It is often said that fangirling is a religion. We worship at the altar of our idols (but as a Catholic girl, this is a sin. No no no no! I’m a sinner!).
And there is some truth to it. We get indoctrinated, baptized and we practice our faith as fangirls. But is it really a religion or a cult?
The debate about religion vs cult is tricky though and I don’t want to go there. However, my neverending curiosity about fandom behavior makes me wonder if certain fandoms or fan groups exhibit cult behavior.
I found this checklist from ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association), take a look and see if your fandom fits. I have taken the liberty to add examples of fandom behavior (in italics) that applies to each original item (in bold). (Source)
☐ The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law. (Most fandoms have very active members who may be considered as the leader and that person is usually the “source” of all
information (that can range from schedules, flights, hotels, addresses, phone numbers and even delusions) the one who knows the so-called Unspeakable Truth and share them with only the chosen few. Leader is usually a member of the official fan club and in the absence of none, the founder of the cult itself. Whenever leader is attacked, loyal members will show their commitment to the cult by defending him/her and attacking the “doubters”. Hell hath no fury like a fan offended.)
☐ Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished. (If you do any of these, you will be banished from the fandom of course, called names and defamed on SNS and among other fans. Your biggest punishment? You will no longer have the chance to fangirl oppa. Just because you doubted that oppa is the epitome of a saint who does not get angry, does not tell lies, does not smoke, does not eat, does not breathe.)
☐ Mind-altering practices (Meditation: wishing and praying, making offerings to every god; Chanting: Fan chants at every concert; Speaking in tongues: see previous; Denunciation sessions: Bashing those who doubt the beliefs that the cult propagates online; Debilitating work: making fan-made items, chasing after your idols, stalking, staking out at airports, apartments, filming sites. Fangirling is such hard work.)
☐ The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (For example: Members must bring such and such to concerts, wear certain colors to exhibit fandom loyalty and must not, never, ever bash because that is just black-hearted.)
☐ The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (Our idols are gods, the greatest thing to happen to entertainment, God’s gift to pop culture and they are real, that’s why we, as followers are special, very blessed ones.)
☐ The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society. (The classic fight between them and the antis: anyone who does not subscribe to their beliefs are haters or called stupid, ugly and annoying (among other very limited vocabulary) and lead very boring lives, thus causing rift with other fans.)
☐ The leader is not accountable to any authorities (Of course fangirling is by choice. You are accountable for your own actions. But are fandom leaders even accountable to fellow fans? I wonder. Especially when all hell breaks loose, what happens then? Logically, leaders are also fans and they should not be held accountable for the actions of their idols that may destroy the fandom, but their conduct as leaders–whether representing their idol to other fans, making sure that the fandom stays together even to the point of misrepresenting truth–they should be held responsible for these and other actions.)
☐ The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities). (Nothing to add.)
☐ The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion. (I’ve seen threats like: “If you continue to be an embarrassment to this fandom, I will name you on SNS” or statements like “real fans do not do that, shame!”)
☐ Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group. (“Oppa is my life, my world revolves around him.” This may sound like an exaggeration but we have read accounts of parents of fans who complain that they have lost their children because of extreme obsession with their idols. There was a fan whose father wrote a thank-you letter to the idol after said idol was revealed to be in a scandal because the daughter finally took down all the posters in her room, burned all merchandise and sat down with the family for dinner after a long time.)
☐ The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. (Because there is strength in numbers of course. Plus the more members there are to spread the word, the more it sounds like the truth. In other cases though, no need to conduct active recruitment because if the idols are hot, the fans will come in droves.)
☐ The group is preoccupied with making money. (Why, to fund fandom activities of course. Giveaways, posters and fan gifts are not cheap. Just be careful where your money goes… that it does not go to supporting someone’s fangirling needs.)
☐ Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities. (Every waking hour protecting the fandom from haters on SNS, answering questions on ask.fm, making and posting gifs on tumblr, updating the group’s Facebook page, spazzing with fellow fans, watching and rewatching clips together virtually, including abusing the pause-rewind button. Nevermind school or work, fangirling is more important.)
☐ Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members. (You never know… there’s a spy lurking around….)
☐ The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group. (No fandom, no life.)
Yes indeed, fangirling is life.
