#FangirlPlanet & Fangirl Culture
This video is really well made, and it’s great satire. But it only makes me laugh if i turn off a pretty big part of my brain. Let me tell you why.
I guess any kind of stereotyping of “fangirls” (a term which I’m still not sure how I feel about) makes me pretty sad. Portraying them as crazed, rabid, disrespectful, and inhuman might be the easy joke to make, but comedy as an influencer should not be underestimated.
If it wasn’t for the negative stereotypes I would probably consider myself a “fangirl”. After all I identify as female (although I’m 24 so, maybe not truly a girl anymore), and a fan of many things. When I talked to Natalie Tran at VidCon I was so nervous I don’t remember anything I said to her. I adore Taylor Swift and I’d call myself a pretty massive fan of the extremely talented people I am lucky to call my friends.
I think although it’s probably obvious, it’s worth noting first that pictured in this video are real life SitC attendees, not actors (I believe the bit at the end with Evan was staged though). These are people who pay good money to see creators they like, they also pay good money for merch, and these are the people who allow many YouTubers to make their living. They are the people who queue for hours, sometimes in the rain, who deal with panic attacks and sometimes convention disappointment. These are the people who make conventions like SitC, VidCon, Playlist etc possible. I’d even go as far to say that these are the people who make the YouTube world go round.
And it’s also worth pointing out that all of the young women in the video were behavingentirely appropriately and understandably for a person who is seeing someone they really like, enjoying a concert, or just, you know, having a good time. It’s important to keep this in mind when all the other elements of this film (the music, the sweeping aerials, the staged shot, the slow motion, the narration) are working hand in hand to make you think otherwise.
Except for of course, the one shot at the end which was staged, where you see a YouTuber being chased down by a group of “fangirls”. Swarming is something that I have unfortunately seen first hand at conventions, and it’s very dangerous and disrespectful and desperately unfunny. And yeah I do worry about making light of that kind of conduct, normalising it, and inadvertently inviting copycat behaviour. In light of Robin William’s death there’s a lot of discussion on the appropriate reporting of suicide as to not contribute to further similar behaviour. Bit of a healthy stretch here, but in that perspective, I wonder if trivialising this behaviour is responsible journalism. But, it’s not journalism is it. It’s a YouTube video - not the news. Anyway, getting off track.
I guess I just worry that when we portray fangirls in this way, as animalistic, as careless, as unstable, as a constant in the world of YouTube - they in turn become disposable, voiceless and insignificant. They become strictly watchers, and nothing else. And they are one of very very very many. And I worry that this kind of thinking potentially contributed to situations that have recently come to light about YouTubers abusing their position of power and influence over their audience. And I worry that it posits “fangirls” and therefore females as merely viewers, who watch what is potentially a majority of male YouTubers. And I worry seeing this unbalance discourages females from becoming storytellers themselves and that it discourages males from identifying as part of that body of fan culture that has been so gendered. Not to mention where those who don’t identify as strictly male or female end up. I worry that we are shown a vicious sea of young women as con-goers at YouTube conventions where the average special guest list boasts a mere 29% of female creators*. That although conventions are trying to reflect and respond to YouTube celebrity they are in fact curating it. And I worry this idea of fangirls being fans, and fans only contributes to the polarisation of the viewer vs creator dichotomy. That you can’t be both. That if you don’t have a Special Guest badge at conventions that you probably don’t make anything, or at least nothing worth watching. Basically what I’m saying is that I worry a lot.
But whether you care or not, these “fangirls” are the highest currency on YouTube - and the way you treat them will and is defining the space. So why are we allowing them to always be the butt of the joke?
I’ve talked to “fangirls” - I’m even related to a couple of them. My two younger cousins love YouTubers and I’ve spent a good chunk of time talking to them about who they watch and why. Are they the type of girls who might scream and cry at something like SitC? It’s really possible. But does that make them shallow? Dumb? Part of the herd? Talentless? Hell. No. I’d even go so far to say that they have more talent, charisma, humour and intelligence in their pinkie fingers than some of the large scale YouTubers they watch. And I’m sure this is the case for many “fangirls”. But give them that name - and that all seems to melt away. The power of a word.
Something I can’t shake is the idea that it’s a badge of pride to be a “nerdfighter” but shameful to be a “fangirl”, when both are essentially defined as being unapologetically enthusiastic about something they like. But yet, “Fangirl” is the word that has sadly come to mean a hell of a lot less than the sum of it’s parts.
And it’s pure laziness. To let the ones who shout the loudest spoil the pot when what we should really be doing is imagining them complexly - to see them as the smart, talented, thoughtful and beautiful people that they are? Who you are often seeing one tiny side of? Try to think of other situations in the real world where making that kind of sweeping generalisation would be considered careless and discriminatory.
It’s important to remember that the “natural habitat” of the “fangirl” is not at a YouTube convention - and the way they behave there is probably not an accurate representation of their daily lives. What if you were put in the same room as a person you seriously admire, do you think you’ll be the best, coolest version of yourself? Probably not. If I ended up in a room with Taylor Swift I’d probably actually pass out.
Do I like it when people at conventions chase YouTubers down? Do I like it when people scream? Loiter outside hotel rooms? Are verbally abusive to volunteers and staff and security? Not by a long shot. But when I condemn this behaviour I do not use the word“fangirl” in place of the word “people”. I do not put that behaviour in a box and label it with a word I do not identify as so that I can feel superior and respectful and something “other” than.
Words have power. And you have the power to choose your words. So do it with care.
I’m not saying jokes are bad, and in some ways I did enjoy this video. But it’s hard for me to not look at the bigger picture and see how this dot can be connected to that dot and then that dot and how a small, lighthearted joke can be extrapolated into something bigger and much more damaging.
Am I reading too far into this video? Probably. This video is merely a small piece of the puzzle, it’s just the specific piece that challenged me to say something. This is just my commentary, and I invite you to make your own. If it made you laugh, or made you upset. Try to figure out why exactly that was. Who knows, maybe this was the intention of the filmmakers all along? In fact, I really hope it was.
And in the meantime - who’s up for reclaiming the word “Fangirl”?
-Em (a proud fangirl)
PS: Shoutout to the filmmakers who have been really cool about listening to different perspectives on this video! Discussion is a good thing.
•based on lineups as seen on the websites from 2014 SitC, VidCon, Buffer Festival, Vlogger Fair and PlaylistLive