Internet Fan Culture: When a Few Jerks Ruin It For Everyone

It’s hard for me to imagine what it would have been like to have lived when all of my interests, namely mid-century rock bands, were at their peak. As it stands, I can listen to records, watch videos, read books, and hear the stories of people who were there to piece together what that experience would have been like.

I’m 27 years old, a millennial raised in the Internet Age, and until recently, I felt that if I couldn’t have actually lived as a boomer in the ’60s and ’70s, at least I had the amazing benefit of technology to allow me to live vicariously through that generation. But as you will read, my relationship with this wonderful means of communication has been largely strained, and it’s had a rather negative impact on my love for mid-century music.

The Internet is really a fantastic resource for anyone whose interests are on the retro side. YouTube allows me to watch old concert footage, clips from bygone television programs, interviews, and more. Just a simple google search connects me to thousands of images for any particular band or artist, archived articles, fan websites, and so on. I can go on eBay to find vintage concert tees and back issues of magazines that no longer exist. All pretty great.

Livejournal_logoThe most important corners of the Internet that nursed my obsession with older music artists were always the social media sites. In high school, I started with LiveJournal, where I met many fellow fans my own age who loved the same bands I did. I’m still friends with many of them today. We fed each other’s rabid fangirling, sharing images, videos, inside jokes, fanart, and general information. It was like a cult, but I didn’t feel brainwashed and, if anything, for once I felt more socially normal than I ever had before. I also began to expand my interests based on what my friends liked and exposed me to. It was wonderful.

I continued to use LiveJournal throughout my college years, but eventually there was a mass migration to Tumblr, the big new site for obsessive people like myself. I met more people on Tumblr while continuing my relationships with other former LJ users, and I just felt so comforted by the community and sub-communities I found myself a part of, loving “classic rock” bands, vintage fashion, and anything generally nostalgic.

But when I was exiting my college years and finding myself going to more live shows where I met fellow fans who were often my parents’ age or older, I became more interested in befriending people who actually lived the life I wish I had, people who went to all the concerts I wish I could have, who met the musicians I idolized so much, and who just had so many cool stories. I valued such information. I began to resent the fangirl culture of Tumblr and fans my own age who seemed more interested in sharing pictures of cool rock stars rather than discussing the value of the music itself; I feared that my interest in the music was becoming superficial and I didn’t want people to reduce me to that classic but inaccurate stereotype of the female music fan who is really just a hormonal, sex-crazed poser. (This, by the way, is something that infuriates me. Implying that someone likes a band  because they’re just attracted to the artist is demeaning. Allison, REBEAT’s Editor-in-Chief, tackled this topic before in an amazing article that you should check out.)

I was looking for something more sophisticated and mature, so hanging out with an older crowd became ideal. I slowly phased myself out of the Tumblr world and spent more time on Facebook discussing music with people who could be my parents (and possibly in some cases grandparents). I joined fan groups and, for a while, I was happy with my online social environment, surrounded by people who really cared about the same aspects of a band that I did. It felt good.

That has been my existence the past few years. But it hasn’t been the paradise that I expected. You see, my idea that older music fans would be more mature was way off. If anything, I’ve seen more bickering, name calling, and tumblr-logomudslinging among the 50-70 crowd than I ever did with people my own age. I’ve seen more accusations of people only liking a band for their looks, more music elitism, and ageism than I’d care to admit. I’ve seen more and more fan groups for a single band crop up just because no single group can exist where everyone gets along. I’ve seen people call each other fake, posers, and wannabes. I’ve seen people try to assert themselves as a domineering voice in the community, as authority figures, as key sources of information that other people are apparently not allowed to possess. And perhaps worst of all, I’ve seen people close to the artists have to deal with all of the fan bullshit that goes on, acting as mediators, sometimes ignoring issues to keep the peace, and other times picking sides whether fairly or not; in the end, someone somewhere ends up alienated, banned, blocked, and so on.

And these people that I’ve grown close to, some of whom are really lovely people in person… well, I’ve seen them devolve into the worst kind of people as well. I’ve seen fellow fans preaching kindness and tolerance on one forum while talking shit about someone in another. I’ve seen hypocrisy at its finest. The us-against-them mentality is incredibly widespread, and that is so disappointing. There are fewer cliques in high school cafeterias. I’ve seen the constant friending and unfriending, blocking and unblocking of people who can say the absolute cruelest things about one another, then pretend that no such thing was said when it becomes convenient to have a particular ally. It’s terribly convenient, this Internet thing, when you can easily delete things and “start fresh.”

And for what? I thought it was all about the music. It turns out it’s really just about people’s egos. I’ve stopped posting in groups. I’ve lost the will to care and it’s the attitude of the fans that drove me away. If I want to discuss something about a music act, I’ll post about it on my own Facebook wall and people are free to comment if they wish. I realize now that my best days of music fandom were probably among people my own age back on LJ and Tumblr. I don’t recall ever people acting like such children, even though I was largely interacting with a 20-something crowd that theoretically should have been less sophisticated. The worst thing that ever happened to me in those days was some 14-year-old in Spain once tried and failed to take credit for my fanart on Tumblr. That’s about it.

