I have a pop-culture confession to make to you, Internet. It isn’t something I’ve been trying to keep hidden for fear of seeming uncool, because that ship sailed long ago. But it is something I haven’t opened up about until this point. I, Rebecca Shaw, have become a One Direction fan. Or, more accurately, I’ve become a fan of the fandom that exists around One Direction. It’s a captivatingly broad spectrum of screaming teens and swaying mothers from all over the world who have joined together to form a writhing mass of lust and love and devotion. I have many (otherwise level-headed) adult friends in this writhing mass who (incessantly) share their unsolicited opinions about every aspect of the band. And because I wanted to understand what on earth could be making them so happy without the use of drugs (and I hate being left out of things), I had no choice but to investigate the phenomenon, like some kind of Internet Fandom Nancy Drew. This investigation meant I eventually formed my own impressions of the group, mainly shaped by looking at hundreds of cute gifs and deciding who my favourite band-member was based on those (ex-member Zayn is objectively the most handsome, but Harry is adorable and obviously the Beyoncé of the group).
I suspect that a big part of the reason I have fallen in love with the love surrounding 1D (a super cool and young way to write One Direction, because I am super cool and young) is because of my own experiences as a teenager. During my early teen years, my main pop culture influence was the prickly and standoffish Darlene from Roseanne, who I idolised. I developed an arsenal of sarcastic remarks like she had, and wielded it constantly against friends and foes alike. I was known amongst school friends for my acerbity and cynicism, even in the midst of tense handball games. I don’t actually know how I kept my friends, but I suppose the nineties were a different time. ‘But Bec, Roseanne finished in 1997, who influenced you after that?’ I hear you ask. Good question, clever reader. Luckily for me, and everyone who had to deal with me, in 1997 a little show called Daria began. Darlene, the sarcastic brunette who repelled sincere connections with people, was replaced with an animated version of herself with those exact same values.
Everything they (and I) stood for then is almost the exact opposite of what I see expressed in the love for One Direction now. The adoration seems pure, unabashed and earnest. The community is huge and obsessive, bringing people together to flip out over something they love. Being an emotionally cut-off and sarcastic Darlene-type does not afford you this kind of community, or these types of connections. And that’s exactly why I find it so enjoyable to witness now that I’m an adult, and can appreciate sincerity over cynicism.
Also, as someone who grew up without social media (but now loves it), I am fascinated by the way the fandom has developed and grown through social media and taken over every corner of the internet. I’ve spent some, okay quite a bit, okay far too much, time reading blog posts dedicated to ‘Larry’ – the belief that two of the members, Harry and Louis, are a secret couple – marvelling at how much time and energy and meticulous research these teenage girls have poured into this thing that they love. And spare me the argument that ‘kids these days’ are too fanatical or abnormal in their obsessions. Although the fandom does include members who can reach peak frenzy, the only difference between 1Directioners and Beatles fans from the 60s is that teenagers now have more avenues to express themselves. I am sure several of my friends would have ended up on some kind of stalker watch-list if we’d had access to Twitter and other social media outlets when Hanson were popular.
It’s derisive and dismissive statements about the fans that have strengthened the enthusiasm of my defence of One Direction and their admirers. Many things that are beloved by young women are ridiculed by others. The things they love are always given the least cultural capital. When Zayn left the band and fans were inconsolable, the internet was full of non-fans mercilessly mocking sad teenage girls. But why should one group get to decide what is important, or what should be taken seriously? A lot of adults spend time and energy discussing the colour of Batman’s suit, or hours making their Fantasy Football league, or getting upset about a soccer player leaving a team, without attracting similar scorn. Millions of tweets can be sent about a death in Game of Thrones without anyone being ridiculed. Why is it acceptable for these same people to turn around and mock One Direction (or similar) fans so ruthlessly for something they are passionate about?
I am a massive fan of One Direction fans, and I will wear that particular badge with pride. Some of the smartest people I know are One Direction fans, and have been brought an immense amount of joy from their passion. If you don’t like the music, I still recommend that you briefly plug into the fan culture. It is intense, it is joyful, and it requires you to leave your cynicism at the (1D)oor. And when the new rumours of a hiatus cause dramatic reactions from devastated fans, I hope the rest of us can remain sympathetic to their feelings. I lived many years as a Daria-type, shunning earnestness and enthusiasm and mocking those I saw as inferior for loving things so sincerely. But I have since realised that not wanting to be seen unreservedly loving things in your life can actually stop you from being able to love things unreservedly. And that, my friends, seems to be a Wrong Direction.