Here are some things and people of which I am a fan: Judy Blume, the reality television show “Sister Wives,” the reality television show “America’s Next Top Model,” Judy Blume’s haircut, the reality television show “The Bachelor,” the reality television show “The Bachelorette,” the book “How Opal Mehta Got Wild, Got Kissed, and Got a Life,” the color pink, Valentine’s Day, rain, soft socks, people who smell good, and Judy Blume’s book “Deenie.” I am also a fan of the singing group Diana Ross and the Supremes, the song “Silhouettes on the Shade,” and the actress Laura Linney.
I take my responsibilities as a fan seriously. When somebody professes a vague interest in young adult literature, reality television, or music from the late 1950s and early 1960s, I pounce, suggesting books, programs, and groups, hoping to win over more fans to my side. When somebody has the nerve to disrespect “The Bachelor,” I’m ready to defend its honor; I would gladly fight to my death in defense of the color pink. I am a fiercely loyal fan, sometimes to a fault. I have considered ending friendships over people’s confessions that they didn’t love Judy Blume’s “Tiger Eyes” (it was trying, but I managed to pin my arms by my sides and not rip that person’s throat out).
Being a fan has serious perks. It allows me to rejoice in someone else’s—or something else’s success. I’ve had no part in actually creating anything of which I am a fan. It’s healthy to fawn all over somebody else’s creation rather than examining what you have done. It’s also empowering to give over so much of yourself to somebody else’s creation: letting yourself love something, letting yourself be emotionally riveted by something. It takes trust to be a fan.
Nowadays, we’re critical of just about everything—and everyone who claims to be a fan of something or somebody controversial, such as University President Michael Roth, the United States of America, or the decision on the part of the producers of ABC to have two bachelorettes on its next season of “The Bachelorette” (it’s going to be crazy; the guys will have to choose between bubbly, dramatic Britt and cool Kaitlyn on the first night, or something like that). It’s true that much of what we come across merits our severe criticism.
It’s OK—nay, delightful—to be a guileless fangirl (the term “fangirl” is not gender exclusive; even male- and non-gender-identifying people are fangirls when they are moved to tears by anything from Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” to one of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speeches) when it comes to things like books and television shows, sure, but what about when it comes to things and people whose impact can be more serious? Well, nobody says you have to be a teary fangirl when it comes to the United States of America’s foreign or domestic policy, or to the University administration’s drug policies. Being a fan of something and being critical of it are not mutually exclusive. Just ask Alan Elsner, who wrote an article in the Jewish Journal called “Israel Needs Fans, Not Cheerleaders.” The gist of the article is that fans are supportive, yet realistic about their team’s successes and failures: unwavering support and a healthy dose of criticism go hand in hand. Cheerleaders, meanwhile, like fangirls—like me upon seeing Judy Blume in the flesh—merrily sing their team’s praises no matter what it does.
In order to be a fan, though, and have the opportunity and privilege to criticize as well as support, you have to, well, support. On most issues, there must be at least a few places where we can all agree that someone’s decision or someone’s creation or even someone herself isn’t a total disaster (and on the issues—such as certain past American presidents’ endorsement of slavery, certain other American presidents’ willful ignorance of global and domestic and foreign travesty, and Seventeen Magazine’s March-April issue’s description for Gemini—where such a consensus is impossible, then we don’t have to worry about being fans). When we’ve found those places, those places where fandom can flourish, then we must declare ourselves fans, if intentional, smart, and critical fans. When we don’t declare ourselves fans, we relinquish that bond—the bond that bonds us to the issue at hand, and the bond that necessarily unites us, in ways however small, with our fellow fans. And when we relinquish that bond, we can pretty give up hope of joining together and talking to people who will listen.
So let’s all try it. Let’s be fans. If being a fan seems like too much of a jump, then try being a fangirl, of any small thing at all. Because until and unless we can profess our support and validation, we will continue to struggle to effect meaningful, positive change.