My interaction with fellow fans often gives me anxiety now. I don’t want to lose friendships, but I also don’t want any involvement in the constant bullshit that exists in the fandoms. And it becomes hard to balance when I still see so much stupid crap pop up from time to time on my news feed, and I know that I still have to see many of these fans who are otherwise nice people at shows. I just don’t have the energy or patience to interact with other fans anymore.

But I’ve realized the biggest consequence of all is that it’s hurt my relationship with the music itself. I’ve found myself avoiding commenting on anything anywhere lest I get caught in the middle of something. I get anxiety just thinking about certain things about a band, and it’s slowly becoming my avoidance altogether of anything related to the music that was and still is such a big part of my life. I feel somewhat robbed of the positivity.

Recently, I’ve been rediscovering the groups of my youth, bands that I “should have been” listening to growing up in the ’90s (Blur, Oasis, etc.). But I have largely avoided seeking out any kind of online community of fans. I want to keep this mine. I don’t want to become overwhelmed by the fan-created politics of these bands that could make me resent them as much as I’ve felt as of late for my “classic rock” bands. At the same time, what point is there in loving something so much if you can’t share it will other passionate people?

Perhaps my anxiety will pass and eventually the love I feel for these bands will rekindle stronger than ever. It tends to happen. But I wonder if I’m alone here or if other millennial-aged mid-century fans have experienced the same kind of internet-culture surrounding their vintage interests. If you’re out there, know that you’re not alone.

About Jen Cunningham 46 Articles
Jen Cunningham is an editor in the puzzle-publishing industry, an amateur artist, and Anglophile hailing from New York. She was raised on good ol' British rock and the smell of vinyl records. When she's not working, she enjoys going to concerts, playing tabletop games, and making unfortunate puns.
  • Jen, I’m 100% with you on this. I’m so thankful for all the friends I’ve
    made through Tumblr (including you, of course), but I’ve become so
    burnt out from that whole community that I more or less avoid discussing
    those particular bands on social media these days. It was a fun distraction from the mundanities of everyday life for a while, but I’m glad that I’ve moved on. And don’t get me started on some of those middle-age fans (the Who ones for me, especially)… I, too, have been going back and discovering/reacquainting myself with music I’ve
    overlooked and it’s been really wonderful. Believe me, you’re not alone!

  • Sarah Stacey

    This is a great article Jen, and I completely agree. Only recently I experienced a huge argument on an Alice Cooper group, based on which era was best. It became extremely personal and suddenly many of the older fans were belittling the younger ones, saying that their age obviously meant they knew nothing, and using the standard “you’re not a true fan” line. It all seems incredibly immature coming from supposed grown-ups. I’ve encountered quite a lot of hostility in many fan communities. In my experience, the Beatles ones have been by far the most accepting. I used to be a regular LJ user too and have also continued my friendships with many people I met there, and there was never anything like the kind of hostility I’ve come across since.

  • GoRetroPam

    I’ve been on the other side of this. Recently I was on YouTube looking up Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration” and there were a ton of comments from Millennials that were fans of the movie “Deadpool” (I haven’t seen the movie yet, but apparently the song is used in it during what everyone is saying was a perfect moment.) One nasty guy called people of my generation (I was a pre-teen and later a teen during the 1980s) “lame old asses” and said our private parts were dried up just because a few of us had mentioned that we knew about the song decades ago, way before Deadpool. So unfortunately, the ego trip and the nastiness runs both ways online among music fans. One young guy came to our defense and told the instigator off, and said obviously not everyone has seen the movie yet. And for some reason YouTube always attracts the worst commenters and their f-bombs. I think unfortunately it is the way of the Internet, and people feel more free to say what they really want because they’re hiding behind a computer.

  • Kristina Milligan

    It’s kind of funny reading about those LJ days. For the most part I can look back on them with fondness because like you, that was pretty much my introduction to other people my own age who liked Classic Rock. I definitely needed that in my late teens since I was the weird “old people music” loving friend among my crowd in my hometown. The only negativity I have come across with the younger group of fans has been the Beatles fans on Tumblr. However, I’m only an observer in that. They act rather elitist, I’ve noticed. Otherwise, it’s so true how every fan group has its negatives. Being a rather big Cheap Trick fan now, I’m mostly an outsider on the fan pages. I’ll comment every so often, but there’s so much drama in that crowd that I’d rather not be a part of. I was thankfully warned by some people I befriended to steer clear of some fans early on, and I think that helped. I run into those negative people at concerts, but they have no clue who I am, so I’m safe. Those same people have labeled some people as being “untouchables” basically. It’s rather sad how the high school clique mentality exists. I hope one day you can rejoin the internet fan culture with more positive people surrounding you. It’s really a hit or miss thing, sadly.

  • mr bradley

    As a certified senior citizen, I offer apologies on behalf of my ill-mannered brethren, who should be old enough to know better. Don’t let these nattering nabobs of negativity bring you down. Their theme song is “Get Off Of My Cloud,” after all.
    Let yours continue to be “Do You Believe In Magic.”