I watched Crazy About One Direction when it aired last year. I also watched the enormous twitter fall out where the girls who were interviewed were attacked by other fans and expressed their regret. I watched the film maker apparently bait fans on twitter to greater response and outcry. I talked to two of the girls who appeared in the documentary on twitter about their responses to seeing the finished film and the twitter response they endured.
My conclusion was that the documentary was about exotisizing and laughing at the 'obsessive' fan performances of devotion. I felt the girls who contributed were hung out to dry.
I asked her today about a comment she made in her presentation that all the girls were happy with the film and pleased to be in it given my interaction with one contributor which was to the contrary - I suggested that perhaps we could understand it within a framework where outrage was a performative act of belonging to the fandom. She suggested the girls who said they were angry about their portrayal were not being entirely honest because of the pressure they felt to hate the film. I think that's a neat and plausible explanation but I don't feel it completely deals with the ethical issues raised by the film's airing and the backlash online.
She spoke about how she felt she had made an affectionate portrait of the fans and admired and enjoyed the culture they created and their experience of being in a fandom. She felt she could never win at making a film about the fans that they would enjoy.
Here's the issue, as it stands for me: if you haven't lived a fandom from the inside you can't talk about it. If you 'admire' the cultural practices and creation of a fandom then you already miss the point. If you think being inside a fandom would be wonderful and wish you could be - but aren't - then you are never going to represent that experience correctly because you cannot understand it. There were a lot of shitty documentaries made about Manics fans, a lot of shit articles written about how we were obsessive and insane and impenetrable. None of them understood why we were those things, none of them acknowledged how and why we came together and why we protected our borders so vigorously.
Manics fans got to understand the media, we got to understand you have to check credentials if someone wants to interview you. We got to understand we needed to laugh at ourselves and doing so would help us, as well as take the venom out of the bite of the media when they tried to make those same jokes. Most music press articles on Manics fans these days have a begrudging respect - we stayed the course, we learnt to be media savvy, we made the jokes first, but we never sacrificed our passion for the band and our protection of one another.
I tried telling the One Direction film maker I believed that a lot of the anger the One Direction fans felt was experienced by Manics fans in the past and that we had learnt to negotiate the stereotypes about what a Manics fan is - and that One Direction fans were too young a fandom to have got there yet. She seemed to understand - but then she made comments that suggested she didn't understand at all. She linked the threats of suicide and murder One Direction fans levelled at themselves and her respectively after the documentary aired to Manics fans cutting themselves as a performance of belonging. I explained to her that she was confusing cause and effect - that, yes, perhaps belonging was coded in the Manics fandom by performance of self hatred, but perhaps - more likely - it was that the Manics provided a space to talk, an outlet, and a siren call to those who were already hating themselves. Perhaps, I told her, One Direction fans were not expressing self hate and feelings of ugliness because One Direction had a song on that topic (as she suggested), but rather because they felt that way and suddenly, finally, had a channel to express that.
She nodded with interest - this seemed to be the first time an alternative reading of that action was offered to her. 'But!' she countered, 'Manics fans are a very different demographic to One Direction fans.' I nodded in agreement. 'One Direction fans are working class' she said. I hesitated - Manics fans are almost universally from working class families in my experience - as conversation around us interrupted I lost the opportunity to correct her on the ways in which I felt they were different demographics. 'There's more than shared music for Manics fans though,' I said 'we have a shared political position'. She nodded; 'yeah, suicide'. I boggled. 'Suicide is not a political position', I said. Conversation of people around us overtook us again and I never got a response from her beyond a laugh. I was talking about socialism and political leftism. She was talking about performance of emotional trauma. She doesn't understand my fandom - she sees only the sensational in a fandom which has negotiated a new media relationship away from sensational representations of our fandom. For that reason it's perhaps inevitable it was only the sensational, the disembodied, the abstract that was represented in what she believed was an 'affectionate' portrait of One Direction fans
I got talking, later on this evening, to a friend about my experience of being in the Manics fandom. We talked about what it meant to me and what I understood the fandom as. Family. Family is what it is. Manics fans understand me deep down and I understand them, we share a common cultural knowledge, a social and political position, and, perhaps sadly, a shared trauma in relation to family or mental health or society, or all three. We skip the basics, the introductions, and we go straight to acceptance and understanding and compassion. And we sustain one another, look after one another, forgive one another. We offer each other all the things my friend gets from her family or origin.
I wouldn't dream of making a documentary about what it means to be in my friend's family. But the cultural availability of fandom, the public construction of it, the apparent accessibility of it, means people feel able to talk, with authority, about what it is we are doing and why. The jokes we make about what being a manics fan means - about self harm and self loathing and suicide and disappearance - they are funny because we live them. They aren't funny because they are abstract or because they are excessive. But those are the reasons people outside the fandom, including this filmmaker, laugh. We laugh together, they laugh at us. We laugh or we'd cry, they laugh because it seems strange and incomprehensible, because it is Other.
Ethically though? Nightmare. I maintain her documentary was fundamentally unethical because of how it offered up her representation of those girls to a hostile and paranoid fandom. And after speaking to her I strongly believe it fell down ethically because she was sure she understood their fannish experience and refused to listen to them telling her what it felt like from the inside. She fetishised the experience of being inside fandom and that creates an insurmountable distance in story telling. My family is the Manics fandom, I find it hard to articulate what that feels like - but I don't want someone else to tell my story for me, to judge me by their standards, to point and say "isn't this weird, how they communicate and organise and live?! Isn't it novel and different?! Let's all look and stare!"
And that, I think, remains the fundamental misunderstanding of the filmmaker which means she can't quite see how inevitable the response to that documentary was. And it made me feel misunderstood, as I tried to illustrate my point with my own experience of fandom because she got side tracked with what she thought she knew about Manics fans and stopped listening to me.