FANDOM FATIGUE: or, why we need to leave ariana grande alone

FANDOM FATIGUE: or, why we need to leave ariana grande alone

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I come to you today, friends, with a simple and somber request: can we leave Ariana Grande alone, for like, a month? Two months? Can we just, collectively, chill about Ariana Grande? And while we’re doing that, can we calm down about You Need To Calm Down? Also, can we not air animated scenes of real life musicians having sex on HBO shows? Oh, just really quick on top of that, can we not send death threats to teenage girls for dating your teenage boy idol? And, just one more thing, I promise, but can we not call someone trash for not publicly mourning the death of a close friend and former co-star? I know that might be a lot to take in, but I think, if we all behave like human beings, we will be able to accomplish this.

Fandom has gotten out of control. I propose we burn it to the ground and start it over again. Let’s rebuild what could’ve been great instead of riding this burning ship straight into the ground at breakneck pace. Let’s get into this.

THE BEGINNING

Well, my beginning. Fandom as a whole has been around longer than I have, but I’m only writing about my experiences here, not doing a historical deep-dive, because this is my blog, and I can do whatever I want to. I began on LiveJournal.

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my accounts have long since been deleted and i don’t appreciate you asking.

Now, when I was a tweenage girl getting very into television shows, reality singing competitions, and also puberty, I discovered fandom when many like me did in the same place. LiveJournal. Nowadays LiveJournal exists as a relic of its older self, with most fandom spaces long since vacated, but at the time, it was the hub for getting yourself involved in whatever passion you felt attached to. Wanna write Batman fanfiction? There were communities for that. Wanna talk about how Dr. Wilson from House would be your ideal husband? There were communities for that. Wanna talk about how the feud between My Chemical Romance and The Used was all a marketing ploy because their record labels thought it would sell more albums and they’re all still totally best friends, you guys, they HAVE to be, right? There were communities for that, and just about every other niche interest you could possibly have.

Roleplaying communities. Fanfiction communities. Serious speculation communities. There were even shitpost communities, although back then we called them “CAPSLOCK” communities, and every off the wall joke you wanted to make about Panic! At The Disco had to be typed in all capitals. It was all there, but most importantly, it was all private.

LiveJournal communities were member-only, and although most of them were not particularly elite about who they let in, it wasn’t a free-for-all. Mostly. And even when it was, people were terrified of being sued.

Now, I was 13, and I didn’t know who would be suing me or why they might sue me for writing a story where the Joker took me to prom, but there was a constant sense of “We have to keep this between us.” Fanfiction had disclaimers at the start and end of every post begging that the story not be linked elsewhere, and the idea of the people our fandoms were centered around finding out about what we did in the shadows was one we lived in constant fear of.

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we were ashamed, but we were happy.

One time a YouTube comedian I had a blog about found my blog and tweeted about it. He didn’t say anything negative, and he wasn’t mad about it existing, but I was so mortified that I deleted the account and never spoke to any of the LJ friends I had on there again. That’s where we were at.

Obviously, not everyone was like that, but LiveJournal felt insular, and connected, and something you had to know about to be a part of. This is where I think fandom in general made a mistake.

THE TWITTENING

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omg lol SIS!!!! im SHOOK!!!!

There are reasons that fandoms migrated away from LiveJournal, and there are other places they went before Twitter, but I’m trying to keep this one fairly short, so here’s a quick summary: LiveJournal sold out, everyone went to Tumblr, Tumblr sold out, fandoms split into groups, half went to AO3, and half went to Twitter.

AO3 is a really amazing website called ArchiveOfOurOwn, where people work tirelessly to make sure that fanfiction writers have a place to upload and store all their written work for free. Now, there’s not really a forum or community on AO3, because it’s just an archive, so the people whose main focus was creating fandom works tended to form communities on other social media sites, like Tumblr or Twitter. They’re not really the ones I’m talking about here, but like anything, there is overlap.

What I really want to talk about is stans.

Stans are twitter-based, largely, and have gotten increasingly problematic. No, not in a woke way, but in a legitimate, “this is a problem” way. The name itself comes from the Eminem song “Stan” about a stalker-fan of Em’s who is too obsessed with the rapper and ends up committing a murder-suicide out of devotion to him. You know, normal stuff people want to be associated with.

Twitter fans of artists adopted the term along the way, and it became shorthand to mean that you’re a really big fan of someone, or something. There are KPOP stans. There are Ariana stans. There are (or were) One Direction stans. Superfans existing, communicating, and participating in fandom behaviours isn’t really the problem. The problem comes from the lack of objectivity.

I’ve written at length about the dangers of over-obsession before, but the unique problem with stan Twitter is that the people being stanned must become part of the community. They’re on Twitter. They see what we’re saying. We tag them in tweets, we try to get into their DMs, they start to talk like us, they’re basically our friends, we’re entitled to their attention and love and friendship and this is AMAZING. Except for when it’s not.

People feel entitled to a lot about their favourite celebrities, and they’re starting to expect them to behave just like all their friends online. When they grieve, we want them to grieve with us, publicly. When they’re happy, we want them to share their happiness with us, and let us in on the intimate details of their life. When they break up with someone, or start dating someone we don’t like, we feel entitled to shit talk the way we might with our friends, despite having no idea who these people are or what they’re really feeling.

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normal world

Ariana Grande’s had a tough year. From the Manchester attack, to the death of Mac Miller, to the breakdown of her engagement, and the eventual tide of public favour shifting against her, it’s not easy being Grande. Some criticisms of her are earned, and others are not, but regardless – is it any of our business?

Why, after breaking down in tears onstage twice in the past two months, does Ariana Grande feel she owes her fans a letter of explanation? Why have people on Twitter created endless theories to explain her behaviour, endless looping gifs of her public grief, endless Twitter threads tagging her in constant posts trying to get her to acknowledge our sympathy for her?

Disney actor Cameron Boyce just passed away. I was writing an article about this for my work, and happened upon his sister’s Instagram page. I noticed her tagged posts were filled with fan posts grieving Cameron. Why did these fans feel the need to try to force his sister to share in their specific grief? What is gained from her phone blowing up with notifications as a constant reminder of the tragedy in her life?

When Louis Tomlinson’s mother passed away, he wrote a deeply personal song about his grief called “Two of Us.” Shortly after the song was released, his younger sister also passed away. Fans began trending #ThreeOfUs on Twitter, making the decision without any input from the one affected to combine these tragedies, to force Louis to now grieve both losses in public without any thought for what seeing that trend must have felt like for him. He, like Cameron Boyce’s sister, was endlessly tagged in memorial posts immediately after the loss of his family.

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You know the old criticism of baths that talk about how you’re just sitting in a soup of your own filth? Fandoms can be a bit like that sometimes. The problem with the way fandoms have evolved into standoms is that we are trying to drag our idols into our bathwater.

I don’t think fandoms are a bad place. I don’t think fanfiction writers are weird, or creepy. I don’t think it’s wrong to form communities and bonds based on our interests. I just think the bath is overflowing. The only way out is to gut the bathroom and start again.

Come on, let’s all make LiveJournals again. I promise I’ll add you as a friend. And, best of all, Ariana Grande will not.

 

 

PASSION PROJECT: a crash course in one direction, overthinking it, & harmless cheerfulness

PASSION PROJECT: a crash course in one direction, overthinking it, & harmless cheerfulness

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“I feel an earnest and humble desire, and shall do till I die, to increase the stock of harmless cheerfulness.”

― Charles Dickens 

Hello again, friends of my friends. Today I’m coming at you with something a little bit different than usual. At least as far as my blog is concerned. As far as my general daily life, this is par for the course. This is The Essential Playlist For People Who Haven’t Listened To One Direction’s Music And Perhaps Think One Direction Doesn’t Make Good Music. But it’s also going to be a complete narrative deep dive into the band, the lyrical context, and why exactly it is that I will defend these five idiots until the day I die. Now, I’m going to briefly talk about outside factors from the music, but this is centrally focused on the songs themselves and the context of them – this isn’t The Essential One Direction Funny Moments Found Family Themes Silly Stupid Dudes Hanging Out Playlist designed to help you fall in love with them as people – that playlist is just the DVD This Is Us. This is a playlist for explaining how you can’t judge a band’s music by their singles.

Firstly, here is the playlist on Spotify. For those without, no need to worry – each song will also be linked on YouTube as we move along. Oh yeah. That’s the level I’m at with this one. Please note that this playlist is not chronological. While 1D’s first two albums are pop masterpieces, they are not exactly the most welcoming to people who might not be super into pop, which is where I’m coming from here. I want to give a little bit of context to the band before we get into the back catalog, so to speak. I’ve also specified which album the song comes from, and indicated whether any of the member themselves wrote on the track. Without any further ado, let’s get too into this. Take a deep breath. You will not see me for several months.

