The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Opinion: Fandom (or, The Unexpected Virtue of 1D Fans)

Henry Scanlan peers into the world of a One Direction show and learns some valuable lessons


Last summer, in search of a quick buck, I worked for a few days as a bartender at a series of One Direction gigs at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. While wading through thousands of feverish fans on the first morning to get to my work station, I’d been observing the crowd with an anthropological mind set, studying their behaviour as man studies monkey. The screams, the panic, the occasional bouts of violent shoving—it all seemed strangely inhuman. I now realise this was grossly unfair; after three days of basking in reflected euphoria, I picked up my payslip with nothing but respect and admiration for these people, who I now fully recognize as fellow humans. More than this, I think most people could learn a thing or two from the starstruck social group that has reincarnated in various forms (East 17-ites, Bieberites etc) ever since Beatlemania.

First off, the energy, dedication and stamina of these fans is astonishing. These people will wait in the rain for seven hours in a fenced-off pen like battery chickens without food or drink. They’ll spend hours creating colourful plaques from papier-mâché. Their spirits can’t be crushed, and when the show starts, they don’t miss a beat. Sure, there are plenty of cameras held aloft, but only in moments of respite from shrieking and jiggling and going catatonic with joy.

Meanwhile, peer into a gig in one of the dimly lit venues of Manchester. The music will probably be good, and the band might receive a good deal of support too, but more often than not there’ll be something stopping the crowd from really letting go. Some near-palpable force is shackling the crowd from unleashing their inner spirit with reckless abandon like those hormonal younglings at One Direction shows. Sure, there’ll be a few mavericks actually enjoying themselves regardless of their surroundings, but most of us will cautiously gauge the ambience before we get carried away by, say, taking our hands out of our pockets. Now, I’m not saying this is a bad or unnatural thing. People are insecure, and obviously there isn’t quite the religious, out-of-body experience, “look I brought you some of my toe-nail clippings” kind of vibe present during Beatlemania and the like. Some might say that the terrifying outbursts of emotion hurled by young girls at boybands like East 17, 1D and Westlife might reflect a sense of desperation at the emptiness or disappointment in these teenagers’ own lives. There may be some sad truth to this, and I’m sure the poor, outnumbered security guards charged with barricading 5000 rabid youths with one meaty forearm might agree. But at least these fans aren’t embarrassed. Everything comes out—tears, joy, perhaps yesterday’s lunch—in one huge, purging sweep of unashamed, untainted emotion. Moreover, this is without the use of drugs and alcohol. I’m not sure if there have been any sociological studies linking pre-pubescent boyband fans with straight-edge hardcore punks, but there should be—they’re practically the same thing.

As for the rest of us—at least those of us who would consider ourselves to be ‘avant-garde’ in some way—well, we may not have the same level of restless anticipation and unrequited love for the bands we go to see in the Northern Quarter. But is our restraint at gigs, our often snide rejection of broad-appeal music, and hence our desire to exhibit understated ‘coolness’, really a desire to remove ourselves from what we harshly perceive to be the unwashed, crude masses of society symbolized by a One Direction crowd? Is it really a need to separate ourselves from those tasteless, faceless mobs who queue for 17 hours to see their idols just that once before resuming their unanimously pedestrian lives? Is our knee-jerk dismissal of mainstream culture—for instance, the scepticism attached to a once-loved band as soon as they gain a suspiciously vanilla fan base (Tame Impala’s ejection from the cultural elite is imminent, mark my words)—is this really just our fear of losing our grip on exclusionary coolness? Without that—without our claims to uniqueness and preferences that nobody else has—we’re relegated to ordinary cogs in the daily struggle. But to see the shared, drug-free ecstasy of a One Direction show is to appreciate the communal power of the oft-dreaded mainstream. It’s enough to eradicate any snobbishness you might be harbouring. (Hey, here’s a thought: Coldplay were actually pretty great!)

The last grand, sweeping and handily vague rhetorical question I will pose is this: are the hordes of unruly fanatics at One Direction gigs—so often unfairly frowned upon—in actual fact the most dedicated, passionate, pure, unironic and (whisper it) even punk music fans of our generation?

