Updated: May 27
A Fandom forum became a world to which I could escape. It was brilliant to have a space that felt so exclusively my own, where neither my parents nor my closest in- -real-life friends had any kind of say or jurisdiction.
The Dark Side of Fandom: Hysteria and Obsession
In my previous piece, I discussed how I initially found engagement within my Fandom community. After being a part of the fandom, I realized how liberating for a teenage girl as she was beginning to understand her sexuality, her interests and curiosities, in what turned out for me to be a safe online environment where other women offered both emotional support, counsel and also validated the adoration for U2 and Bono in particular.
But it also had a dark side. I was obsessed. I lived, breathed and ate that online forum space for a good few months before my parents wisely had a sit-down discussion with me about it. They knew it was going too far, that this was the kind of fevered obsession that does not necessarily end well for anyone. They were very good about not making me wrong and not even vetoing my use of the forums. They kindly but firmly reflected back to me how a single-minded U2 obsession could have negative repercussions on my social life (perhaps already was) and that some kind of balance was a good idea.
Most recently, my mum and I had attempted to go to a U2 tribute gig so I could meet another forum friend but our normally reliable Volvo had broken down at the worst possible time en-route, resulting in a terrifying three hour wait for a tow truck on the hard shoulder of a motorway at rush hour. Other U2 related plans kept failing to go ahead. With my parents’ counsel, I agreed that although it could all be coincidental, it would probably be important to restore some balance to my life. I realised how fandom can be magical, escapism, refuge, the validation of friends who share appreciation for the same thing. It equally can be a drug with just as much hold as alcohol or narcotics. The obsessive self can be damaging and harmful, even leading to delusion and destruction. We all know those stories and often their horrendous outcomes. Obsession is never healthy; but I realised I wanted to have a more balanced and easygoing approach.
Slowly I recalibrated my life and gradually developed a healthier relationship with my fandom. I put more energy into the friends I knew in person. I remembered there were other things that I was interested in, such as developing my skills in writing and trying out different part time jobs. By proving to my family and more importantly myself that U2 was not the be all and end all, band related plans started going ahead again. The U2 part of my life became less of a drug, more of a deep and satisfying pleasure that I could indulge in without it having a destructive impact on my life.
One of the most exciting plans I made at this point was a trip of a lifetime to see U2 in Hawaii for their last gig of the Vertigo tour. I saved my earnings from working for the magazine and my mum who was my closest U2 ally said that she wanted to accompany me. This led to an unforgettable mother and daughter vacation, where we swam with wild dolphins, soaked in the Hawaiian sunshine on Waikiki Beach and saw one of U2’s best ever live gigs surrounded by 60,000 other fans from around the world.
Rebuilding a Healthier Relationship to Fandom
After having seen such a jewel of a concert, I realised that although I adored the band, my fandom was becoming more about the connections with other fans. My parents had coached me well in internet safety and I was very fortunate that every meeting was not only safe but usually the happy beginning of a ‘beautiful friendship’. These relationships quickly developed many other dimensions than simply devotion to U2, although that remained an important cornerstone. I was making friends throughout the world. I went to one of the Daisies’ weddings and another Daisy friend invited me to her family’s holiday home in the South of France for a week’s vacation.
The girls and planned for future U2 tours and events or trips to their hometown of Dublin to see band-related sights. I had been across the world to see them play in Hawaii but had not yet gone across the Irish sea to Eire. I felt the importance of the pilgrimage to Dublin, seeing the studios where U2 had recorded most of their albums, the walls outside covered in over 2 decades of graffiti from adoring fans. I loved the camaraderie of being in a group of women who were all equally excited to see the different U2 landmarks in Dublin.
I have vivid memories of thr five day celebration in Dublin for the band’s homecoming shows in July. Bono described the long weekend as a cross between a tribal gathering and an Irish wedding; U2 flags and banners strung across Temple Bar, the crowds of people from all across the world, concert wristbands, band tattoos on their arms and shoulders, U2’s entire discography playing from almost every pub and bar.
The following year, three of us Daisies took a memorable trip to the East Coast of the United States, which we had booked to coincide with U2’s 360 Tour. But Bono had a terrible accident, severely damaging his back. We three Daisies decided to still go and during that month we experienced the best of North American hospitality. From Washington DC to Boston, we were treated like royalty by our fellow fans as we made our way up the East Coast.
Several years later, I would go to college for the first time to study for a bachelor’s. While there, one of my close friends and housemates noticed how self-conscious I was when I talked about my love for U2. She noticed how I diminished my fandom and mocked myself before anyone else could. She told me that there were lots of studies out there on the importance of fandom especially for teenage girls as they figure out their identity and seek out supportive communities. Bestselling author Caitlin Moran also explores the significance of fandom for teenage girls in her incredibly entertaining novels and memoirs.
Everyone knew I was U2 crazy but I had always struggled to celebrate it fully with people who were not part of the U2 tribe. I did not know how to take ownership of this joyful part of myself without feeling defensive, anxious that I was taking up too much space with such unfettered enthusiasm.
I also had to learn about the danger of putting our idols on unreachable pedestals. It is neither fair on them or good for us. It gives them further to fall and gives us a distorted reason to turn our backs on these former idols. I had awoken enough to this risk with U2 so that, although as I got older I saw aspects of their decision-making with which I didn't resonate, such as their more capitalist marketing strategies and Bono’s approach to globalisation and development, I could disagree with some of their choices without having to fully disown them.
Conclusion: Why Fandom Love isn't Dirty
Now in my early 30s, my U2 fandom ebbs and flows, but it has instilled in me a reverence for music and art that I will never lose. I sometimes feel the dizzying love I first felt for U2 when I discover a new artist, activist or writer. I channel this love into the written word. My fangirl perspective has motivated me to curate a celebratory online publication about a pantheon of individuals that have inspired me or changed my life in some way.
Dedicated to my mother Winnie whose love for U2 inspired my own
Ultimately, my fandom of U2 has given me faith and practical skills in building and creating community around shared values, interests and passions. I have learned how powerful it is for good mental health and strong relationships to appreciate myself and others for the diverse array of what captivates our unique imaginations. My current understanding and embodiment of fandom, far from being a dirty word or embarrassing concept, is one of the aspects of myself that I am most proud to share with a wider audience. Through such ownership, I am learning to (paraphrasing a certain band) ‘dream up the world I want to live in and to dream out loud.’
If you want to talk about all things fandom, creative writing, U2, mental health, community building, social justice and so much more, hit me up on Twitter. I also blog about the people I regard as heroes and role models, on Web of Significance, a curated space for fandom and inspiration.
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