When Does Fan Devotion to a Favored Celebrity Become a Problem?

Are there situations where fans' constant connection with celebrities and brands can turn out to be a net negative? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Zoe Fraade-Blanar, Author of Superfandom, Co-Founder of Squishable, on Quora:

We’re often asked if fandom is just a form of marketing. In a way, yes. At the heart of almost every fan object, these centers of emotion and love that arise from pop culture, lies a commercial product. A thing that can be exchanged for money. It might be a product, an experience, a ticket, or the advertising value of our eyeballs as we watch our favorite YouTube channel. In fact, another definition of fandom is ‘externally-generated branding’.

Having said that, it’s important to understand that the commercial nature that underpins and supports these things we love in no way invalidates the important cultural work that they do. The inspiration a teenager might feel from watching the Hunger Games franchise, or the empowerment they get from buying its T-shirt, is in no way lessened by the fact that the experience originates in a profit-minded corporate business meeting.

Fans are smart. They understand that these things they love are almost always, in some way, make believe, and they find value in playing along. Darth Vader isn’t really trying to take over the Galaxy, the outcome of the sporting event won’t really change the world, and even the most lovely celebrity would look very different indeed without the constant care of a personal stylist. Fandom relies on a tenuous compromise: fans actively choose to ignore the unwanted implications inherent in the things they love as long as they aren’t forced to confront them.

Of course, that means that when fans do find themselves forced to face a truth that’s different from the one they’ve build in their minds, the reaction can be much more negative. We feel much more betrayed by revelations of misogyny from a celebrity like Bill Cosby, who cultivated a good-natured family friendly context, than we do by celebrities with an unapologetic history of bigotry.

Fan object - the brands, organizations, and celebrities we love - benefit from fan’s constant scrutiny... except when they don’t. It’s important for them to consider what allowing fans that level of access will reveal. Will that transparency make fans feel like insiders, or will it make them feel like they’re being betrayed BY the insiders?

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