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beep beep! we’re goin’ in!

1. Fireproof – FOUR, Payne / Tomlinson

I’m starting this off with probably my favourite One Direction track of all time. This song was released in advance of their fourth album, creatively titled FOUR. It also came before the Coleman Hell song, just, like, for the record. This one is short and sweet and calm – the gentle lullaby to many of my anxiety attacks. One of the reasons I love this band is that they know they’re a boyband, and they know what kind of music their audiences want, and they provided that over seven years and five albums while managing to evolve and grow as artists without sacrificing the warm, gentle positivity of their boyband roots – I think I’m gonna win this time. Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson, who have cowritten a huge number of 1D’s later discography, were really growing as a writing team (FOUR was the second album they wrote for) and it shows in the maturity of this track, especially when compared to some of their early stuff. This song feels like a Saturday morning lie-in on a big weekend.

2. Through The Dark – Midnight Memories, Payne / Tomlinson

Next, we have the only other song to challenge Fireproof for my favourite 1D hit of all time – Through The Dark. This song has a certain Mumford & Sons indie-folk influence, both in sound and in lyrical content. This song is pretty much point blank about loving and supporting someone through their struggles with mental illness. I’m not even stretching for that one. That’s just what it’s about.

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that’s just what it’s about!

I’m sure it was meaningful to many fans, just as it was meaningful to me, to hear their favourite band sing about this as upfront as they did, and not only that – framed as a situation that is not only hopeful, but inevitably something that will be gotten through. Sure, One Direction will not personally support you, but they can provide a vehicle to connection and hope that can sometimes be elusive to someone struggling. Especially if that struggling person is, say, a teenage girl without much else of a support system.

On top of all that, this song slaps. Zayn is, I will begrudgingly admit, a beautiful vocalist, and he’s never sounded more beautiful than on this one. In my opinion.

3. Happily – Midnight Memories, Styles

Now, the version on the Spotify playlist is a little different than the one I linked up there. The one up there is the acoustic version, which I included because 1. I love it, and 2. Zayn hits a high note at 2:21 that haunts my dreams and also my nightmares. Seriously. Go listen to that note. What the fuck, Zayn.

Anyway. Enough about that guy. Happily was one of the first tracks that Harry Styles wrote on, and centres around a theme that One Direction are absolutely not strangers to – being in love with someone who’s in a relationship with someone else. This theme comes up on multiple other songs just on this playlist, let alone their whole catalog, and who can blame them? It’s a pop standard for a reason. Beyond that, it’s still got that eternal optimism, fun, and warmth I fell in love with this band for – the heavy, quick beat, the yelled chorus, the blatant plea baby be with me so happily. This song feels like yelling along with the radio on a road trip. This song feels like spinning around with your arms out. It’s happy. Leave me alone.

4. Kiss You – Take Me Home

Okay, let’s get in our red convertible or our motorcycle with a sidecar and travel back to 2012, when One Direction were pure boyband magic and didn’t write their own songs. Kiss You was, fun fact, actually the song that got me into One Direction in the first place. Corbin Bleu danced to it on an episode of Dancing With The Stars, and I was immediately enraptured with the upbeat pop temp and easily learned lyrics, and I bought the song on iTunes. I’m a sucker for any song with a na-na-na-na break. What can I say? After listening to it on repeat for the next week straight, I finally caved in and purchased their albums. The rest, as they say, is history. (That’s a joke. They have a song called — you know what, you’ll see.)

Kiss You is absolutely the epitome of a flawless boyband song. This is the absolute perfect bubblegum pop song. It’s innocent, infectious, and buoyant. You can sing along the first time you hear it. It’s fun. It’s flirty. It’s the best pop has to offer.

5. Girl Almighty – FOUR

I’m all for a girl power jam, but I have to come straight out and say this before we start: the lyrics to this song are 100% nonsensical. There’s nothing to glean from analysis of her laugh is as loud as many ambulances as it takes to save a saviour. It’s just some words in an order that sounds fun to sing. The only couplet that has any merit is in the pre-chorus – Let’s have another toast to the girl almighty / let’s pray we stay young, stay made of lightning. Everything else might as well be sung in Simlish. Don’t bother listening to it too closely.

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only a brief selection and they’re all good.

However, despite all of this, this is probably the most represented 1D song in tattoos. Why? For two reasons. 1. “Girl Almighty” is, quite frankly, a genius turn of phrase, especially in the context of playing to their demographic. 2. This song is so fun. It’s a musical amusement park. The nonsensicalness of the lyrics add a sort of absurd charm to the bouncy and dreamy instrumentals. It’s fun. Have a little fun for once in your life.

6. Never Enough – Made in the A.M., Horan

Speaking of fun, let’s get into some MOUTH NOISES, BABY! Made in the A.M., the most recent (and, as it stands, final) album from the boys showcased a variety of musical styles, experiments, and vocal fun. Niall wrote on this one, but Liam’s voice takes the forefront, and he has the fun part of sing-screaming “COME ON!” at the end of the lines and getting to do the extremely fun breakdown/crawl up into screeching in the final third of this song – it’s never it’s never it’s never it’sneverit’sneverit’SNEVERIT’SNEVER. This song’s got a Hooked On A Feeling ‘ooga-chaka’ style acapella beat and, much like that song, it uses both its presence AND absence effectively. A-HOO-UGH indeed.

7. Temporary Fix – Made in the A.M., Horan

Another Niall-written banger off the MitAM album. The album was named after their writing/recording process – they released an album every year for five years, and they toured each of those albums. If you’re thinking, gee, when and where would they have time to write AND record an album while on tour? And the answer is ‘on their tour busses, in the dead of night and early morning while on the move.’ No wonder they burned out a bit, huh?

This album might be named after that, but this song was made more in the A.M. after hooking up with a FWB and being a little hungover but mostly really keen to make sure it’s not a one time happening. This song is more rock than pop and Harry Styles does his best Alex Turner impression to create a smooth, sleazy masterpiece. Compare this lyrically to Kiss You – 2012 One Direction could only hint at kissing behind closed doors. 2015 One Direction point-blank offer to come over for a quick hook up, if they can manage to keep their clothes on during the taxi ride over. Ah, character development.

8. Drag Me Down – Made in the AM

Okay. Okay. Give me a minute to collect myself here. Drag Me Down is maybe the most important song on this list. Musically, it’s fantastic – this is a 1D song with a drop, y’all.  But the context behind this song is the most important. This song was the first release after Zayn left the band. The world was frenzied – was this the end for 1D? Would they be any good without Zayn? Would fans care without him there? Were they going to crumble in the wake of this tragedy?

No. And fuck you.

Sorry, sorry. I got a little heated there. Drag Me Down was dropped by surprise with NO PROMOTION, NO WARNING in the dead middle of the night – it was about midnight for me, and I never SHOT out of bed so fast. I stayed up until two am playing it on repeat and I had to work the next morning. This song was the perfect storm. It sounded mature. It sounded complete with just four voices. It was both a fuck you to Zayn – nobody can drag me down, and a thank you to the fans – all my life, you stood by me / if I didn’t have you there would be nothing left. It created a frenzy, caused meltdowns, exploded off the charts. It was the perfect narrative moment, the perfect end to the arc. I fucking love this band.

9. No Control – FOUR, Tomlinson / Payne

I love stories. I love narratives more than just about anything in my life. I love pop culture because the stories we tell about celebrities are really stories about ourselves. And, like anyone, I love an underdog story. No Control is a One Direction under dog story.

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memories.

Without getting into it too much, Louis Tomlinson does not necessarily have the best voice in One Direction. I love his voice, personally, but many do not. His range is not as dynamic as Harry’s, he doesn’t have Liam’s consistency and smoothness, and he’s not got the confidence and control that Niall has. While his songwriting talents are key in many, many, many of the band’s hits, and while his unique tone adds an extremely valuable element to the band’s harmonies, Louis tends to have the least amount of ‘solos’ on songs, and rarely takes the lead role. He knows this. Fans know this. It’s not really a point of contention.

After the release of MitAM, a group of fans got together and decided to find a way to let Louis know that his voice, while not necessarily technically the strongest, was certainly appreciated by fans. They picked a song (one of the only ones to date where Louis’ solo helms the chorus), they picked a date, and they went wild. Project No Control involved streaming, buying, gifting, and requesting the song at their local radio stations, all on one date. No Control was never a single, but wound up one of the most impactful songs on the album. It’s also about morning wood. So there’s that.

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10. Act My Age – FOUR

This one’s just a little Irish drinking song that’s really fun. I got nothing else important to say about this one. I’ve tried to do an Irish jig to this song more times than I’d like to publicly share. I have not successfully done it ever.

