It was almost two years ago that I saw Tavi Gevison speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival. She was 17 at the time, and had equal amounts of wisdom and immaturity. I wrote about it here. Her words about fandom have stuck with me all this time. Being an avid reader and fan, she shared many quotes with us. I kept playing this quote she mentioned over in my head, frantically searching for it online and eventually buying the book to read it again. (Can I just remind you how risky it is to google and book called ‘I love dick‘?!)
“You’re shrunk and bottled in a glass jar, you’re a portable saint. Knowing you’s like knowing Jesus. There are billions of us and only one of you so I don’t expect much from you personally. There are no answers to my life. But I’m touched by you and fulfilled just by believing.”
Fandom is believing in something. It’s relating to lyrics and lives. It’s finding the joy in the little things. It is being able to take something of someone you admire with you through your headphones or in a lyrics booklet or in your pocket through a social media app. It’s precious – knowing that you’re part of a tiny, or big community that all feel the same way about a band or an actor or a book.
Tavi seeks solace in fangirlism – something I can relate to so much. She calls herself a “professional fangirl”, and said “being a fangirl is one of the most happying things anyone can do.” Fangirlism is both an expression of individuality and something that brings people together. Tavi said “you might look uncool for expressing enthusiasm” – I identified with that a lot – my friends always tease me for loving Darren Hayes, citing that’s uncool. But I feel the coolest. Because I’ve got this fandom to hold on to.
Tavi said that it’s ok not to like high-brow everything – she juxtapositions her fandom of One Direction alongside Fleetwood Mac. She also spoke about how fans of one idol can tend to look down on fans of other idols – “let others like stuff”, she said. I’ve been a fan of a few celebrities – and most people tell me how daggy I am for loving them. But I don’t care. Just like I don’t mind not conforming, I don’t mind that my idols aren’t mainstream either.
She said “stop worshipping idols, humanise them, and realise you’ve got a place next to them.” And as I’ve moved into my 30s, and with social media providing instant connection with my idols, this is so true. I’ve got a few idols – it’s no secret. I see what they’re into, their beliefs and values, and realise that maybe we’ve got more in common than I used to believe.
My good friend Lauren Moss told me that in her leadership training courses that she delivers to youth, she asks her students to list all the qualities they see in their idols and then list all the qualities they recognise in themselves. Her students are able to see that their idols are human, on the same level, and they share similar traits.
The interaction fans and their idols have on social media is unprecedented. It’s a personal connection, and a window into each other’s lives. I’m sure it could be detrimental to an idol – invasion of privacy and high expectations from fans to respond; and likewise for fans – especially if their expectations are not met. But on the whole, it’s positive. Idols and fans get to know each other like fans only dreamed of.
And now, Darren Hayes has read my blog. I’ve been a fan of his since 1996.
He read it and tweeted me, referencing something I wrote in it. He’s done this a couple of times now and every time it’s happened, I’ve jumped up and ran around the house, squealing.
While that may not mean a lot to many of you, and may seem like I’m chasing celebrity, it means so much to me. For 18 years and counting, I’ve carried his words in my ears and in my heart.
I screenshot all of his twitter correspondence with me. While I can’t say we are friends, we now communicate more deeply than me just squealing at him. We’ve talked about coming out as gay and disabled, and about star wars costumes and my Reddit experience. The stuff we talk about on Twitter is far from the “OMG I love you” conversations I had with him as a younger fan. And I’ve spoken to him on his podcast. He was genuinely interested in my story.
When I wrote about meeting Darren outside the Enmore in Sydney in 2011, I mentioned I told him I loved him and he said “I love you too Carly”. I received one of the most critical comments ever. It sticks with me now. Someone told me they were concerned for my emotional well being because of my love for Darren. And yet it was completely the opposite. Darren’s words validated that he knew who I was.
Tavi’s talk reminded me that there are people who understand fandom and there are people who do not. It reminded me there’s a sense of unity in fandom – unity in love, knowledge, fashion mimicry (floral headbands galore at Tavi, hand printed tshirts at a Lorde concert ) and excitement. Fandom gives the isolated a place to belong.
And maybe this is what kept me going as an isolated teen. Knowing that there are others out there like me, relating to lyric after lyric, and having a special interest that I could devote my time to. One of my best and only friendships in high school was strengthened because of Savage Garden. There were nights spent dubbing videos of their performances, sharing our first concert experiences and feeling excited about this higher being that we’d chosen to follow. And when my friend said she had drifted away from the band and Darren Hayes, our friendship drifted apart too.
Tavi said that it’s ok not to like high-brow everything – she juxtapositions her fandom of One Direction alongside Fleetwood Mac. She also spoke about how fans of one idol can tend to look down on fans of other idols – “let others like stuff”, she said.
I fond this photo from when I was 15 years old, in the queue for my first Savage Garden concert. 5 May 1997. St Kilda. That excitement on my face is the same as I feel now when I think about my fandom.
18 years on and Savage Garden’s greatest hits album was released. I squealed like it was 1997.