But more importantly...did they really just post what I think they posted? Why, yes, they did! LOL LET'S ACCUSE OUR FAVOURITE SINGERRRRRR OF BEING A RAPIST SO WE CAN BE IN THE BACKSEAT OF A COP CAR TOGETHERRRRRRR LOLOLOL

What the hell.

I could spend hours dissecting the many ways in which this is just over the top stupid and flat-out wrong, but I trust you can come to those conclusions yourselves. Rape jokes aren't funny; false accusations aren't a joke anyway; these children need to be chained up...ad nauseum. Here's what appeared on the singer's Twitter page not long after he realized that this fan encounter wasn't quite normal:


I'm a little surprised he didn't call the police, but given the girls' plan, perhaps it was best he didn't. Ay yi yi. The fact that the girl has since taken to begging Alex's forgiveness on Twitter is an extra dose of disturbing. And some of the discussions in the ONTD comments don't help, either. I don't think it makes me a "special snowflake" if I say that no, even at 12 or 13, I didn't think stalking my celebrity crushes was something I just had to do. My friends and I had posters on our walls, wrote silly stories about meeting rock stars, giggled over late-night phone calls as we watched MuchMusic spotlights or stayed up to see our favourite actors in their latest movie. That is what I thought "normal" teenagers do when they're fans...but as you can see from that discussion thread, my opinion is but one in a sea of many.

Granted, somewhere in all of that talk, the subject of social networking comes up. I'd be stupid to say that the existence of MySpace and Facebook and Twitter - hell, the internet in general - hasn't drastically changed the face of being a "fan" since I was a kid. My favourite movie stars weren't accessible at all in most cases, beyond whatever interview popped up in the latest TeenBeat magazine. (Oh, god, I'm aging myself.) Nowadays, you can have long conversations with John Mayer or Clive Barker or Kevin Spacey on Twitter, because it's a safe space for them to get to know their fans, and for their fans to get a glimpse into what used to be a completely mysterious way of life.

(Ah, yes. The Trent Reznor/social media debacle of 2009 also begs for its own blog entry. Someday soon, I promise. In the meantime, this discussion, to which I contributed, does a pretty damn fine job of breaking down the reasons why not ALL celebrities should let their fans see what's behind the curtain.)

Back to the original question, then: What divides "fan" from "fanatic," aside from four letters and the idea that you're certifiable?

I've done some things that people might consider extreme to see a concert of a favourite band (whether spending insane amounts of money for the ticket or travelling to another country - or continent - for the show) or attend the reading of a favourite author (like wearing a bridesmaid dress and carrying a bouquet while roaming around downtown Toronto trying to hail a cab... It's a long story). But as far as I know, I've never crossed that creepy line. I've been lucky enough to meet all sorts of famous people, many of whom I admire greatly and whose work I love dearly. I've gone on to be an acquaintance or a friend of some of these people; others I've seen or met once and have been perfectly happy with that. The line, for me, is that I've never visited myself upon my favourite singer's private property, be it a car or a house or whatever else. Every celebrity meeting I've had has taken place in an open, non-intrusive way: I meet them at their public event, or I'm introduced by mutual friends, or we happen to be at the same club or party, where it's normal to approach anyone and have a drink and some conversation. If ever I end up with that famous person's home address or phone number, it's because that person gave it to me, and nobody's going to buy it from me for any amount of money. If we become acquainted with each other on a more friendly, let's-hang-out level, it happens organically. I'm a collector of experiences, that much is for certain, but I'm not one who is comfortable crossing any sort of line without a green light first.

Take my most "extreme" fan activity: Flying to the UK to see a concert. Yes, I did that in 2008. The band I'd loved for 20 years was touring, but not in my part of the world. I had a good job and was making good money at the time...so I just decided to go for it. My father and I took the whirlwind trip of a lifetime together, visiting our family's homeland of Scotland for the first time ever, and the concert was the icing on the cake. My mother wasn't well enough to come with us, and she'd asked if I would bring home one souvenir for her: A photo of me with the band she loved nearly as much as I did. So, once at the venue, I sent a note backstage with my polite request, and thought, "Hey, if they can do it, great. If they can't, I'm still so lucky to get to see them perform live after all these years." I could've remained just another anonymous face in the crowd and I'd still have loved that show. As it turned out, they were extraordinarily gracious, and invited me backstage to meet with them after the show, and my Mom got the picture she wanted so much. I also came away from that evening having met some fantastic new people, and loved the country so much that I went back again a year later, no concert tickets in hand that time. It was one of the best things I've ever done...and I got to meet some of my musical heroes without being creepy about it. I didn't lurk next to a stage door in the rain for hours, or hunt down their tour bus, or try to befriend security so I could sneak in somehow. I simply asked. And I was rewarded a thousand times more than I'd have imagined I would be.

Now, I know this can't possibly be a typical fan experience. I can scarcely imagine my hardcore U2 fan friends would get a response like I did to a pre-show handwritten note sent backstage. Even bands who aren't as detached from their fans as those heavy hitters are probably very often inaccessible to their audience. But that's the thing: I don't think a band being harder to reach means that a fan should try harder to reach them. It's a fine line, between lucking out and getting that autograph, and turning into a full-time, full-fledged groupie. (Don't get me started on that subject. The road manager of a friend's band once referred to me as a "groupie," and he nearly had his nose broken in return.)

I ask the question again, and have no intention of answering it myself, because I think it differs for a lot of people...and, frankly, I just don't have the answer. Where is that line? What does someone have to do to escalate from loyal fan to psychotic stalker? And the question that is perhaps of the most interest to me: How far would you go - or have you gone - to see or meet your favourite band/actor/writer/celebrity? How far is too far? Is there a price tag, a measurement in miles, or a social line that you can point at and say, "I won't go past that point, right there"?

Here's hoping the teenage All Time Low stalker asks these questions next time, before she again publicly makes an ass of herself. And let us hope, too, that this was her "all time low."

I couldn't resist.