11. Best Song Ever – Midnight Memories

This is probably not one you haven’t heard before. Yes, I know, it’s not-so-subtly ripping of Baba O’Reilly with that guitar. No, I do not care. This is another flawless pop song, and it was perfectly balanced in the band’s timeline – not as innocent or sweet as Kiss You, but not as serious or suggestive as Temporary Fix. This song lands right in the middle – a little mischievous, a little sweet, a little clever. She said her name was Georgia Rose and her daddy was a dentist / said I had a dirty mouth, but she kissed me like she meant it. Not to harp on this, but Zayn’s falsetto at the end is fantastic. I don’t want to talk about it.

12. Wolves – Made in the AM, Horan

Wolves is a bonus track off Made in the AM and sounds like a song that plays in a cool, chill bar at like 3pm, and you’ve only stopped in for lunch, and you’re on a road trip with your best friend, and you don’t know where you’re going but you know it’s going to be the best summer ever. I am in love with using the oooo-woooo-ooos as actual howls. I love this song. This is a song from a grown up band.

13. Olivia – Made in the AM, Styles

Olivia is like a musical theatre off-off-off-Broadway number from a play loosely inspired by Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s got swelling instrumentals (STRINGS! HORNS!) and fun, sometimes staccato lyrics – I love you, I love you, I love uh I love uh I love Olivia. It’s fun, it’s stylish, it’s theatrical – tailor made for me. I love you, that’s all I do, I love you!

14. End of the Day – Made in the AM, Tomlinson / Payne

End of the Day is a classic, larger than life track. I don’t have much to say about this one besides that the lyrics “Had nothing left to do / just me, her, and the moon” are some of my all time favourites. This song is exactly the sort of enduring, gentle warmth I’ve been going on about this whole time. All I know, at the end of the day, is you love who you love. There ain’t no other way. There’s also a really unexpected guitar at the end that just surprised me right now even though I’ve heard this song a thousand times. Literally.

15. Fool’s Gold – FOUR, Horan / Tomlinson / Styles / Malik / Payne

Aw, look! All of them wrote on this one! Good for you guys. Proud of you. This song is sad and sweet. One Direction doesn’t have altogether all that many slower songs, and most of the ones they do have don’t make my list, so this is a special case. It’s about loving someone who likes you, but doesn’t love you back. It feels melancholy but (of course) slightly hopeful anyway. I’ll keep falling for your foooooool’s go-ooo-old.

16. What A Feeling – Made in the AM, Payne / Tomlinson

This song is disco smooth and sensual. It’s like a spiritual successor to Careless Whisper. Imagine holding a single, flickering candle while wearing the finest of satin clothes, but you’re also on roller skates. That’s the feeling they’re singing about. This song is great.

17. I Would – Take Me Home

I don’t have anything for this one except it’s so much FUN, it’s a pure bubblegum blast, and it’s hilarious to hear this band, with barely any uninked skin left amongst them, lament how they can’t compete with your boyfriend because he has 27 tattoos. I can’t say this enough – early One Direction was flawless pop music at its best.

18. She’s Not Afraid – Take Me Home

Again – fun, perfect pop. That’s it. For the record, I am afraid of everything listed in this song, so if you’re trying to narrow down who it’s written about, you can cross me off the short list.

19. History – Made in the AM, Payne / Tomlinson

This song makes me feel the same way I felt when I graduated university. It was the perfect, bittersweet end to what is potentially (I don’t want to believe, but I won’t put up a fight for the sake of this pretty bow wrapped up on this narrative) their last album. An anthem dedicated to their time as a team together, and their time as a team with fans – literally in this case. The gang vocals on the chorus were actually fans brought into the studio so that, in the words of Niall Horan himself, the song was ours as much as theirs. Shut up. SHut up. Im not crying. Your e cryING

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help

20. What Makes You Beautiful – Up All Night

Fittingly, I will close this playlist off with the song that started their careers and ends all of their concerts. It’s sweet. It’s harmless. It’s a fantastic pop song.

Ultimately, the reason I love One Direction’s music is because it makes me happy. One Direction made music that made me happy during a time in my life where virtually nothing made me happy at all. In the darkest, dreariest, most depressed era of my life, where I found no hope or excitement in much of anything at all, I was happy to listen to some 1D. I was excited to see them in concert. I was giddy to talk about them with my friends and count the days down until new music, new videos, new tour announcements. One Direction were and still are an endless source of positivity, hope, and simplicity in a world where that is much, much needed. The happiest moment of my life was standing in an arena filled with people who loved them as much as I did – it still stands out starkly in my mind how the best feeling at the concert wasn’t necessarily seeing them and sharing space with them, although that was amazing and I definitely 100% cried as soon as they stepped on stage. The best feeling was looking around that arena and feeling connected, and happy, and excited all together.

I am absolutely 100% positive there are very, very few people who will have made it this far in this post. And I’m at peace with that. If you did, I’d love to hear how you feel. If you gave up ten songs ago, well, you’re not reading this any more, but I understand that too. One Direction are not, probably, the technical best band in the history of the world. But they had the biggest, most positive impact on my life. So I love them. And I love you! Thanks for reading!

 

DR. SELF LOVE: or, how i learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

DR. SELF LOVE: or, how i learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

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While on lunch break at work this summer, one of my coworkers and close good friends said to me that I was the human equivalent of the “:-D” emoticon. Just last week, a professor in an early morning class asked who wasn’t feeling tired & dead inside at 9am, and that same close good friend and I were the only ones to raise our hands. Our professor looked at us, then to class at large, and went “Is anyone surprised?” We all laughed. It hit me at both of those moments, months apart as they were, how starkly different my own image of myself was from how other people saw me. This was a thought I’d had a lot of points in my life, but for what feels like the first time in a long time, it was a good thing.

To many people, my “public image” has always been one of light heartedness and fun. Never too serious and always up for a joke – that’s me! Small, loud, and goofy were the three things I tried to portray the most, and for the most part, it was how I really was. On the inside, however, I was struggling. I was constantly at a war with myself – I felt like an imposter and a fraud most of the time, who had skirted through university on luck alone and was left with no ambition, no skill, and no future to look forward to once I graduated. I knew on some level it was my mental illness speaking and not the truth, but that level didn’t control my brain, and I couldn’t get out from underneath the rocks I was burying myself under. When I look back on my twitter and blog posts from that time, I’m greeted with the image of a stranger – a really, really sad stranger that I wish I could help.

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poor little baby me. cheer up, baby me! it’ll get better!!! you have a cat now!!!!

When I look back at what I was going through back then, it feels so alien to me, and I’m so grateful for that. It wasn’t even that long ago, really. I was struggling up until about a year ago, but the journey I’ve taken from then until now is one of the proudest experiences of my life. And also, I have a cat now!

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ISN’T HE JUST THE BEST

I didn’t write this post to be an examination of my mental health and how it’s improved, although of course that’s where I’m coming from with this. I really wrote this in the hopes that someone who reads it might be hit with the same sort of inspiration I was a year ago when I decided to make a change for the better. A year ago, I read a blog post someone had made that discussed treating the voice in your head that was constantly negative like an annoying, edgy teenager – for every time your brain tells you you’d be better off dead, you brush it off with a quick “Thanks for your input, Barbara. I’ll definitely hop right on that one.” and return to what you were doing. For a while, that train of thought did help me dismiss the negative thoughts, but I realized after a while that it was a bandaid solution to a deeper problem. I knew the solution to the problem the whole time, but it was too hard to deliver on it.

I had to be kind to myself.  That included being kind to the negative voice in my head that was trying constantly to undermine me. Ultimately, that voice was me, and when I dismissed it rudely, I wasn’t dealing with the problem that caused it. I was just delaying it. I was also treating that voice like an inevitability – there’s no way to stop the voice, so learn to ignore it. Once I had accepted this, it was easy for me to see how to handle the voice: to treat it with respect. Every time that mean, nasty voice spoke up to tell me I wasn’t qualified, or deserved bad things happening, or was going to ruin what I was working on, what it was really doing was trying to make me acknowledge my fears.

“You’re not good enough at this,” was actually “This means a lot to you, and you’re afraid of doing it wrong.”

“You’re not qualified for this job,” was actually “There’s a lot you still don’t know, and you will need to ask a lot of questions – and you’re afraid asking questions will make you look dumb.”

“They hate you, they’re annoyed by you, they don’t want to be your friend,” was actually “You really care about how this person feels about you, and you’re afraid they might not like you.”