  • Kay

    This is condescending, misogynistic trash. Congratulations on realising that teenage girls are human beings. Wow, would you like a slow clap for that? Don’t see “opinion” pieces being written on the fact that men are *gasp* human beings despite their seemingly unruly behaviour at Man United matches. I’m not writing this just to be hateful; I’m just genuinely shocked and offended that things like this continue to be published and talked about.

    You know what it really is? More than just the overall patronising tone of this article, there are some truly horrible sentiments in here. Like this one:

    “Some might say that the terrifying outbursts of emotion hurled by young girls at boybands like East 17, 1D and Westlife might reflect a sense of desperation at the emptiness or disappointment in these teenagers’ own lives.”

    Or maybe, you know, they’re just really happy to be seeing their favourite band in concert? I’m sorry that you don’t feel comfortable enjoying yourself when you see your own favourite band. I really, truly am sorry about that. But that’s no excuse to throw around ridiculous and entirely inaccurate generalisations like this. She’s a teenage girl, so she must be unbalanced and emotional and desperate and empty, right? Or hey, maybe she’s just out on a Saturday night having fun in an age-appropriate, non-pressuring, safe environment with her peers who are, surprise, also interested in the same things she is.

    Before you assume that I’m just another “irrational” girl, an apparent sub-species that you’ve only recently come to “fully recognize as fellow humans”, ask yourself whether anyone would ever think to reason away a man’s enthusiasm for football by saying it must stem from a deep dissatisfaction and emptiness in his life.

    Don’t insert yourself into a community that you know nothing about and then speak about it as if you were some high observer qualified to pass sweeping judgement on the entire group. It’s not your place to give value to these girls. They don’t need your approval, and I’m pretty sure none of them were asking for it.

    • Alex Daniel

      Kay, you’ve missed the point. Stop shitting on a well-informed, intelligent and obviously well meaning article.You monumental prude.

    • Stephen Miller

      Kay, your rather accusatory assertion that Henry’s well-written, well-articulated article is ‘condescending, misogynistic trash’ is unfair, and, rather misguided. Henry is, by all accounts, a male university student. By social conventions and parameters, he would not know all too much about the inner-workings of the One Direction fandom. But, why would he? This is an article written from a kind of ethnomusicological perspective, in that he has written it as ‘an outsider looking in’. The article, actually, is full of praise and admiration for 1D fans, which challenges the stereotypes and misconceptions that I’m sure a lot of people have/had about 1D fans. That, Kay, is good journalism. What if this article was written by a female writer? Would your misogyny argument carry as much weight behind it? Take Henry’s name away from it and I wouldn’t be able to tell from which gender perspective it came from. I can completely understand the frustrations you, female-oriented fandoms and other 1D fans must have when you have an article written about you/them when they are not a part of the fandom itself. But the intentions here were positive and complimentary.

    • Sam

      Stephen nailed it. To call Henry’s article condescending, misogynistic trash is literally outrageous. Quite clearly written (very skillfully) in a particular tone, of comic bitterness and jealousy at the fact they have a better time than most other gig goers, the article doesn’t attack 1D fans at all, let alone bring sex into it. It’s supposed to pull you in and out of this image of rabidity, holding the extremeness of these fans on one hand and their commitment on the other, letting you compare how strangely different the two things are, despite them being closely related. If the article seems sweeping towards 1D fans, that’s because it’s meant to be – it challenges these preconceptions and distorts them. After personally witnessing gigs which see fans throwing up, fainting and flipping shit then yes, I would also question the fans’ humanity (in a hilarious way because I love that ridiculous behaviour). Does that mean i’m questioning it because they could be all the same sex? no – i’m questioning it because they are literally fucking mental. It doesn’t even matter which band i’m talking about. Slipknot fans are literally maggots and, at band signings, love to give the band gifts like dead chicks. It’s disgracefully wonderful, and makes me laugh and question their humanity, but does it mean I’m insulting every devil horn-wielding metalhead out there?
      Also, I would personally 100% consider that men’s enthusiasm for football stems from a deep dissatisfaction and emptiness, because football is shit.

