When Fandoms Attack
They’re not crazy, they just love One Direction
“The whole reason I actually got braces was ’cause Niall had braces,” said Natasha, flashing the camera a smile. “Like, I didn’t really need braces. I just wanted them for a fashion icon. And especially because Niall had them.”
Natasha, 17, is one of the diehard One Direction fans — Directioners, they proudly call themselves — profiled in Daisy Asquith’s film Crazy About One Direction. Asquith’s documentary follows not the British/Irish boy band themselves, but their fans — the first One Direction-related film to do so.
The fandom consists primarily of an army of teenage girls, who, according to a 2013 Buzzfeed article, might actually be zombies. Photos of screaming fans charging the stage at concerts sit next to stills from cult-classic zombie films. One caption states “once 1D fans get their glimpse, will chase after them… like zombies would chase a potential meal.”
The Buzzfeed article didn’t incite any attacks from enraged, bloodthirsty fans, but others who parodied the fandom weren’t so lucky. In 2014, the Daily Show aired a clip about ISIS attacks in Syria where correspondent Jessica Williams joked, “Just as you were talking, a new terrorist group has formed, with one member each from ISIS, Al Nusra, Al Qaeda, Hamas, One Direction and the Zetas drug cartel.”
Jessica Williams reports on the U.S.'s long-term counter-terrorism strategy in the Middle East and breaks the news…www.cc.com
Fans read the joke as an attack on band member Zayn Malik’s Muslim faith and quickly jumped to his defense. Though Williams never specifically mentioned Malik by name, fans took to Twitter and within hours #TheDailyShowGoneTooFar was trending on Twitter.
A week later, Amy Zimmerman wrote an article for the Daily Beast in which she likened the One Direction fandom to a terrorist sect. Zimmerman cited the use of “visual and verbal propaganda,” “implied violence and intimidation,” and death threats in her argument.
“I’m part of a fandom that could kill you if they wanted,” one bright-eyed preteen told Asquith’s camera, with a confident air.
And, quite frankly, she isn’t wrong. In 2013, when fans took offense to GQ’s cover shots of the boys, they attacked so viciously via Twitter that GQ’s website temporarily crashed.
GQ posted the interview on their website, and the preface describes One Direction as not only the most valuable pop stars in the world, but also as “the focus of millions of teenage girls’ fevered fantasies, a fact we learnt first-hand when we began to receive death threats from fans after our interview below was published.”
These teenage girls consider themselves a guerrilla army ready and willing to fight, and together have the power to take down any obstacle in their path.
Where does all of this power come from? Hormones, many parents and journalists respond. Psychologists cite pent up teenage angst as source of irrational adolescent behavior; some fans fit this diagnosis while many others are simply happy to gush over the band’s tweets, photos, and interviews together.
Kate Hundt, 19, runs the 1D to Omaha Facebook page. “I’d definitely call it a community,” she said about the fandom, “Some people take it way too far, like to a cultish degree but the sane ones are fun and kind and generous.” Hundt has been an administrator on the page for three years; she answers to hundreds of Omaha-based Directioners, and has “an entire state of fangirls at [her] disposal.”
“That’s an unimaginable amount of power,” she stated, “That sounds ridiculous, but no one gets shit done like teenage fan-girls.”
Hundt has been privy many One Direction-related conflicts and participated in Twitter movements like #TheDailyShowGoneTooFar. For every spat she sees on her page, Hundt notes there is twice as much encouragement. “There’s a lot of support within the 1D fandom I think. I’ve seen a lot of people just looking for someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on and other fans are always down. They consider this shared passion as some kind of infallible link that assumes friendship and I think that’s kind of beautiful,” she said.
Anna Harlow, 17, is a member of a New York City based Facebook group. “I am still in touch with girls I met once or twice while out in New York trying to meet the boys,” she said. Harlow attends regular fan meet-ups in New York City where girls come together to hang out and talk about all things One Direction.
“I have had girls stay at my house while they were in New York just because they were part of the Facebook group — girls I’d only talked to online,” Harlow explained.
When the media looks at One Direction and the fandom that trails them across the globe, all they see are the expressions of mass hysteria. Asquith only showcased the obsessive side of the fandom; the film is full of teenagers terrorizing staff and guests at the hotel where One Direction was rumored to be staying. Twitter wars make headlines, but fan-to-fan birthday wishes, words of encouragement, and other expressions of friendship go unnoticed.
“The media is baffled, I think, by the masses that follow One Direction around so wholly dedicated to them,” Hundt explained, so they hyper-focus on the phenomenon they don’t understand.
Screaming fans have made headlines for generations, journalist Chrissie Russell noted in her article “Teenage kicks: Directioners.” “As far back as the 1800s, Hungarian composer Franz Liszt was beset by female groupies who threw their garments at him and fought over locks of his hair,” she wrote.
And then, of course, came the Beatles, whose fans swept the world with an unprecedented force. “I think every teenage generation needs idols to scream at,” Pat Moore, mother of two Directioners and former Beatle fanatic, told Russell. “I think the One Direction fans are doing what they should be — this is their Beatles.”
Frenzied fans aren’t a new topic, but they are the ones who earn attention from the press. When Beatlemania infected thousands, journalists printed photos by the hundreds of hysterical crowds. Today, thanks to the advent of Twitter, reporters latch on to the Directioners who tweet their inner monologue for the world (and, hopefully, the boys) to read. Like journalists of decades past, they print the evidence that defames fans and suggest the rest of the sane world shake their heads in amazement, and, in some cases, fear.
But journalists aren’t taking full advantage of the new available technology. Sure, we can screenshot tweets and quote self-published fan-fiction, but really we’re just telling the same story with an updated vocabulary. Journalists are effectively ignoring an important facet of the One Direction fandom, and therefore aren’t giving a full story. The fandom of friendship, support and overwhelming love is cast aside in favor of the fans that tweet death threats and create erotic fan art.
The compassionate side of the fandom operates seemingly unnoticed, but it’s this side of it that’s the glue holding Directioners together. The mutual love and friendship make the fandom a place many girls call home.
Harlow sent in a few screenshots of posts in the NYC fan page. “I JUST WANTED TO SAY THAT I LOVE YOU GUYS,” one girl posted.
“Having a bday party,” another fan wrote, “ur all invited (flights not included).”
“I can send you dozens,” Harlow offered. “More like hundreds, this shit’s been going on for years,” she said with a grin.