Once I learned to translate the nastiness into acknowledgements of what I was afraid of, I was able to handle those fears rationally. I was able to speak to myself kindly, and about myself kindly, to get to the best way for me to assuage the fears themselves. I began not only listening to that voice, but thanking it for letting me know what was important to me, and in turn, that voice started speaking to me more kindly. Of course it did – it’s not an external voice from some monster or edgy kid. It’s just me. It was how I let myself talk to myself. It changed when I changed.

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fun being had online

There’s been a rising trend online + in social circles that takes self-deprecating humour to an extreme. Depression & anxiety memes are constantly being created, shared, and reshared. Relatable tweets about hating yourself, being garbage, hating life, and wanting to die are drafted, posted, and retweeted faster than you could ever hope to keep up with them – and I absolutely understand why this has happened. I used to participate in this gladly, and some of my favourite jokes were about wanting to die, or hating myself, or being miserable.

The reason this is so popular, and the reason I did it, and the reason some of you do it, is simple: it’s about connection. It’s about seeing other people suffering in a way that you also suffer, and connecting over it. It creates a bond between people who are suffering in such a unique way – depression makes you feel alone and unheard, no matter what. These memes and jokes and tweets allow you to finally feel like someone understands your pain, and by making jokes about that pain, you can lighten its hold on you temporarily. It can be a safe way to reach out to others for help without making yourself vulnerable, and it can be a way to keep an eye on your friends’ mental health without having to ask them to disclose their own suffering to you in a way that’s, quite frankly, terrifying. Every time you tweet that you wish you were dead, wrapped in a tidy little joke, you allow yourself to reach out and connect with people, like you desperately need to, and you get to be honest without making yourself vulnerable. I get it. I really do. That’s why this next part is going to be hard to hear, because it was hard for me to hear it too.

This kind of humour is not good for your mental health. We need to stop using it. 

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love to see this relatable content from someone with a lot of young, impressionable followers. its my favourite thing to see

The problem is that these jokes work the same way as the voice in your head does. When you constantly talk and joke about wanting to die, and you let that idea go unchallenged, you spend a lot of your time thinking about wanting to die. Hating yourself is cyclical, and it requires actively changing the way you treat yourself. You won’t stop hating yourself until you’re kinder to yourself. Loving yourself won’t come first – you won’t ever earn kind thoughts and self love. The right to wanting to be alive isn’t something you earn – it’s something you already have. When I stopped making depression humour content, I forced myself to stop thinking in those patterns – ‘I wish I was dead, I’ll never be happy, life sucks, everything sucks, it will never get better.’ Those are the punchlines to every depression joke, and when you let yourself constantly supply those punchlines and you’re constantly hearing other people make them, you’re reinforcing their messages.

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the world is not as bad as it seems. don’t forget that.

The same goes for positivity and kindness. I still struggle with my mental health, and probably always will, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a positive person. I choose every day to be kind, and supportive, and energetic – I will choose to make a positive joke over a negative one whenever I can. Of course, I have bad days, and I fall back into those same dark punchlines sometimes – I would never say you can’t ever make a self deprecating joke, or poke a little fun at depression. But ultimately, the reason I was so effected by my friend saying I was positive, or my teacher commenting on me being an energetic happy person, is because I was finally getting the results back from all the work I put in. I chose to be happier, and I am happier. Wait, wait —

Obviously, obviously obviously obviously, depression cannot be cured by deciding to be happy.  Saying I “chose” to be happy is too simple – I didn’t wake up and decide not to have depression anymore. I’m not one of those people telling you that yoga and a good night’s sleep will cure your anxiety. I have seen multiple mental health professionals. I have discussed medication with them and probably will again in the future. There is so much more to your mental health than what you can control, and nobody understands that more than I do. When I say I chose to be happier, what I’m really saying is that, with the help of counsellors, therapists, doctors, friends, family, pets, etc – every day I make small choices to be kinder to myself. When I am kind to myself, it is easier to handle my mental health in positive and constructive ways. When I handle my mental health that way, I am happier overall.

Think of it this way: if I came to you in a depressive episode, how would you treat me? I would imagine kindly, gently, and with support. You treating me that way wouldn’t cure my depression – but it would make it easier for me to get it under control. It’s the same as you being cruel and mean to me in that situation wouldn’t be causing my depression – but it would be adding to the negativity spiral that made it have control over me. You have the ability to make that decision for yourself every time – and sometimes, it will be too hard. Sometimes, I’m cruel to myself. Sometimes, I make it worse.

But more often than not, I don’t. I’ve put a lot of hard work into recognizing these moments, and choosing the kind answer. I treat myself the way I would treat any friend who was struggling, and I slowly became my own friend. My own friendship is just as powerful a tool as the friendship others offer me. Being kind to myself has saved my life.

I’m in a really good place right now. It’s not all because of what I just talked about – there are a hundred other factors that have helped me improve my life from where I was a year ago, two years ago, five years ago. But I never would have gotten here, and felt like I deserved to be here, if I hadn’t started making an effort to be kind to myself. Patient with myself. Hopeful with myself.

Treat others the way you want to be treated is the golden rule of life. Remember, though, that all golden rules worth their salt will always apply to you as much as they apply to everyone else.

Treat yourself the way you want to be treated. Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself. Let yourself be vulnerable and ask for help. Reach out to your friends when they ask for help. Life is hard, but we can make it better for others and for ourselves.

I don’t always like myself, but I will love myself fiercely because I know that I deserve that. You deserve that too. We’re all in this together – and that includes you.

Thanks for reading. I love you!

SUPERBAD: the problem with superhero movies

SUPERBAD: the problem with superhero movies

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Hello, Internet. I can call you Internet, right? We’re pretty close friends by now. I’ve told you about my One Direction obsession, you’ve shown me unspeakable horrors across text, video, and still image format. We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over the past decade of my life. I think this allows us a little bit of honesty between each other, right? You can (and do!) feel free to tell me anonymously when you think I look ugly in a picture, but in return, I must ask this honesty of you: can we please, collectively, all together, admit that superhero movies are kind of done?

Okay, hold on, put down your army of angry fifteen year old boys in various superhero emblem t-shirts. Let’s talk about this like adults and nobody has to get Axe’d.

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axe provides you with the superpower of keeping all other humans fifteen feet away from your person at all times. just like hawkeye.

In my teenage years, I had a brief fling with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I enjoyed the Iron Man movies, I loved the near-romantic comedy aura of Thor, and I was really quite obsessed with the Avengers films (yes, including Age of Ultron. I liked Age of Ultron. If that opinion doesn’t sit well with you, let me save you some time and remind you where the back button is on your browser). I was still by all definitions a casual fan – you couldn’t pay me to read a comic book, and I only really paid attention to the movies with the characters I liked in them. To this day I’ve never seen a Captain America movie. He’s fine as the moral center in an Avengers film but I don’t want to see two hours of Chris Evans’ concerned eyebrows. And that was fine! It was totally possible for me to be a fan of those movies without knowing everything. There were context clues. It was easy enough. I fell out with the MCU shortly after Age of Ultron came out, but kept a close eye on my favourites.

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i saw thor: ragnarok four separate times in theatres. don’t even worry about it.

Then this weekend, my roommate asked if I wanted to watch Infinity War. I had never gotten around to seeing it in theatres, and because the internet I had already had much of the plot spoiled for me, but I had always enjoyed Avengers movies and my best friend Thor was in it, so I decided it would be fun to sit down and give it a go.

So, I’ll start by saying I don’t think it’s a good movie. It was rushed, nearly all the emotion and genuine moments within it felt unearned, the characters felt a bit lifeless, and all in all the film seemed to lack the heart that so many of its predecessors were famous for. Almost every character death lacked any tension with the knowledge that they almost certainly will be resurrected (some have sequels already on the books). But that’s not really a problem with superhero movies – that’s a problem with that specific superhero movie. The problem with superhero movies is that they’re becoming indecipherable.

I’ve seen most of the MCU films, and there were mulitple times during Infinity War that I had to learn over and ask my roommate if something was happening that I was supposed to recognize or not, or if something was related to a film I hadn’t seen. And it’s not just Infinity War – just today I watched Deadpool 2 with a friend, and there were multiple references in that film that I had to briefly explain the significance of – and this was in a film that had no literal connection to any other superhero movies. We all love a reference, but it feels to me that superhero movies are starting to almost become recursive. It’s becoming so dense a territory that if you weren’t into them already, it’s almost impossible to get into it now.

Just the MCU alone (including the tv series The Defenders) would take someone seven days, eight hours, and three minutes straight to watch all the way through – and if someone has to do an entire week’s worth of preparation for a movie, I think that movie has lost a little bit of it’s fun factor. It starts to feel more like homework.

