THE BLOG

What Does It Mean to Be a Fan Today?

10/20/2011 04:03 pm ET | Updated Dec 20, 2011

In a world where everything is based on instant gratification and the philosophy of "I want it and I want it now," we've become too consumed with living in fast-forward mode, racing through life instead of actually really living it.

While the galloping advances in technology are indeed making it easier for us to rapidly get through the numerous items on our to-do list, we're, nevertheless, not fully engaging with them deeply anymore. While all the latest high-tech gimmicks are indeed connecting us individually in more rapid and practical ways, paradoxically they are simultaneously disconnecting us personally. With all this speed surrounding us, we live way too fast -- faster than we ever lived before -- and more often than not, are consciously or unconsciously engaging our lives cultivating a model based on style more than substance.

Sadly, this epidemic of "hurry" has furiously contaminated every facet of our culture, redefining what relationship and loyalty mean. This, I believe, is particularly true when it comes to the definition of artist patronage.

In this Internet age where the digital media revolution is changing the "teen idol worship" experience, I can't help but think, what does it really mean to be a fan in 2011?

Admittedly, as a thirteen-year-old woman trapped in a forty-year-old body, and forever stuck somewhere in 1984 with a terminally fanatic addiction to George Michael, I want to vicariously approach the topic from the perspective of teenagers today.

I'm not at all denying the fact that every generation has its crop of teen idols to revere. Take a pick! There's plenty of mania to be had around: Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers, the Twilight actors, Lady Gaga or any of the Mickey Mouse Club darlings manufactured by the Disney "tween" idol hit-making machine. It's not so much what or whom teenagers are nowadays idolizing, as much as how they are choosing to align themselves with the object of their adulation.

It is undeniably easier nowadays to be a fan. Yet while the phenomenon certainly continues to fuel, it does not have the same implications. Clicking "like" on Facebook, hitting "follow" on Twitter, and/or posting YouTube music videos on any and all social media platforms does not necessarily qualify anyone as a "true loyal" fan -- at least not in the sense I understood the word to signify.

As a product of the MTV generation during which, historically speaking, teen idols were manufactured more aggressively than in previous generational cycles, being a fan was not just a matter of having an innocent ephemeral adolescent crush on an artist; it meant you were not only emotionally but also financially investing in that artist. The worship simply knew no bounds.

Evidently, I'm not talking about groupies who will go to impressive lengths to fulfill their erotic fantasies, nor am I talking about disturbed fans transgressing into stalking predators. I'm of course referring to the normal hormonal teenager with an ardent admiration, harmlessly obsessive adoration and intense devotion to his/her idol.

Focusing on how teen pop heartthrobs compare to their cry-worthy forefathers, the basic distinction, I believe, lies in the enduring loyalty factor from the fans.

Going as far back as teen idols in the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis, The Beatles, David Cassidy or (not so long ago) Duran Duran, Madonna, Michael Jackson and of course, George Michael, the common thread they all share is that they succeeded in maintaining as strong a relationship with their fans now as they nourished back then. Why? Because their fans were able to grow with them and evolved from the screaming hysteria of the puberty phase to the less erratically mercurial, more mature but still intensely passionate level of adoration.

In their defense, today's teen idols (just like the old crop) still send crowds into insane levels of hysteria and have the potential to trigger riots. The mania syndrome still pervades and teenagers' bedrooms are still plastered with posters of whatever teen pop sensation is the latest zeitgeist du jour. But where will these fans be ten years from now? Look at the boy bands of the 90s -- have they, in retrospect, really earned the loyalty of their then adulating fans now all adults?

The distinction between yesterday's hysterical fans and today's is those artists' fame and success was based on more than solely being blessed with pretty faces, clean looks, sex appeal and massive media hype. It rested as well on the fundamental notion that they had to possess a modicum of talent. How can anyone in their right minds compare Justin Bieber to say The Beatles?

To be fair though, the rate at which the music scene is currently evolving makes it practically impossible for new talents to ensure career stability and longevity. Again, everything is manufactured and delivered at such a rampant pace that artists are constantly pressured to produce not only more but also faster. Songs are released one after the other with no clear breaks in-between. And because we are used to being fed new products at the speed of light, we're all always anxiously waiting for what's new and what's next.

The result, in my opinion, is that everything -- artists included -- becomes quickly perishable and quickly buried into "old news" graveyards. We are all affected with short-term memory being accustomed to having too much to choose from. How then can we be gaga about anyone when we're somehow programmed to easily move on to the next thing? Developing an allegiance to anything or anyone is not just impractical but very much impossible, and consequently the (fan) phenomenon known as the cult of personality no longer exists.

To me there was no better time for "fandom" than the 80s -- it was the best (and perhaps last) decade for teen idols. As a teenager, my world forever changed because of the arrival of one man into my life: George Michael.

It was then that I discovered the literal meaning of "idol" and got to demonstrate the highest manifestation of the ultimate fan.

Back in 1986, when I found myself spending my Easter vacation at my auntie's flat in London, I decided to put my visit with the Brits to good use and found nothing better but to convince my poor relative to drive me to the area George Michael's parents lived in with the high hopes of finding Mr. & Mrs. Panayiotou's house (that would be George Michael's real last name) and of course meet my idol.

Being such a hardcore maniac fan, I had meticulously cut out a photo of George's parents' residence that had been published in Podium (the French version of People Magazine), which also happened to mention the geographical area my pop icon reportedly grew up in. Evidently, It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out, only an absurdly demented and very obsessively in love fifteen year old who just didn't know better!

Long story short, while my detective work extended over two full consecutive days, we did find the house and I got to meet his mother. Frankly, this was as hopeless as trying to find a needle in a haystack but when you're a fan you just don't EVER take no for answer.

And that's exactly the point.

Fans today are not -- literally and figuratively speaking -- following artists anymore, but merely following ephemeral trends.