Beware of “Fans” – many are indeed fanatics (referencing 2 good films “Misery” and “Antiviral”)
I’ll never forget watching the film Misery. With Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes, the obsessed fan who rescues her favorite novelist Paul Sheldon played by James Caan. One could feel the hapless victim’s horror as the ordeal progressed. It was a better horror story than most, because all of us know there really are obsessed fans. You’ve seen them, maybe you’ve unfortunately experienced stress from them, and maybe a few of you are them. Of course, fan behavior varies in degree of severity, but when it controls the person to a large degree and comprises a great part of their life, you know it’s gone too far and entered the realm of emotional unhealthiness.
All of us have individuals we admire and respect, or simply those who we really like their work…from favorite authors, musicians, artists, actors, or even entities such as favorite bands or perhaps sports teams. But there is a distinct line between emotionally healthy appreciation and the unfortunately all-too-common emotionally disturbed obsession of some fans.
The word “fan” is frequently used grouping all admirers of someone’s work together, but it’s a grouping and collective I reject. I’ve seen too many fans exhibit behavior which is crazy. Fans are people who to varying degrees let someone else’s life, its personal details, substitute for their own. It’s one thing to like certain individuals whose talent is impressive, or respect the good work someone has accomplished, or become inspired to further your own talents, but when another person – a stranger – becomes much more than that, something is seriously amiss. That’s what I’ve seen as a norm among fans of anything or anyone, and that’s why I stay away from fan groups, etc. and am wary of anyone who even uses the word to describe themselves.
Fanaticism over anything, anyone, from celebrities to teams to beliefs is a serious mistake…think of all the celebrity fanatics, the team fanatics, the religious fanatics, the nationalistic and political fanatics…those who are fanatical about anything I’ve learned to avoid.
Anyone who develops emotionality (state of being controlled by one’s emotions versus one’s mind being in control of emotions) over an individual is a fan; they are substituting the life and achievement of another for any life of their own creation. Fanatics often live on every minutia of another person’s life; the one they worship gives meaning to their lives. They don’t admire, respect and appreciate, they obsess and desperately try to “fulfill” miserably lacking empty lives through the life of the one idolized.
This I have learned from personal experience and by observation: fans are to be minimally related to lest the object of fans’ adoration become the object of their anger, and sometimes it happens without any reply to their communications (as a writer I’ve received many communications from strangers over the years, most fine, but with two becoming serious threats necessitating obtaining of restraining orders). This is just as true for extremely well-known individuals as those who, on a smaller scale, rise to prominence in their field of expertise whatever it may be. Both can receive strange unwanted attention from those who say they’re a fan of their work.
The film Antiviral
Recently I viewed another interesting film, Antiviral, with Caleb Landry Jones as Syd March and Sarah Gadon as Hannah Geist. Its premise: societal infatuation with celebrities has resulted in obtaining skin grafts of them, eating lab-grown “meat”/flesh of them, and even becoming infected/injected with whatever viruses/illnesses they’ve had. Sick. Horrific, really. But, again, it’s more horrific because we all know it is realistic…there are people whose obsession leads them to do some disgusting behaviors.
The film, in that respect, isn’t far-fetched at all. Based on the fans of various celebrities I’ve observed and known throughout the years, I can easily accept that some people really would be that crazy, that obsessed, as to want the infectious disease whatever it might be from the person they idolize. Such fans always need more and more “closeness,” to have objects somehow “touched” by the idol so to speak…with the logical progression being what we view in Antiviral.
I’ve met fans of different celebrities whose lives were morbidly dependent on their idol to some very sick degrees. And I can tell you from experience, it is a serious mistake for a mature person to even minimally get involved or associated with such fanatics, as they are not capable of friendship but only shared obsession…if you do not share their obsessive infatuation, you, too, can become the object of their hatred. If they feel scorned or rejected by either their idol or by another who doesn’t choose to obsess as they do with them, their “love” quickly turns to rage because it was never true appreciation of the person to begin with. Many fans behave as if they are owed something from the one they are infatuated with, and when that’s not received to their satisfaction, they become vengeful.
Think of the sad deaths of young actress Rebecca Schaeffer (shot at the front door of her apartment), John Lennon (shot at entrance to his building by a previous fan ), of Selena (shot by former president of her fan club whom had been hired as a manger for her clothing boutique)…and so many other high-profile individuals who have suffered emotional stress (at the least) to physical attacks from fans (seems to be quite a number of even on-stage attacks these days in addition to numerous stalking incidents). While some disturbed fans may leave it at words, others may not.
The problem, for those who raise their profile in whatever field of note, is distinguishing between those who truly appreciate their work and those who feign appreciation to hide their emotional dependence on the one they adulate. After-all, humble individuals just feel a sense of wanting to acknowledge expressions of appreciation to those who indicate they like their work.
I’ve come to the conclusion that those who achieve highly must be ever aware that a significant number of those making up those who claim to like their work (be it art, literary, musical, film, etc.) are living vicarious lives, void of personal aspiration and much accomplishment, but indulged with the pseudo-fulfillment of infatuation of an individual who has accomplished something of note. Amongst the general group called “fans” there are, of course, actual people who simply really like what you do and are in no way obsessed…but there are also a significant number who are shallow and emotionally deficient (a disagreeable, if not dangerous, combination) and some who are mentally ill.