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pictured: who this next paragraph is for

Now, there’s a large chance this could all be just my experience with superhero movies lately. By all accounts, the world at large seems to be enjoying this increasingly meta and self-referential movie universe. If you’ve been watching them as they come out, it’s probably a much easier job than trying to get all caught up at once. And, obviously, there’s some really good superhero movies out there. I saw Thor: Ragnarok four times in theatres, remember? Black Panther twice! It’s not that they’re all individually bad movies!

It’s just that there’s too many of them. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult to watch any of them without watching all of the others. What happened to movies being able to stand on their own? What happened to unique, original movie concepts? Why does everything have to tie together? Why did they have cut Thor’s hair?

They have Marvel movies scheduled for release up until 2022. That’s enough time for me to go back and get a second undergraduate degree and STILL catch the latest superhero movie in the MCU after my graduation ceremony. Do we need that? Do we even want that?

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if they revealed the title, we might get spoilers, because god forbid we learn about “iron man 4: this time shuri is iron man” before we’re appropriately teased for it in untitled marvel movie 6 and it’s confirmed in untitled marvel movie 9

Superhero movies are a huge part of our current pop culture, but they’re so exclusionary to people who aren’t willing to invest large chunks of their lives into them. They’re so inter-woven and inter-connected that it becomes impossible and impractical to begin to separate them from each other, even in cases where they certainly should – the tonal difference between the end of Thor: Ragnarok (largely a comedic movie, light in tone, bright and colourful cinematography) and the immediately following start of Infinity War (harsh, dark, fairly lifeless in comparison) make these movies feel like they’re from separate universes, but we all have to suspend our belief and understand them as one woven together story.

The story is getting boring, and we keep having to ask to be retold chapters to understand where we’re going next. I think it might be time to close the book.

And then watch Thor again.

Les-be-honest: Why is it so hard for women to date women?

Les-be-honest: Why is it so hard for women to date women?

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Recently, a girl I’d matched with on tinder and had been talking to for a while asked me if she “looked straight.” Despite the fact that she was talking to me, a girl who matched with her and had asked her on a date, she said that no women ever matched with her or asked her on dates, and she credited this phenomenon to “looking straight.” I guess because she has long hair? The jury’s still out.

I have been asked by many of my bi and pan women friends over my life if they’ve looked too straight, and if looking too straight may be the reason they never match with girls on dating apps or websites, even ones specifically designed for women seeking women. The answer is, honestly, maybe? I sometimes skip over potential matches if they seem straight to me, but it’s never done because they have long hair, or wear make up, or have on pretty clothes, which seems to be the basis of the question (which, honestly, is a little insulting as to what it means to “look gay,” but I digress). Usually it’s done because they have a boyfriend featured in their pictures, or their bios are heavily centered around “wanting a man” and mentioning key points such as “beards,” “being over 6’0 tall,” and “looking for a tattooed gentleman.”

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if this is your ideal, i’m probably not who you’re looking for

Now the important thing to really note is that you can be someone who is attracted to men who fit that description (or any men at all) and still also be open to dating women. The problem lies here: it is extremely hard to date women as a woman, and if you’re only passively open to the possibility, it’s very likely that it won’t happen for you. That’s not because lesbians are meanies who don’t like girls who also like boys, and it’s not because you have long hair. It’s because you have to put a lot of effort into dating women, and even then, it’s incredibly difficult. I have a few ideas as to why that is.

Problem One: Lack of Opportunity

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It’s pretty slim pickings out there trying to find a lesbian dating app. A lot of people I mention this to express a lot of surprise to me – gay men have so many after all! Grindr, Scruff, Hornet, Adam to Adam, etc, etc. Surely there must be an equal number of women-exclusive apps!

Unfortunately not. Of the six listed above as suggested by google, only two are actually exclusive to women seeking women. Fem is an android-exclusive app, so I’ve never been on it, but I’ve also never met anyone who’s been on it either, so it’s not exactly ubiquitous the way Grindr is for gay men. Her, on the other hand, is a very popular app, but that leaves one option for all women out there who are exclusively looking to date other women. If you’re also looking to date men, it’s probably not likely you’ll download Her, especially considering most of the women on Her are also on your local Tinder or OkCupid, where you don’t have to rule out men. That is problem number two.

Problem Two: You Have to TRY to Date Women

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Twitter user and designer Amanda Killian tweeted the above image two days ago and it’s honestly what got me thinking about this whole thing in the first place. Sidenote: for the unaware, “political lesbianism” is a dated and unpopular term that refers to straight or otherwise not gay women “choosing” to become lesbians and date other women as a political statement, and that women who can date women SHOULD date women, because fuck the patriarchy, or whatever. It’s not a good theory. I do not have the time to get into how bad of a theory it is.

She makes a valid point. If you are not 100% committed to dating women, you likely will not. It’s very difficult, and it’s so much easier to date men. I performed an experiment – at 7:02 this evening I set my tinder to “Women And Men” and swiped right frantically for about five minutes. By 7:30 I had 3 men messaging me asking me on dates. Compare that, for instance, with my women only tinder experience – being on the app for years, matching with hundreds of girls, having hundreds of conversations, exchanging numbers, trying to make plans to meet, and having gone on a grand total of one tinder date. We went on a few dates after the fact, but that’s the important part. 3 potential dates in under a half hour versus one fruitful date in a few years.

Now, of course, the answer to that could be that I’m just not very good at Tinder, which is totally possible. But my fellow gay friends have had similar luck – one date from OkCupid, one relationship from Tinder, lots of numbers and conversations but nothing coming from them. So, then, if you’re a girl who’s open to dating women and men, it seems that trying to date women will yield very little results, while at the same time your cup runneth over from men attempting to date you – no contest! You might be putting equal effort in on both fronts, but dating women as a woman is hard, and requires more effort than the bare minimum. Which is probably because…

Problem Three: Women Don’t Know How To Date Other Women

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from autostraddle: a very sensible queer guide to sending the first message on tinder

Women who have only dated men (which, to be fair, is almost all of us – many lesbians go through relationships with men before coming out, and as we’ve already discussed, it’s much easier for bi and pan women to date men) don’t really get how to date women. Women who have only dated men tend to not send the first message or ask for a date, but not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t know how, and they’ve never really had to before. In your standard hetero relationship, it is expected that the guy will make the first move. Women who have grown up on that, and only ever experienced that, don’t even register it as an active decision – it’s what they know. They don’t know how to make the first move, and if they want to, they tend to feel insecure and not confident.

DISCLAIMER: OBVIOUSLY THIS IS NOT THE EXPERIENCE OF EVERY MALE/FEMALE RELATIONSHIP! There are LOTS of women who message guys first, and lots of women who ask guys on dates, but statistically speaking, it’s more likely the other way around. I’m talking in generalities, not in specifics. Social trends, not anecdotes.

I’m sure you can see the problem with two women who have matched on tinder both waiting for the other to send the first message. A good half of the tinder profiles I come across mention something about you “having to message first” because she’s shy or simply doesn’t do it. I’m sure you can also see the problem with two women who have matched on tinder, who have started talking, both not knowing when the appropriate time to ask for a date is, and both being very hesitant or scared about not ever having gone on a date with another woman before. The conversation stalls, or one of them stops replying, or they end up essentially friend-zoning each other.

And that’s if they get that far! Women on dating apps and websites tend to be extremely pickier than their male counterparts – when my tinder was set to men, I had a mutual match with about 80% of the men I swiped left for (I’m not tooting my own horn here – I have friends with much higher match rates, but I’ve also seen the furious-frantic-swipe-swipe-swipe-left-without-looking tactic that men use, and men use it for this very reason) but in general I’d say I match with just under half of the women I swipe left for. Women are pickier, and their reasons are multitude – I’ve had girls tell me they only match with girls who mention being a lesbian in their bio because they assume that means I have more experience, and I’ve had girls who tell me they only match with girls taller than them, or shorter than them, or blondes, or people with funny bios, or people with group photos, and on, and on, and on.

Many girls I’ve (almost) gone on tinder dates with have mentioned to me that they’re nervous and have never dated another woman before. They say it sheepishly, often apologizing – and that’s sort of the problem. You are allowed to go on your first date with a woman! You’re allowed to be nervous! Not every girl has experience with other girls, and it can be scary to do something for the first time. You might be nervous you’ll find out you don’t actually like other girls. You might be nervous you’ll find that you really like other girls. Both can be hard – you don’t want to be accused of faking, or perpetuate horrible biphobic stereotypes, but you also know it’s so much harder to date women. What will my parents say? What will people on the street say? Am I really ready for this?

