Recently a writer over at Jezebel.com wrote an article titled “The Terrifying Instagram World of the Tweenage Dance Moms Fans.” Needless to say, it created a LOT of backlash from those fans.
For those who don’t know, Dance Moms is a reality show on Lifetime that follows a team of dancers from competition to competition with their tough-as-nails coach, Abby Lee Miller, and their moms. I admit I’m a fan of the show. Granted, I fast forward through all of the mama-drama and just watch the dancing. These kids are incredible!
The author, Amy McCarthy, describes in detail what she deems is a terrifying Instagram world the young fans of the show have created. She describes the fan-community as obsessive, and by saying that “teenage girls are, of course, gloriously unhinged when it comes to their favorite celebrities.” So? Also, ouch!
She goes on to describe, how in the age of social media, the line between young celebrities and their young fans has become thinner. Fans, of all genres, can get “closer” to their favorite stars by following their social media accounts. In many ways this is amazing. In others, not so much. This also means that there are tons of fake accounts run by people pretending to be that celebrity. What McCarthy doesn’t seem to realize, or perhaps it didn’t occur to her, is that this is nothing new. Since the dawn of Yahoo! chat rooms and AOL Instant Messenger, people have been pretending to be celebrities. This isn’t something limited to teenage girls. The Internet is a playground for pretending to be who you’re not.
Still, those who pose as the young stars of Dance Moms make up a TINY fraction of the multitude of Dance Moms fans. There are far more with accounts devoted to their favorite dancer.
When I looked on Instagram, most of what I saw of this community was a supportive environment where teen and tween girls connected over their love for dance and the show’s young stars. And more importantly, it looks like friendships have been made. Sure they share gossip and get into tiffs about which dancer is better. Some of them even create some pretty great artwork and fan videos. But what fan of anything doesn’t do that? How many comic book fans do you see arguing over which X-men is better? How many Stargate fans make music videos?
THIS IS FANDOM!
This is how it works folks. These are fangirls and this is just what most teenage fangirls do. It doesn’t matter what they’re fangirling for. The behavior is the same. Despite the few bad seeds that spread rumors, pose as the young dancers, or engage in any other sort of bad behavior, the vast majority of these fangirls are perfectly normal. They’re sharing their love of the show, of dance, and of these dancers in particular, through the medium that is Instagram. At the end of the day, they’re forming friendships and a community.
McCarthy’s focus on the negative aspects of this online community has only added to the stigma of the fangirl. She’s painted these young ladies as rabidly obsessed fans that are nothing short of stalkers. While I’m sure they’re out there, what I saw was a community of devoted fans sharing their love of their favorite show.
I want to give McCarthy the benefit of the doubt here, and say that she likely has very little experience with actual fan communities. Sure, she probably pined over a favorite band in middle school, or even wrote “Mrs. (insert famous person’s name here)” over and over in her notebooks. But that’s not fandom. That’s being a fan. Fandom is the culture of the fan community surrounding a show, series, movie, book, game, etc. Fandom is a beast all its own and it’s awesome.
Unfortunately, if you haven’t experienced fandom and its communities, it might seem a little weird or obsessive even. I know my own parents had no idea what to make of my Star Trek obsession in middle school. That’s okay. Not everyone is going to understand it. What’s important is that these fans have found each other.
McCarthy has taken a LOT of flak for this article. The Dance Moms Instagram community she fired at have fought back…HARD. Actually, they’ve fought back exactly how you would expect teenage girls to fight back in any situation. Seriously, I don’t know why anyone is surprised by this. But unfortunately, the method of spamming the author’s social media with mean-spirited messages and, very sadly, death threats, is NOT the way to handle this ladies.
First, I want you to take a step back and breathe. Count to ten. Go to your “cool down” corner. Do whatever it is you need to do to get a clear head.
Now, what’s the problem with McCarthy’s article? It’s that she doesn’t understand your fandom. She doesn’t understand why you do what you do. She doesn’t understand the passion and the love you have for the show, its stars, and dance.
Is sending her hateful spam going to make her understand? NO.
Is sending her death threats going to make her understand? ABSOLUTELY NOT! (and those kinds of messages are never appropriate no matter how mad someone makes you).
All it does is A) make you look crazy; and B) proves her point.
So what can you do?
Why not explain to McCarthy WHY you love the show so much? Tell her what it means to you, how it’s made an impact on your life. Tell her about the friendships you’ve made on Instagram and the community you’ve forged there. Tell her about all of the positives that she didn’t see!
Girls, as a part of a fandom you are FanGirls. You are the next generation that carries the torch. You may not be aware of it yet, but it’s a name that has a lot of negative connotations to it. It’s a name that screams “scary stalker,” “obsessed,” and “crazy.” This is YOUR chance to make people think otherwise. Being a fangirl is something you should be proud of. It doesn’t have to mean any of the negative things that are associated with it. It means you are part of an amazing community, and that community is part of an even bigger community of fangirls from all sorts of genres.
So instead of feeding into this stigma that fangirls are crazy, why not show the world what makes your community awesome?
We know you can do it!