  • Henry

    As you may have predicted, I’m refusing to accept any of your accusations.
    First of all, the intention of the article was to encourage people to reassess cultural snobbery. A basic template: A guy shakes off his negative preconceptions about a group of people and type of music by getting a taste of the experience, and comes to an understanding and appreciation of what he once thought to be beneath him. I didn’t write this seeking to validate anyone’s existence, nor do I assume they need it. Essentially, I wrote this about myself and others like me who are susceptible to music snobbery and condescension, and who need reminding that listening to more sophisticated music doesn’t make them better people. I’m disappointed that you find the article condescending, seeing as it was intended as an attack on condescension. One gripe of yours that I can understand is about the ‘patronising tone’. Fine. I’m trying to make observations about people whilst maintaining a light tone and attempting to appear intelligent. Sometimes the tone can unintentionally stray into patronage. Shoot me. You’ll find the same problem with almost every music publication you pick up. Admittedly, some of the language I used was regrettable, but I didn’t think to proof read the article for potential misnomers that might offend bubble-wrapped little toothpicks like yourself. I can be so forgetful sometimes.
    Secondly, none of the article’s content is malicious or gratuitously offensive, and frankly I’m amazed that you’ve managed to infer ‘misogyny’ from thin air, but you’re probably very good at that. None of my ideas are exclusive to females. Your point about football fans is important: I could have written a parallel piece on Manchester United fans, because most of the same ideas apply. Maybe I will, just to level the playing field. Then again, maybe I won’t, because that would represent a kind of victory for you. I regret the use of the word “hormonal”, because it wasn’t a relevant description and it misleadingly placed emphasis on something I didn’t want any attention drawn to – I got lazy. It’s the sort of trigger word to set off the knee-jerk outrage that you’ve expressed. My bad.

    “ask yourself whether anyone would ever think to reason away a man’s enthusiasm for football by saying it must stem from a deep dissatisfaction and emptiness in his life.” I absolutely believe there to be truth in this, and I’ve thought about it many times in the past. Football is an escape from day jobs and mundane everyday life, and a stadium on match day is an arena in which passion and frustration and emotion can be purged in a ritualistic atmosphere. I should know – I’m one of them. Similarly, 1D gigs, to me at least, appeared to provide an escape into euphoria for teenage girls, just as most arts and recreational activities provide escapism for most people. You may disagree with these ideas, but I absolutely refuse to entertain your dismissal of them as “horrible” or objectively wrong. I see it as a harsh truth that is in no way specific to teenage girls. Maybe I shouldn’t have included this ‘harsh truth’, because, again, I didn’t account for delicate little snowflakes rifling through the article in search of problems, and even if I did, I’d never let it influence my writing.

    Before you hone in your next unassuming victim, I suggest you read this article:

    I mean, really. People like you must be no fun at parties.

    • Kay

      I understand your intention behind writing this article. That doesn’t mean it makes a valid point. Your thesis for your argument in this is literally “teenage girls are human beings and here’s why”. I don’t appreciate being called a “bubble wrapped toothpick” or a “delicate little snowflake” for pointing out that “teenage girls are human beings” is not an opinion (and, by the way, I find it interesting that you apologise for drifting into a patronising tone and then directly proceed to patronise me). There are a million different ways that you could have structured this to make it inoffensive. “I worked a bunch of One Direction gigs this summer, and it actually wasn’t so bad” is a valid opinion. Similarly, “I worked a bunch of One Direction gigs this summer, and it was fucking terrible” is ALSO a valid opinion. “Teenage girls are human beings” isn’t.

      There are a lot of things I want to say here, but I don’t want to come off as attacking you. Because I’m not. I don’t know anything about you, I’ve never met you. You might be a perfectly nice guy for all I know. I’m not here just to piss you off or ruin your day or anything like that. All I was doing was trying to point out the casual misogyny in your thinking (yes, misogyny, and no, I didn’t pull it out of thin air; writing an article with that thesis is essentially misogynistic). My first comment was written in anger after having just read the article, so I’m sorry if the way I phrased things offended you (“didn’t think to proof-read for potential misnomers that might offend bubble-wrapped toothpicks like yourself”).