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“ready for our second date!” funny joke, terrifying reality

All this has been to say one thing: if you’re a girl who’s interested in other girls but never had the opportunity to date one, I strongly encourage you to put in the effort it takes to create that opportunity. It’s hard, it’s unfamiliar, and it can be scary, but the odds of it happening by random chance or fate is slim. Most gay women won’t approach you or flirt with you in public if they don’t know for sure that you’re interested in women, and if your friends don’t know or aren’t thinking about you as a dating option for their gay friends, it’s unlikely you’ll be randomly set up by some matchmaking pals. (Which, by the way, very weird – when I was identifying as bi, I never got asked if I wanted to be set up with people’s female friends, but as soon as I came out as a lesbian, it happened frequently.)

If you’re a woman who’s interested in dating women, I’d like to gently and kindly encourage you to put in the effort. Set your tinder/okcupid to only women for a couple weeks to thin out the herd. Send the first message. Ask for her number. Suggest a specific date, and go on it! I’m not saying you have to rule men out forever (unless you decide to), but they’ll all still be there in a couple weeks, and there will always be more available men to pick and choose from than women. It’s not bad or regressive or anything else to date men, or to only date men even if you think you could be attracted to women, and I don’t want it to come off like I’m trying to lure you over to the lilac side. If you are perfectly happy with the way it’s going for you, then all the power to you! I’m specifically speaking to the girls out there who were once like me – nervous, intimidated, but really and truly desiring the opportunity to date women. It might take a while, and it might be something you’re not used to, but don’t take an initial lack of matches or messages as discouragement.

Girls who want to date other girls are out there! It’s harder to find them, and it’s harder to get a romantic situation started, but if you’re willing to put in the work, you can get results. I know my “one date” anecdote might not be very encouraging, but I’ve met and talked to a lot of really great women through these sites, and there’s loads of reasons it didn’t work out besides the above – we live too far apart, one of us is moving, we have different relationship goals. I know there’s a girl out there who’ll match up more neatly, and I just hope that she has the confidence to message me first if needed. I hope she has the confidence to agree to a date even though it’s scary. I also hope she’s a future Olympic athlete. But that’s not here or there.

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michelle jenneke, please call me

Thanks for reading, and happy swiping!

TINHAT: one direction, conspiracy theories, and the danger of parasocial relationships

TINHAT: one direction, conspiracy theories, and the danger of parasocial relationships

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Buckle up, chuckleheads. This one’s going to be a wild ride.

In this post, I’m going to get into some really crazy stuff. We all love a good conspiracy theory and I don’t hold myself above that, but One Direction fans have got us all absolutely beat. I’m going to go into detail on this, but I need to tell you in advance this is all about a supposed hidden relationship, five separate fake relationships, a fake baby, secret communication via teddy bears in BDSM gear, obsession, stalking, absolute nuttery, and what this means for how we’re fans of people now. Also I’m going to talk about Lord of the Rings a bit. So. There’s that going for it too.

Before I can get into that grab-bag of absolute bonkers content, we’re going to need to go back in time a bit. All the way back to the dark era of 2010, when this happened:

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“okay, boys, for this shoot, i want you to try to look like teen vampires who are definitely going to eat you but will probably complain about how their mums make them do their maths homework before they’re allowed to play halo on weeknights.”

A band called One Direction was put together on X Factor. If you know me, you probably know the amount of knowledge I can mindlessly spew about One Direction is practically limitless, so I’m going to spare you the wonderful story of hope, late second act defeat, and triumphant victory riding on the wave of the power of teen girls, but here are the basics: five young, cute boys were put in a band together. They did well, and came in third, and then kind of took over the world for the next five years or so, both individually and as a team.

All of them are equally important in the story of my heart, but for the story I need to tell you, there are two at the center of it. Worldwide phenomenon, actor in an Oscar nominated movie, mega superstar Harry Styles; and the little king trashmouth we found digging through garbage barefoot in an Arby’s, Louis Tomlinson. (I’m kidding. Louis is a successful solo singer now as well, and I love him more than anything.) Back in 2010, however, they were just two doofy teenage boys, 16 & 18 respectively, who got thrust into the spotlight and worldwide fame.

Harry and Louis got along very well. Out of the band, they were the two closest friends, which for a band of five idiots who clung to each other like their lives depended on it, is saying something. Like most young men, they behaved a bit homoerotically. The tween girls of the world took note of this, as they do, and began “shipping” them – for those of you blissfully unaware of what fandom is, to “ship” someone is to want them in a relationship with someone else. The fans called them by a couple name, a portmanteau that would eventually haunt my nightmares: Larry Stylinson.

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two tiny babymen, ostensibly in love

Louis and Harry became aware of the popularity of “Larry” among their fanbase, and as two teenage boys with no concept of what was about to happen to them, they played along. It was a funny joke everyone was in on to start with – they would joke about dating, about having crushes on each other, playfully slap each other’s asses. You know, like friends do. They thought it was funny, and their fans thought it was amazing, and everyone won and was happy forever and nobody made it super fucking weird, the end.

Just kidding. Before I get into the juicy stuff, I’m going to define a couple things. The most important concept I’m going to get into is the idea of being a “tinhat,” or “tinhatting.” The phrase comes from the idea that people who believed the government was spying on their thoughts or that aliens could read their minds would wear tinfoil hats on their heads to keep their brains protected. This evolved into being any person who believed in any sort of off-the-wall conspiracy theory, but in the fandom sphere, a tinhat became solely someone who believed in a secret, hidden (almost always) gay relationship between two celebrities that only they and a select few true fans knew about. This started with the Lord of the Rings.

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basically.

The idea of “shipping” people and characters had been around long, long before the Lord of The Rings movies came out, but the term “tinhat” bears a special connotation – you don’t just think the two people would make a cute couple, or think it would be hot if they were, or just like reading/writing fanfiction about them. If you’re a tinhat, you really truly believe in the deepest part of your heart that they are a couple in real life. This term was coined around hardcore believers that Dominic Monaghan and Elijah Wood from Lord of the Rings were in a gay relationship that they were forced to keep hidden from the public. Their portmanteau was “Domlijah” and, though it was before my time online, relics of the Domlijah tinhats remain around the web today. Countless forum threads, blog posts, and emails shared about the way these two men behaved with each other, the forced closeting via their management companies, the hired actresses portraying their “girlfriends” are all still searchable today. Crazy, right?

The next term I’m going to get into here is the idea of a parasocial relationship. It’s a fancy word, but it basically boils down to a one-sided relationship a person has with a celebrity. It’s the feeling that a celebrity is your friend, even though you don’t know them. You feel a special connection with them, and feel like there is a mutual understanding between you. This sounds a bit crazy, but most of us have some variation of parasocial relationships with celebrities – you KNOW you don’t really know this person, but it feels like you do, and you’re fond of this person the same way you’re fond of your friends. This has been exasperated by social media – we can follow a celebrity on twitter or Instagram like we follow our friends, and see their sense of humour, personality, and life up close on a personal scale like never before. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can have some dangerous implications.

Which brings us back to Larry. In the early days of the band, the concept of Larry Stylinson was relatively harmless, albeit a bit frenzied.  Harry and Louis played into it, and why wouldn’t they have? Their fans loved it, and it was just a bit of fun between them. Surely it wasn’t about to go off the rails, right?

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OVER TWO AND A HALF MILLION RETWEETS AND A MILLION LIKES. Y ‘ A L L

The problems began where most problems begin in fandom spaces – with a woman. I could get into the problem with misogyny in fandom, but that’s for a different time. What happened with One Direction is that Louis got a girlfriend. Her name is Eleanor, and she’s very nice. Harry introduced them. That’s a very sweet story. Unfortunately, it kind of throws a wrench into the whole ‘Harry and Louis are in love’ narrative the fans had been telling themselves for so long that they’d started to believe it.

Out came the theories. These were familiar theories to anyone who had followed along at home with Domlijah – Eleanor was a hired actress to make Louis look straight to the general public, and Harry and Louis were being forcibly closeted by the contract that they’d signed as a band with Modest! Management. Let’s ignore the ridiculousness of that theory and the fact that it’s illegal to forcibly closet someone via contract and dig right in.

As with most times a popular male celebrity gets a girlfriend, Eleanor was harassed immediately and practically non-stop. Tinhats phoned the university she was attending and told them one of their students was part of a homophobic coverup. Her twitter was flooded with insults. Theories floated around that she didn’t even really exist, and was a character made up by Modest! played by twin actresses. This was determined by ruthlessly analyzing and critiquing photos of her, by herself and with Louis.

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i’m not making this up.

The Larry tinhats (henceforth I shall refer to them by the moniker they’ve chosen for themselves in recent years: larries) were cruel, relentless, and their numbers were in the millions. Whenever Louis, Harry, Eleanor, or any of the girls Harry would later be linked to romantically would tweet, post on Facebook, Instagram, or anywhere else, their comments would be flooded with thousands upon thousands comments of righteous anger, rallying cries of “LARRY IS REAL”, and condemnations of involvement in keeping Louis and Harry closeted.

