Updated: Apr 5
Have you ever taken a deep dive into Fandom? Have you immersed yourself in the depths of a virtual community with fellow like-minded souls who all speak your same language around Star Trek, Pokémon, Star Wars, Taylor Swift,or Lord of the Rings?
Have you ever felt the bubbling of anticipation as you waited in line for a picture with your hero or the tingling excitement as you watch your favourite band walk on stage?
For the purpose of this article, I am using the wiki definition of fandom to describe it as a community or subculture belonging to a particular person, book series, artist or group. Have you ever allowed yourself to get fully absorbed in a world outside of your own? Have you curated a collection of merchandise with posters, stickers, booklets, letters and cards?
My First Fandom
I was 12 when I first fell in love with the band that would dominate the next decade of my life. I had grown up in a house full of music, from the opera recordings that my grandpa would conduct from his favourite easy chair, to the sound of my sister singing in whatever room she was in, to the car journeys where my parents would blast their favourite mix tapes. My musical diet was an eclectic mix from classical music to 80’s power ballads.
It was around this time that my music-loving uncle loaned us a VHS recording of the 9/11 Tribute to Heroes benefit concert. At some point the camera cut to a black and white performance from London featuring a band called U2. As they zoomed in on the lead singer, a striking man with dark hair and a Roman nose, I felt myself falling inwardly, feeling a sense of giddiness and elation as the band kicked in with the opening notes of their song “Walk On.”
The sensations were akin to falling in love and it was intoxicating. The chiming sound of The Edge’s guitar, the steady thrum of Larry Mullen Jr.’s drumming, Adam Clayton’s grooving bass and most powerfully for me, the husky and impassioned vocals of the lead singer Bono.
I was homeschooled as a teenager and had been given the opportunity by my parents to direct my own education and learning. This was hugely impactful when it came to choosing my own interests and developing my own tastes away from the peer pressure of the school environment. At 14, when a close homeschooling friend Chris asked me who my favourite band was, I answered U2 without even thinking about it. He was devoted to the band Muse and suggested that next time we hang out, we could swap CDs and notes about our favourite artists.
When Fandom Leads to Obsession
When I went home, I badgered my mum to tell me everything she knew about the band. I also went online and discovered they had a new album due for release that autumn and the lead single Vertigo had just been dropped. It felt like perfect timing. From there I became fanatical almost overnight. Suddenly U2 and Bono began to mean everything to me. I had a new appreciation of why my late grandfather used to weep when listening to opera and fresh insights into my grandmother’s passion for directing and starring in musical theatre. I realised that some kind of alchemy happened with the music that moved you, whatever type of music that might be.
At one point that autumn, my sister called me to watch Bono at the Labour Party political conference because she knew I had an increasing thing for this particular singer. I realised as I sat down and watched Bono talk about debt relief and ending poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, that one of his and U2’s big attractions for me was their engagement with political causes and issues. Being the nerdy, current affairs kid I was, I found the social justice aspect of U2 and Bono almost as intriguing and involving as their music.
My parents were U2 fans, especially my mum, but as I found myself sucked into the U2 fan orbit, I realised I had to find a way of expressing my fandom uniquely. Even my friend Chris who loved Muse did not take his fan identity particularly seriously. I, on the other hand had become obsessed, to the point that I became “the U2 or Bono girl” in all my circles of family and friends. I could barely talk about anything else. Any time I had a social issue with friends, my little sister was irritating or my parents got after me about something, I could hide myself in my room covered with posters, put on one of their albums and feel myself escaping into another world.
Fandom: The Power of Conversation Threading
About a year into my love affair with U2, I discovered message boards and online forums. Oh how I miss these types of platforms. Social media is useful and important but there is nothing like an online space dedicated to one of your favourite things. It was only in the long summer weeks after I had been to my first ever U2 gig that I realised I wanted to find other people who shared what was now a full on obsession. This was how I accidentally stumbled across Zootopia, the official U2 fan forum, or conversation thread, a whole online universe dedicated to loving the band.
Zootopia and other unofficial U2 forums became an instant and constant refuge. I was a shy teenager with a small group of friends, mostly male-dominated at the time and although I was fond of them, I also didn’t feel especially ‘seen’ in their environment. Sometimes I joined them for Tarantino movies or video gaming, but I also wanted to discuss the stories behind Bono’s lyrics or reflect on U2 album art. In fan forums for U2, all these topics and many more were not only accepted but welcomed.
Community Engagement: Why Fandom is Special
This online community of fellow fans was hugely validating to me as an angsty, homeschooled teenager. In the messageboard space with a pseudonym, no one knew my age or that I was a teenager grieving the loss of her grandfather, the breakup of her first relationship and navigating the battlefield of adolescent hormones. I was just another Daisy (what we Bono fans called ourselves) who enjoyed swooning over pictures of Bono in his different iterations which we named and categorised depending on his fashion choices, U2 tours and so on.
Obsession and hysteria would soon follow, as you will find quickly in my next piece detailing my Fandom journey.
The Bottom Line
I have been curious about people for as long as I can remember. I’ve been asking questions about my fellow human beings and the world we inhabit for my whole life. This curiosity took me travelling to Kenya to work with other volunteers and inspired me to study social and cultural anthropology.
Curiosity keeps me reading all types of books and connecting with people on social media. I love to write, observe, read, absorb material on psychology, literature, music, entertainment, philosophy, theology, education reform, social sciences and so much more.
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I blog about the people I regard as heroes and role models, on Web of Significance, a curated space for fandom and inspiration.