By Alison Rattle, Associate Editor
Most of us have probably been a fan of someone before. Whether it was an unhealthy obsession with One Direction in middle school or a “casual preference” for Wes Anderson’s films, we can mostly all relate to the exciting feeling of being infatuated with a public figure. What may have been even more exciting was the realization that someone you knew also liked the same band, author, or actor. This shared obsession indicated that you weren’t alone: that there was someone out there who understood you.
Art, music, and culture have real, material power to shape lives and change our world views. Fandom is a result of this power, bringing us together to share our collective passion. United by a common celebrity interest, it provides community, connection, and comfort to those who take part in it—to those who choose to believe.
Fandom is a religion of sorts, existing as a group of people with shared beliefs that come together to admire, and arguably even worship, an idol. Instead of flocking to church, fans flock to social media. You may see expressions of their faith across all the corners of the internet: BTS edits on Tik Tok, Drake lyrics as Instagram captions, outlandish theories on Twitter, or glowing reviews on Letterboxd. Operating a fan account may be the new way of preaching to the choir, and for many, going to a concert is as spiritual an experience as going to Sunday service. Standing in a large room filled with other believers, swaying to the steady rhythm of song while treating every word spoken as sacred truth…it is easy to recognize concert-going as an almost religious ritual.
Just as people find solace in religion, others find solace in fandom. As our world trends toward a more secular era, the mystique of stardom might fill the void once occupied by religion and God.
However, religiously obsessing over public figures is no contemporary phenomenon. During the height of Beatlemania in the 60s, John Lennon claimed in an interview that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”. He argued that the public was more taken with the band than with Christian Faith, fuelling the infamous catchline: “Teens want Beatles, not Jesus!” But even farther back in time, an early connection between religion and public figures becomes clear: at the beginning of the Middle ages, the King was seen as God’s representative on Earth. The concept of royalty itself has been around for centuries before, demonstrating our strong human history of idolization.
But upon a closer look at our celebrity idols, not all is fair in faith and fandom—a potential for catastrophe lurks behind the golden gates of Hollywood’s Heaven. It is natural for human beings to admire each other, especially those with money, fame, or status. It may become problematic when fans place a human idol onto a divine pedestal. When we hold someone to a godlike standard, we treat their inevitable fall from grace not only as an expectation but almost as a kept promise—the fulfillment of a long-fated prophecy. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! As a celebrity falls, they fall hard: toppling down the faith of the fandom as they fall.
Fans feeling a little too connected to their idols may also be cause for alarm. Artists and their art have the power to change us, but sometimes that change is not healthy. It is the very fabric of fan culture to research and support the idol, so fans may truly believe that they personally know the individual. However, behind the glitz and glory of the celebrity persona and though a unique identity does exist, it does not translate to fans truly knowing their idol. With technology and the internet, it is increasingly and frighteningly easy to develop a parasocial, one-sided relationship with a celebrity, replacing realistic expectations with fiction and hindering potential for real relationships. When we morph these celebrities into gods, we may very well be letting them govern our own lives, emotions, and identities. So as we embark on our own searches for faith, let’s remember the importance of perspective, whether that search looks like going to a music festival or reading scripture.