The anger, of course, was never directed at Louis or Harry themselves – always at the women, or at the shady and vague bad guys in “management.” Louis and Harry, as the larries theorized, were fighting just as hard to be free of these shackles as the fans were for them, and communicated with them specifically in secret codes they developed. If Harry wore blue (the colour of Louis’ eyes) or Louis wore green (vice versa), it was a signal to the fans that they were right about them being together. Every tattoo they got individually was secretly a matching tattoo that told the story of their epic love story. Every time they looked at each other on stage or spoke in an interview, they were dropping a secret hint about their struggle and undying love for each other. Perhaps the most egregious was the “Rainbow Bondage Bears” – two teddy bears that the touring crew for the band would set up around the stage before concerts. One was big and one was small, so obviously they represented 5’11 Harry and 5’9 Louis, and they were wearing bondage gear, which is… obviously… a gay thing? Apparently? And they had a blue and a green sticker on them. To the larries, this was all the proof that they needed to determine these bears were being set up by Louis and Harry themselves as a way to communicate with their true fans who understood the code.

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real grown ass adult people believed these two bears were speaking to them in code about superstars from the biggest band in the world.

This went on for over five years. This is actually still going on today, but I’m going to get into that in a minute. It didn’t take long for this frenzy surrounding Larry to make Louis and Harry uncomfortable. Louis consistently asked fans to stop harassing his girlfriend, often getting into heated spats on twitter, which lead to larries assuming that Louis’ twitter was actually being run by management, except for when he tweeted things they agreed with, in which case it was Louis. When friends and family of the boys, including other band members, would state publicly and empathetically that Larry was NOT real, and to please stop insisting that it was, they would receive death threats and thousands of tweets in backlash. Explicit fan art of Louis and Harry was often sent to them, their friends, and even Louis’ younger sisters (if you’re keeping track, sending porn to a minor is not only super fucked up, but illegal, so great job on that one, girls). Despite their best efforts, Larry would not go away.

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only two years after the last tweet. oh, how the tables have tabled.

Louis has gone on record stating that the Larry phenomenon severely impacted his and Harry’s friendship. They began avoiding each other on stage and refusing interaction in band interviews, leading to an almost desperate outcry that they were being kept apart by management. Every time they looked in the others’ direction, it was torn apart and analyzed to shreds by crazed fans. Desperate for any sort of “proof,” larries began to theorize that Louis and Harry “disappeared together” and would assume that any day they were not photographed in separate places, they were obviously cuddled up somewhere secret together. Every single tweet was a coded message begging for release, every song was analyzed line-by-line for lyrical confessions of their tragic love, and every move they made was scrutinized to death.

I’m going to fast forward here, but it’s not because the larries got less crazy. It was more or less consistent craziness – Louis and Eleanor broke up, which caused frenzy among fans who were sure Larry were about to come out, the band split up and they all signed solo contracts with different management, causing frenzy among fans who were sure Larry were about to come out, Louis and Harry made brief and uncomfortable eye contact in an interview, which caused frenzy among fans who were sure Larry were about to come out, and so on, and so forth. But something happened in 2015 that rocked the fandom to its core, and sent the tinhat fans spiralling into a darkness from which they have still not returned.

Louis Tomlinson knocked a girl up.

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whoops! uh oh! oh no! oops!

When the pregnancy was announced, it was met with an immediate insistence that the story was fake, planted to make SURE the casual audience knew Louis was straight, and there would be no baby. The mother of the baby, a girl named Briana who had been involved with Louis for only a couple of weeks, was called every name in the books – a golddigging slut, a whore, a literal porn star, a famewhore so desperate for attention she’d agree to closet poor, helpless multi-millionaire Louis Tomlinson in exchange for a bit of celebrity. Eventually, as evidenced by the picture above, a baby WAS born. His name is Freddie.

Larries were at a fever pitch. They insisted that the baby in photographs was actually a doll (let me repeat that for you: they insisted. The baby. In the photographs. Was. A. FUCKING. DOLL.  THEY BELIEVED. LOUIS TOMLINSON. WAS PUSHING AROUND. A DOLL. IN A BABY STROLLER. FOR PAPARAZZI TO TAKE PICTURES.), and that any day now Louis was going to publicly demand a paternity test, and the results would come back that he was not the father (of the baby they insisted was a doll), and in the resulting media frenzy Louis and Harry would quietly reveal that they were in love and it would all end happily ever after. This was referred to as “Babygate” and there have been and will continue to be desperate pleas for the powers that be to “end it” and “free them.”

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a man’s face at a similar angle looks similar: stop the FUCKING presses, this image is photoshopped and that baby is a DOLL

Freddie is now two years old. Despite knowing, deep down, that Louis Tomlinson likely had a paternity test done well before ever announcing to the world that he was going to have a baby with esssentially a one night stand, and despite knowing that he had signed the birth certificate declaring his own paternity – oh, hold on a second. Do you know how they knew that? Because a couple of them took a six hour road trip from the midwest into California to go to the public records office and ask for a copy of the birth certificate.

Think about that. These women were full on adult women with drivers licenses and the freedom to go on road trips to California and they truly deep down believed there would be no birth certificate for a baby they believed was a doll, only to get there and be handed an actual signed copy of a birth certificate. Forging a birth certificate, by the way, is a federal offense, and even if they WERE right, the romance of finally being able to be free and come out would probably be dampened by Louis going to prison for the next fifteen years.

Anyway. Despite knowing all that, the larries have not been deterred. Louis and Eleanor are back together, and a group of fans cornered them at an airport last year and physically assaulted Eleanor out of anger, forcing Louis to physically pull them off of her. Freddie, as mentioned, is two years old, and visibly not a doll, but they insist he’s an unrelated baby actor being exploited by the fame and/or moneyhungry mother. Louis and Harry have not so much as been seen in the same room in three years, but that doesn’t matter, because fans know that they’ve “disappeared together.” Their passion and determination is almost admirable if it wasn’t so destructive – one larrie made it backstage at a 1D concert near the end of the run using the Make-A-Wish foundation (she was legitimately sick, and also a teenager, and so I have cropped her out of this photo) and strategically asked for them to pose for a photo holding hands.

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faces of, i guess, unbridled passion and endless love

Okay, I hear you. “Why, Rae, have you spent almost 3000 words so far telling me about these crazy fans?” Part of the answer is I am obsessed with the absurdity of these people and am constantly astounded by the way they bend the truth to fit their own narrative, but the other part is that this kind of behaviour makes me so incredibly worried about how we as society are becoming fans of things now.

The lengths that Larries went to in order to out who they believed to be two closeted gay guys were extreme, and I didn’t even get into half of the shit they said or did in this article. If I wanted to go step by step into all the fucked up, invasive, and downright cruel behaviour they’ve exhibited over the past eight years, it would take up a hundred thousand words and all the bandwidth on the internet. Despite the boys involved explicit and desperate begging for this treatment to stop, it still goes on. Check out their most recent instagram posts – still, eight years, many girlfriends, and a whole ass baby later, a good 40-50% of the comments are relating to Larry (which is impressive, given that Louis has actually gone to the trouble of blocking the word “larry” from his comments – fans get around this by using a capital i instead of an L), and their twitter mentions are full of fans demanding that they come out and reveal the truth behind babygate.

And as insane as all this is, it’s not unusual. This is becoming what fandoms are. While Larry is notable for its size and intensity, it is nowhere close to being the only tinhatted ship out there. Fervent fans believe Benedict Cumberbatch has also been forced to fake babies with a hired wife to hide his relationship with Martin Freeman. Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are, according to some people, actually secretly married with multiple children. Taylor Swift is actually a lesbian in a relationship with model Karlie Kloss. Daniel Radcliffe & Emma Watson. Adam Lambert & Kris Allen. Tyler Posey & Dylan O’Brien. Sometimes celebrities are tinhatted as being in the closet without necessarily having another “half” to the ship – Taylor Lautner, and Shawn Mendes have been actively hounded and scrutinized for any sort of hidden clue or code about their sexuality.

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a real shirt you can own for $10 that will not only allow me to, but legally obligate me to kill you on sight

Thanks to the evolution of the internet and the ease at which one can access a fan community, parasocial relationships with celebrities are at an all time high, and that is at the root of this behaviour. We want to believe that we know our favourite celebrity better than anyone, and in fact, we know them so well that they actually do know about us, and they communicate with us in secret code, and we can behave invasively and relentlessly to prove this, and it doesn’t matter what they actually tell us with their mouths because we KNOW that they love and support us.