      And to the other commenter who said that my anger wouldn’t be justified if this had been written by a woman – yes, it absolutely would. Articles like this HAVE been written by women, countless times, just as they’ve been written by men. They’re still gross when they’re written by women. The content and sentiment here is nothing new, nor is the angle. That’s why I’m so sick of reading things like this. Articles like this have been published since I was a teenage girl myself. Since before then, probably.

      Last thing I’ll say on the topic because I don’t particularly want to spend much longer explaining myself – My main issue isn’t with the fact that you wrote an article validating the boyband phenomenon. That’s totally fine, go for it. It’s not wrong to say “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t be music snobs”. That’s a sentiment I actually completely agree with. Music snobbery is annoying as hell, and people who claim to only listen to “real music” are exhausting and probably boring as well. I want to make myself clear that I’m not upset about that part of the article. I’m upset at the angle it took and the fact that the main thrust behind your argument wasn’t “pop music isn’t actually so bad”; it was “teenage girls aren’t actually shrieking balls of hormones and are in fact human beings”. That’s the part that’s offensive.

      • Henry

        Look at it this way: if this had instead been written about football fans (as it might as well have been), would you have jumped to the assumption that I was writing about all men? I don’t know why you assume I’m generalizing all teenage girls. The demographic I’m writing about is obsessive fanatics, and I could have applied the article to football fans, comic book fans, death metal fans, whatever. It was supposed to be about the virtues of passion and dedication and carefree expression in cultish fanbases. You may not appreciate being called a “bubblewrapped toothpick”, but I don’t appreciate having my article completely unfairly – and very publicly – trashed and labelled misogynistic. It’s the sort of thing that could paralyse a writer.
        “I find it interesting that you apologise for drifting into a patronising tone and then directly proceed to patronise me” – Just as your first comment was written in anger, so was my first response.
        “teenage girls are human beings and here’s why” is not the slant of the article. What you’ve done is taken 2 or 3 words buried in the opening paragraph and told me – the guy who wrote it – that this is the entire thesis of my article. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. I’ve already apologized for some of the language I used – “anthropological mindset”, “man studies monkey” etc – and I can see how that could’ve been misleading. Go to a One Direction gig, and you will in fact see levels of hysteria that just could not be classed as normal, but I agree there were more tactful ways of going about explaining it. If I could rewrite the thing, I’d leave that stuff out, and this misunderstanding would never have happened. I’m accountable for unthinkingly planting one or two potentially offensive terms in there, but you are just as accountable for letting these tiny caveats cloud your mindset and interpretation of the article. So I think maybe we’d both do well to learn from this.

  • Abbey

    Kay, as a fellow female human being on this planet, I am frankly a lot more appalled at seeing yet another “feminist” making us all look stupid in front of our male counterparts, and I would say in fact you are pushing our cause of equality (something which I am an avid campaigner for) backwards even further. I get your points, I really do, but when Henry has quite clearly come back with a response which details that this article was NOT just about women, but in fact all fanatics of any popular culture, which you just simply choose to ignore blindly and stampede along with your “this is misogynist” bollox, then this is what leads men to label us ‘man haters’ and not listen to anything further that we have to say. I will fight true sexism until I’m blue in the face, and I stand up to any man who refuses to back down on his misogynist principles, but seeing as Henry here has explained his true premiss for writing this article, then please just except that he might actually be a decent male who is genuinely not a misogynist prick: feminism is the fight for equality and to accept men as valued people too so your idiotic sweeping generalisation of all men under this category is quite simply ridiculous. Your type of feminism and bashing of this type of thing so blindly is what is keeping us stuck in the dark ages. Not every article is about women and there’s no point reading feminism into things which are harmless; like I’ve said, it makes us look frantic, stupid and irrational, which I’m afraid in this as a fellow woman I feel you have come across like. i really enjoyed this article, it did make me think differently about 1D fans who usually I would slate.. male or female (ho-ho), this really didn’t need to turn into a feminist protest. (And no, before you come back with the whole “we shouldn’t feel embarrassed about looking irrational or stupid in front of males you have been brainwashed by society into feeling this way by men”- no no no, you have completely missed the point of what I am saying)