In Depth: The Fine Line Between Fandom And Dangerous Obsession
29 January 2016, 17:19 | Updated: 17 July 2017, 12:13
When fans actually makes YouTubers' lives worse
This week we reported that Ian Hecox from Smosh had released a statement regarding a section of the Smosh fan base that has become problematic. You can see the full statement here, but in short, Ian was complaining about elements of the Smosh shipping community that have become so obsessed with 'Ianthony' (the ship of Ian and Anthony) that they (in his own words) 'threaten, demean, spam or try to denounce any woman who appears on (his) social media.'
Ian went on to state that some of the things he has seen written about his female friends have been 'terrifying'. He told these members of the shipping community to stop what they're doing and urged other, calmer members of the Smosh fandom to call this kind of abuse out when they see it.
It's Sad That He Even Needed To Make This Statement
When we broke this story here on Unicorns most of the comments we got from you guys centred on how disappointed and saddened you were that Ian even needed to make this comment at all. That was our first thought too. But sadly, in 2016 it seems that actions like Ian's are increasingly necessary, as online fandoms are, in some areas, reaching a point of near-hysteria.
This is nothing new, there have been loyal fans since the beginning of time - just look at how obsessive the Beatles' fans were. There is also nothing wrong with being a very loyal fan, in fact I have written before about how we ought to stop using the term 'fangirl' as if it is something horrible and negative. There is clearly a difference though, between being a loyal fan and a fan that is so obsessed with someone that they actually start making the life of the person they love worse.
These Are Real People
The timing of Ian's statement was uncanny, as just this week the BBC aired a show called Troll Hunters. This show, fronted by YouTuber Em Ford, looked into the phenomenon of online trolls and the damage they can do. It has been said time and time again that part of the problem with online abuse is that there is a disconnectedness to it. What I mean by that is: when you push someone over in real life, it is real. You see it, you feel it, you experience their reaction. When you abuse someone online, it seems less real. They are just pixels on a screen, they may be in a different country to you, you may even believe that they will probably never even see what you're writing.
Pictured: a wild troll in action
This is not the case. Online abuse is real and so are the people it affects. Why does anyone have the right to abuse a poor woman, just because she was in a picture with a YouTuber they have a crush on? They don't. 99% of fans would never act in this way and I'm sure they are horrified by the actions of the few that do. The sad truth is though, is that:
It's Not Just Smosh
I wish I could say that this is a problem that affects Smosh only, but we all know that it is something that is widespread around YouTube. Let's put it this way: we all know for a fact that if Dan or Phil got into a relationship with someone else, there would be a portion of the Phan shipping community that would lose their minds and turn on that new partner. It's just a sad truth. This excerpt from a Phan tumblr post on the matter makes the point:
Whether or not you agree with that post is up to you, but as Ian has said, there is a big difference between fantasy and 'delusion'. YouTubers may be fine with someone writing fanfiction about them (although that's up to them), but when that someone starts believing the fanfiction - and getting annoyed that reality does not match that fiction, that's when things have reached a tipping point.
YouTubers Are Not Trained To Deal With This
As we have discussed before, YouTubers are almost exclusively normal people who made some wonderful videos and then found themselves incredibly famous. Someone like Ian Hecox might be a little bit more experienced in dealing with these kinds of issues, seeing as Smosh are YouTube veterans and now employ a whole team of people, much like a TV Production company. When fans become abusive with him, he will have (at least some) of the experience and the back-up needed to deal with them (not that he should even have to).
But for a new YouTuber? Someone who has suddenly rocketed to fame in a short while? The prospect of a legion of fans that will abuse your friends and judge every aspect of your life is terrifying. This kind of celebrity obsession goes precisely against the kind of warm inclusiveness that internet fandoms are supposed to be all about. Incidentally, while writing this article, I discovered that 'Celebrity Worship Syndrome' is an actual mental condition (see here), so it seems that there is some science behind the mad behaviour of these fans.
How Can We Beat It?
First of all, fans who act this way need to stop and realise that their actions are unacceptable. These YouTubers may be fantastically talented and your absolute senpai, but they are still human beings with lives of their own and it is not okay for you to decide how they ought to live that life (unless they're literally breaking a ton of laws). Second, to the majority of fans - the ones who are able to support someone without being a d*ck about it - I say we need to band together and call out this abuse when we see it.
This is something I have had the pleasure of witnessing in YouTube comment sections over the last few years. Where before comment sections were often a cesspit of bickering and pure hatred (and on 99% of the internet, still are), I am now starting to see people standing up and calling out people for their horrible comments. This is fantastic. If we can all work together to highlight and protest against hatred and obsession when we see it, we can not only make the world just the tiniest bit better but also improve the lives of the YouTubers we love to watch. It's what any true fan would do.