I took a strange journey over the last month and a half or so. I ventured into the lands of fandom and beyond to the shadowed realms of gossip and “real person stories”. Now I’m back and feeling a bit tarnished from the trip. It’s not that I didn’t meet nice people in my travels, I did and in the most surprising of places, or that I did things I’m deeply ashamed of, I didn’t. It just led me to confront some truths about pop culture and my part in it that have left me uneasy.
The first of these truths is that performers (actors, musicians, artists, whatever) are often treated as characters by their fans. They populate fantasies, are given attributes important to the fan, and their reactions to any of this are rarely considered. They are treated as dolls. Not by all fans or all the time, but often.
The second of these truths is that fans’ wishes for them can take on a life of their own. The web now allows people who’ve been independently building fantasies and imagining certain qualities around performers to easily connect with other people thinking similar thoughts. When the wish (“He must be sweet and innocent”, “She must want children”, “They must be a couple”) is shared, those fans can start to resist anything which contradicts it, even if those contradictions are born of the performer’s own real actions or wishes.
The third truth is that sometimes the story created by a fan or a group of fans is more compelling, more personally significant, more fun than the truth. Good stories are what makes us human, so there’s nothing inherently wrong in making them up, it’s just the potential effect on the real person being used as a character that makes this morally problematic.
As I sit here unpacking my mental suitcase from this trip, I do feel like I’ve been a tourist. Sometimes barging around naively annoying the natives. Sometimes one of a thousand flashing cameras grabbing a moment before jumping back on the bus and never really connecting with the subject of my pictures. Sometimes projecting my own world view onto everything around me. Sometimes meeting other travellers and forming a real connection. Sometimes being horrified by the other tourists and wondering “Am I that bad?” Sometimes managing to stop interpreting everything from my own point of view and instead just see, just be. Always learning. Often laughing.
A strange trip indeed. Saw some pretty sights along the way though, I must say.