This is a sad and unfortunate fact – and one many will want not to accept. Humility in a high achiever often leads them to want to engage with those who like their work…but it is a decision fraught with stress to the degree one is not extremely careful. Cultivating too much engagement with fans can encourage the emotionally disturbed ones…and once they’ve become excited, they can become a problem. All too often the good individual simply wants to treat people who admire them with respect and gratitude, little knowing that even the simplest kindness can turn an emotionally weak disturbed person into a problem.
What to do?
The dilemma, then, is this: How to distinguish a true appreciator (one who is mentally and emotionally stable) of your work as opposed to an actual fanatic (one who is mentally and emotionally unstable). Yes, a fan, may like what you do, but it’s not healthy stable appreciation if it’s filled with emotionalism, obsession, and a false sense that their devotion to you must be returned by you in some way.
The years will show you this to be a truth again and again and to your detriment till you wake from the illusion that fans are to be cultivated.
On the contrary, they are to be treated respectfully as you would any other person, but never personally to any significant degree unless some naturally-occurring experience/interaction has shown an exception is to be trusted to some degree. You just can’t assume every fan is a normal relatively healthy person, on the contrary, you must realize that a greater percentage of the disturbed (amongst those who are not, of course) are drawn to high-profile persons as yourself. Among the audience who appreciates your work, there are a significant degree who are stable, and there are a significant degree who are not.
The obsessive fan may have a regular job, may even be intelligent, and appear normal – but their personal emotional life is linked not to their own relationships as much as to the pseudo or exaggerated imagined “relationship” they make with the celebrity or person of noteworthiness. Their “ups” and “downs” will be referenced to the life of the stranger they admire not as much to their own life because they have little development of their own identity/self. Their lives become an illusory existence dependent on the celebrity’s experiences, not their own. They do not respect from a healthy emotional distance, they obsess.
And if said celebrity acknowledges them favorably in the slightest (as some who choose to interact will do from time to time), the emotionally weak fan suddenly becomes elated with a sense of worthiness – not for their own achievement – but because the one they idolize has recognized them. The once worthless (and I mean that only in the sense of their own finding lack of value in themselves) is now somebody….why? Because an individual who is “somebody” gave them a little bit of attention.
Such fans develop quickly a sense of a new “self” totally related to that attention they received. If ever they come to believe and expect that they should receive more attention, and their emotional needs are not met, their apparent love turns to resentment. Resentment can be left at simply turning away from their worship or it can manifest in verbal expressions of disapproval and in some unfortunate cases in actual stalking and potential violence.
It’s just another (but different) scenario of the age old situation of the spiritual insanity of anyone who claims to love someone so much that either they will have them or nobody will. There is no love in possessiveness, whether of someone in your life or someone you merely watch from afar.
To anyone who has or is becoming known for their their vocation or talent, I warn you: Carefully understand the risks involved in encouraging fan/fanatical behavior.There is a big difference with treating others with respect, and unknowingly, due too much friendliness toward strangers, encouraging the emotionally disturbed amongst them. Humility can make you want to engage with people who like your work, and humility also requires you to understand you do not want to (at the very least) encourage people to put you on a pedestal – to make you an idol. It’s not good for them…and it’s not good for you.
Become aware of the tell-tale signs of those who are not relating in a respectful mature appreciation but from the emotionally immature state evidenced by their worshiping type behavior and expressions. Often, disturbed fans will even resent you for trying to relate to them on an equal basis – equal in regards to both just being members of the human family…they do not want you to treat them with normal and equal regard as a fellow human being – they want you to be the idol they’ve made you. They want you on that pedestal and resent if you do not play the part. Watch for the signs – often concealed in the beginnings, but it often doesn’t take long to see some behavior/expressions that should serve as a warning to possible disturbance – don’t ignore it and do not give a stranger the benefit of doubt. Serious emotional disturbances can evidence themselves in small strange and inappropriate behaviors far in advance of the worst behaviors.
Anyone, to any degree, who raises their profile will draw unto them people who truly appreciate their work and will also draw those who are fixated on them.
Trust people only to the degree they’ve earned it.
Healthy Appreciation & Admiration
Healthy appreciation and admiration for the work of a stranger is good, and it’s too bad there isn’t a fine word to describe it…because the word “fan” has indeed become polluted due to the emotional instability of some. It’s a term I’ve come to despise and reject due to fan behavior which is deplorable.
And although I know many who call themselves “fans” are people who are ok, I have come to associate the word with its root meaning: fanaticism.
When I see someone who is obsessive in any area, I realize their emotional weakness means they are untrustworthy, since the “individual” or “true self” is not in control.
As for me, I’ll never be a fan of anyone or anything. I certainly do appreciate a number of writers/authors, musicians, artists, and actors for example…but I’m a fan of none.
ps: I highly recommend both films: Misery and Antiviral.
Here is Antiviral’s official trailer:
(Click HERE for all my film recommendations.)