Forgive me father for I have sinned…
But wait… there is more to life than worshiping oppas and unnies or subscribing to a certain belief. Have dreams beyond meeting your idols in person (or marrying them), watching their concerts, or seeing your OTP together. Fangirling is the exercise of supporting an artist whether through music, films or dramas. It’s supposed to be fun, inspiring and even aspirational, not this dark cult-like world. Pursue a hobby, travel and see new places, eat with your family, hang out with your non-fandom friends, drink with your colleagues, read the news about the rest of the world, have real dreams. Because when the fandom collapses, at least you will still have your life.
Oh and one very important advice: BEWARE OF FAKE PROPHETS IN FANDOMS. Also, be aware that some fandoms have the persecution complex and gain “sympathy” and recruit members through this. Don’t be a victim.
© Orange Jasmine Purple Yam (blogging since 2001). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the contents in this site without permission from the author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Orange Jasmine Purple Yam with appropriate link to the original content.
10 thoughts on “[blog] fandom, club or cult?”
Interesting post! I like your analysis and analogy. I never thought of fandoms as cults, although there are fans who are bordering from delusional to crazy lunatics who bow down to their idols’ uchiwa or billboards. Haha!
I have read from somewhere that being a fan is all about passion, not logic. However, doing public stunts of admiration or adoration for idols, such as those I have mentioned, is not passion. Fangirling has its limits, too. 🙂
or like what we’re seeing now with all these scandals and you read fangirls defending domestic violence and making excuses for their idols or the extreme — “it’s an honor to be hit by oppa”. what has the world turned into?
You said it right! I can’t help but shake my head while reading comments of that guy’s fans defending his actions like “he is just human,” “I don’t care what he did to the girl because I love his dramas,” and other comments coming only from blind followers. They are even blaming the girl for starting the fight! We don’t know the real story, but hitting a girl no matter what she did is not a characteristic of a gentleman worthy of a woman’s admiration…
Speaking of fans, people should not mess with an idol or else be ready to suffer the consequences. Arashi fans were up in arms again defending Sho for the criticisms made by FiFi, an Egyptian talent in Japan, on his commentary in News Zero about ISIS. Now, this FiFi earned the ire of many fans. I’ve read the details here. I hope you don’t mind me sharing this…
no prob! yes, I’ve read that and tweeted about it.
I work in media too so I know that Sho shouldn’t be entirely faulted for what happened. That’s what producers and writers are for in a newscast in the first place. so to blame him entirely, and drag his being an idol was unfair. but she apologized for it didn’t she.
I just feel some Arashi fans were too overprotective of Sho. of course it’s natural to be defensive of your idol but if you want to refute what Fifi said, then do it in a respectful manner and debate intelligently. some of them resorted to threatening her and calling her names which I felt was uncalled for and gave the fandom in general a black eye.
well, just another day in fandom I guess. the Arashi rainbow-colored world is not free from rainstorms every now and then…
I share the same sentiment, too. A lot of people look down on the entire Arashi fandom and even on Arashi because of the illogical behavior of some immature fans. Sho should have done more research aside from the inputs of the news research team as this issue is a very sensitive one. That’s his only fault. Fifi is more credible in a sense that she majored in that subject, but the way she directed her criticism at Sho not being qualified to give his opinion just because he is an idol is not only offensive but also demeaning. But then, as you have said, most of the comments in defense of Sho were downright immature and disrespectful.
With this, I would like to suggest to the organizers of next year’s Waku Waku Gakou that the guys should lecture on proper fan behavior. It’s time for these fans to get another round of scolding from the boys… 🙂
LOL I love your idea on tackling fan behavior in the next Waku Waku! I want Nino sensei to go back to his grumpy, scolding days too lol
I just read that today… Gomen, a bit late. I feel sorry for FiFi tbh. What she wrote was demeaning but it wasn’t that bad to warrant replies like “there’s disgusting foreigners everywhere” or the stupid ones with “understand his effort”. Those are just excessive poor erratic fan behaviours.
Yep, even Arashi fandom has rainy slippery days.
And it is sad that FiFi couldn’t express herself about the events at that time since the fan attacks took all the lime light from the issue.
First of all, thank you for your nice article…
Being with many fandoms, I already saw almost all of the behavior you mention here. But I guess, one of the reason why some fans’ feelings, from simple admiration turn into obsession, is because of guidance from the real world they belong to. There are fans I encounter who are obsessed to their artist (well, i prefer to say artist than idol since for me it’s different) that are just escaping from the cruel reality they have.
Thanks for the comment! Yes it’s true, entertainment is a form of escapism or a way of compensating for what’s lacking in real life. Fandoms provide a very interesting study on human behavior and it’s very fascinating XD