This dehumanizes celebrities. If you believe that Louis Tomlinson has a fake girlfriend (six years and counting) and a fake child (two years and counting) and fake homes that are decoy houses and fake friends who are hired to make him look more masculine and is willing to commit felonies in order to hide his secret relationship with his ex-bandmate, then you’re really just a fan of the story you’re telling about the Louis Tomlinson you’ve basically entirely made up. He’s no longer a real person, but a prop, and that makes it easy to send him disgusting messages where you tell him you hope his son gets dropped on his head and dies. It’s easy to send his mother death threats when she posts a picture of Freddie on her instagram. It’s easy to back his girlfriend into a corner at an airport and attack her. It’s easy to take Harry Styles’ showing support for the queer community and twist it into fitting your own story with no respect for what he might really be saying about himself.

It’s easy to forget that these celebrities are people. It’s easy to forget that the way you treat these people effects other people, and it also effects yourself. I have seen larries on twitter in full-scale panic attacks when Louis’ tweeted a photo of his son, or when Harry is spotted with his girlfriend. That’s not healthy. I mean, none of this is healthy, but if you’re having a breakdown over a celebrity you’ve never met spending time with another person you’ve never met, maybe you need to take a step back from your relationship with that celebrity.

Maybe we all need to take a step back from our relationships with celebrities. While I’m obsessed with larries and constantly pour over the shit they do and say, I would love for Louis and Harry to be able to live normal lives without worrying that someone is going to threaten their children or assault their girlfriends.  I would love for people to accept Kristen Stewart’s sexuality. I would love for people to stop calling the police on Benedict Cumberbatch’s wife because they think she’s complicit in his closeting and exploiting the children hired to pretend to be theirs. That actually happened, by the way.

I would love it if we could all just be normal for once. Can we all agree, collectively, together right now, that we are going to be normal going forward? Please? For my sake?

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a completely normal comment to leave on an instagram post two years after its posted

Or we can keep doing shit like that. It’s up to you.

 

SEND ME MEMES: the meme-ification of a generation

SEND ME MEMES: the meme-ification of a generation

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“send me memes”: the meme-ification of lauryn hill a generation

Don’t get me wrong: I like a good meme. I’ve spent my share of time on the internet, and probably more than at least one other person’s share of time on the internet on top of that, so I am no stranger to the joy of some funny words on a silly picture. I also know how fun it is to tag a friend, or be tagged by a friend, in a picture on Facebook (or Twitter, or Snapchat, or Instagram, or anything else the kids are doing that I’m no longer privy to) and know that they were reminded of you or thought you would get a kick out of it. I wanted to make it clear that I’m not against memes as a general rule before I dropped a truth bomb on you: we need to collectively get over memes.

Here’s a little bit of meme history – having typed that, I got a vivid image of someone in the future with a job title of “meme historian” citing the very information I’m about to, and I can only pray the power of that title is wielded appropriately. The term “meme” was coined by, of all people, Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene in 1976. He essentially defined a meme as an idea that spreads within a culture – ‘memes’ are to culture as ‘genes’ are to DNA. Memes still are, of course, ideas that spread within cultures, but in a web context, it’s taken on a more specific meaning – it must be funny.  Online, memes initially floated around forums and message boards, and usually followed a fairly rote format – top text, image, bottom text. Mike Godwin first wrote about the presence of memes specifically for the internet in 1993, but since then, the concept has exploded into its own culture with its own language – a language that’s been spreading faster and faster, especially in the past few years.

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the saddest wikipedia contents section i have ever seen, including the one for the baha men

Last year, Wil Fulton did some research to find the world’s first meme (Dancing Baby? All Your Base? Banana Phone?) but in the process came up with a handy acronym to determine the four necessary characteristics of a meme in modern culture – M.E.M.E.

  • Message: There needs to be a clearly definable, central message or reference that’s understood, and relatable by commonly shared knowledge or experience. The medium of the message isn’t relegated to an image and text; it can be either, or both. Or video, or solely audio.
  • Evolution: The meme cannot remain static. It must be adopted and remixed by a community of people that embrace it.
  • Malleability: It must aid in its own evolution by having defined characteristics that can be changed while maintaining and preserving some semblance of the original message.
  • Effect: It has to reach a certain level of popularity and understanding, or the message won’t matter. Perhaps the most important part of the meme is its virality.

An early breeding ground for memes was the website I Can Haz Cheezburger, a (surprisingly) still functioning page that originally acted as both content creator and aggregator. It was most famous for housing “lolcats” – an early meme that centered around images of cats with captions written as if the cat was writing, broken English and all. At this time, a meme still had that strict text-image format, and while you could share memes and create your own, they were a unique and standalone Thing. They hadn’t evolved into their own subculture just yet – a meme was still something you might have to define to your friend if you wanted to show them a funny cat picture.

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rest in peace, little guy

But memes have evolved. Memes now take on their own life cycles – take for instance poor Pepe the Frog, above, a character created by cartoonist Matt Furie for his webcomic Boy’s Club. Pepe gained meme status initially for his expressive face and his multi-purpose reactionary line “feels good, man” but was suddenly catapulted into virality in 2015/2016, when people began playfully “collecting” what were called “Rare Pepes” – an image of Pepe that was unknown or rarely used. The playfulness turned sour soon enough, as various alt-right and neo-nazi groups began commandeering Pepe for their own uses, which became prevalent enough for the frog to be recognized as a hate symbol, and lead to Furie killing off the character pointedly in Boy’s Club.

And that’s just one example. Memes have, since then and before, slowly seeped their way from less-popular internet forums into the mainstream social media. It’s hard to go online in any capacity and not be bombarded with memes – and there’s a reason for that. In terms of engagement, memes are a goldmine for content creators. From likes to shares to comments (especially tagging a friend), memes are a surefire way to engage with your audiences. Facebook users in particular may have noticed this trend, despite Facebook’s best efforts. Facebook changed its algorithms a few times to ostensibly discourage point-blank meme sharing pages – it began by lowering the reach of plain images, which meme makers retaliated against by turning their images into a one-frame static video, and then Facebook began lowering the reach of static videos, and so not to be outdone, meme makers began throwing floating translucent shapes over their images. And it worked – meme pages and meme groups are some of the most popular features of the website.

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women lie, men lie, numbers don’t lie: memes are popular.

So, great – we know what memes are, we know where they came from, and now we know they’re reaching audiences at a massive scale – and the audiences love them! What’s the problem, then? What’s my big concern? Why did I bother writing over a thousand words on memes for free on my blog I’m paying for?

Y’all, memes are not a personality.

It’s become a growing trend among the young people to define ourselves by what we like, rather than who we are. If you’re a fan of Lady Gaga, your identity is a Little Monster. If you’re into fine dining, your identity is a Foodie. It’s hard to know who you are as a young person, especially when who you are is changing so often, but it’s made easier by having set personalities to fall into that do all the work for you. I get it! I’m not above it! But recently, I’ve noticed a disturbing evolution in this trend – liking memes has not only become an identity, but it’s become a replacement for personality. Memes have become a stand in for a sense of humour.

It’s funny to quote a good meme when the situation calls for it, but the problem is that when there’s nine million people creating memes every day, and there’s memes for nine million situations every day, there’s always an appropriate meme to quote. We’ve forgotten how to respond in any other way. I’ve met and spent extended time with people who speak in memes and Vine quotes almost non-stop, and while it’s not that it’s not funny – it’s not our own funny. It’s someone else’s funny that we’re using to reap the laughs. A lot of the time, it’s not even a laugh that’s earned – it’s just a laugh of recognition. “Oh, I know that one!”

This sense of humour is being hand-fed to us, and we’re becoming meme machines: our conversations are memes, our interactions are memes, our friendships and relationships are defined by memes, our advertising is done through memes, and on, and on, and on, and on. We’re gaining an incredible ability to reproduce content, but we’re losing the ability to create our own. We need to lay off the memes, and start making our own jokes again.

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please, can we learn how to joke again?

As a young, single person, I’ve had accounts on a couple dating sites, and the phrase I dread the most shows up on profiles across the board – “send me memes!” I get it, but I don’t want to build a relationship of any kind using other people’s jokes, and it feels like that’s the direction the entire world is moving in. I once messaged a girl on tinder a joke I’d come up with about something she said in her bio, and her response was a few laughing emojis, followed by “Holy fuck! Are you a living meme?”

I made one joke. It wasn’t even the funniest joke I’d ever made. I’m not trying to humblebrag and say I’m little miss queen of content creation and the lowly meme lovers are beneath me – it’s the opposite! I have faith that between us, all of us, we have the potential to share our humour, thoughts, personalities, and feelings with each other in more exciting and unique ways than simply repeating jokes, quoting Vines, and filling in text boxes on a meme generator website. Those all have their places, and I love a vine compilation as much as the next guy, but it’s possible to make our own content in our own lives.

We can do it! We are more than just our memes!