On Wednesday, March 25, 2015, at approximately 12:30 p.m. EST, the internet exploded. Feeds dissolved, statuses reached dangerous levels of emojis, and social networks everywhere threatened to collapse under the weight of millions of tweens (and a few people outside that age range) losing their collective mind. Never has such despair sounded from the screen; tweets turned to caterwauls that sounded the death knell of the world as we know it. The cause of this digital catastrophe, this maelstrom of emotion from so many users who ACTUALLY DIED and JUST COULDN’T EVEN? Zayn Malik announced his departure from One Direction.
Now first, a moment of perspective. Some other stuff, much of it fairly important on a global scale, happened on Wednesday. A plane crashed into the Alps, American fighter jets joined the campaign against ISIS in Iraq, and the Affordable Care Act marked its fifth anniversary — to name a few. But nothing quite captured the zeitgeist like a 22-year old from West Yorkshire quitting his boy band. With only a moderate dose of cynicism, it would be easy to mock the masses rending their virtual clothes over the Zayn incident: Malikgate, as it were. And admittedly, this was my first reaction. While I’ve been known to sing along to the odd 1D song, have even caught a few segments of their documentary This is Us, I would not call myself a devoted fan. (Case in point: It took me several unsuccessful searches before I realized the band abandoner spelled his name Zayn and not, as I had previously believed, Zayne.) And while I appreciated some of the more humorous reactions to the debacle — one of my favorites, from a fellow alum of my college a cappella group, read: “THE BAND IS CALLED ONE DIRECTION, ZAYN. AS IN YOU ALL GO IN THE SAME DIRECTION. FOREVER” — I was ready to laugh the whole thing off until I came across this Tumblr post by author/vlogbrother/insightful human John Green.
Being a fan of a band, of the all-male pop variety or otherwise, is not much different from being a fan of a team. As Scout wrote about last week, the beauty of being a fan lies in believing in something greater than yourself, in belonging to a community, and in giving wholeheartedly of your emotional investment to an arbitrary symbol or entity. This season is rife with fanatics of many stripes, particularly in the NCAA obsessed climes of Louisville and the SEC. And as Green so astutely points out, there is very little difference between love of a team and love of a band, which is itself really just a team whose sport happens to be playing music. The only difference is that one breed of fanaticism is accepted as a reasonable obsession for kids and adults of all ages, while the other, when it comes wrapped in a well-coiffed, British-accented, X-Factor-united package, is scoffed as child’s play, something to be grown out of. There’s a double standard at work here and it is both hugely unjust and wildly dishonest. Green’s post has 18,410 notes as of this writing, which I take as a sign that a good chunk of the Tumblrverse agrees with me, and him, on this point. Tumblr may be a skewed sample of the population, thriving as it does on niche communities and fandoms of all kinds, but it heartens me to see so many humans clicking like or reblog for unironic enthusiasm.
Because that’s really all it takes to be a fan: unironic, unabashed enthusiasm for a cause. And this is something people of all ages, from every region or walk of life, should be able to identify with. My fandom may not make sense to you, and yours may baffle me. Even if we share the same team, you may be a lifelong devotee who follows their every move, while I may be a newbie discovering them for the first time. But rather than tearing each other down, mocking and bashing and posturing and one-upping, what if instead we just celebrated the human capacity for love? Love of team, love of show, love of boy wizard, love of time lord, and, yes, love of boy band.
Now I understand first-hand how difficult it can be not to write off others’ obsessions as absurd. See, unlike Scout and most of my peers, I did not grow up steeped in the college basketball tradition. I was California born, Kansas and Tennessee raised, until the age of 11, when I landed smack dab in the middle of one of the fiercest rivalries in sports. Now I knew from rivalries — I am a fourth generation Red Sox fan — but such intense enmity in such close proximity was new to me. I moved to Louisville in August of 2001. It took approximately one week for me to be fully apprised of the U of L/UK situation, following which I was given two additional weeks, if we’re being generous, to pick a side. And once I staked my claim, that was it: I was committed for life.
I chose Louisville, because I liked red (see Sox above), and because it would take many years before the state as a whole would start to feel like home. And I have stuck with my decision, buying the appropriate t-shirts and cheering the Cards on through over a dozen tournaments. I’ve thrown L’s on the acropolis in Greece, watched them win the championship on a laptop in France. With time, a few live games, and a stack of annual brackets, they came to feel like not just the Cards but my Cards.
That little pronoun is, I think, the key. My father is as enthusiastic a fan as Scout, and he has a tendency when watching the Red Sox, or Stanford, or Navy, or most recently Louisville play to yell at the TV screen as if it were a microphone, directing his guidance straight into the ears of the players. My family loves to mock him for this, and every quarter or so one of us will remind him, “You know they can’t hear you, right?” The same principle applies when I roll my eyes at Scout for hiding behind the couch for an entire game because the Cats scored that one three-pointer when she moved back there, so now she has to stay, for the team. If she budges and they lose, it is her fault, and she just can’t let her boys down like that. Cue the eye roll.
But getting back to my point: If I take a step back, I have to admit there is something wonderful about this (admitted) insanity, and maybe even a smidgen of sense behind my father and Scout’s behavior. By being a fan you do belong to the team — not to the small faction on the court, but to the big squad, the one that cheers and supports and rallies even in the hard years, the giant wacky diaspora of a family. You are there for your team because your team is there for you, no matter how far from home turf you may roam. There’s beauty in the madness, pleasure in the lunacy of it all. To be a fan is an absurd venture. It makes you do and say ridiculous things, and sometimes the people around you just won’t get it. But at the end of the day, we all have our fandoms. We all want to belong to something bigger than ourselves, and we choose the crazy that fits us best. So those people who laugh, who write listicles and post statuses mocking your pain? They’re just on a different team.