Fandoms, Communities, Networks: how do you know what's what?
Out in New York (eventually...?), navigating a lattice of etiquettes.
|May 8, 2020|
Welcome back to this experimental, relaunched and, uh, regular edition of Critical Party Studies, reflections on the art of, uh, going out. I’m Adlan Jackson, a “nightlife writer.”
In this edition, a reported essay about parasociality, which has made a big comeback for me as we social distance.
Fandoms, Communities, Networks: how do you know what's what?
In college, I joined an “eating club,” which is something not unlike a frat. As a member of the only club that booked live music, I took a weird pride in approaching musicians after their sets. The line between performer and audience is rarely as blurred as it was at Terrace Club; bohemian and subcultural as the members of Terrace liked to consider ourselves, this was simply another manifestation of the absurd privilege doled out to students at Princeton: Heems, Mayhem Lauren, DIIV, all in our shared living room.
Having grown up with next-to-no access to live music before going to college in the U.S., I was eager to stride confidently right over that border, four-beers-in and hand outstretched. No one was ever less than kind or cordial, and these gestures led, a handful of times, to memorable interactions.
That was a minority of the times, though. With time and (some) emotional maturity, I gradually realized that, musicians were typically, after playing for drunk college kids most of whom were barely paying attention, just trying to pack up their shit and get some sleep. Sometimes they wanted to party, and that was cool, but I settled into the reality that most of the time, the coolest things you could offer a musician after their set were a merch purchase and the grace to let them get out of the weird living room they’re in without insisting on a frivolous interaction.
So, by the time this article in NYLON Magazine about how certain behaviours encouraged by concert etiquette folklore (“want to meet the band? Wait around outside the tour bus!”) can at best, frustrate performers–particularly women–who are trying to enjoy the end of their workday, and at worst, jeopardize their safety, I didn’t feel indicted by it, at first. I remembered looking on, cringing, when a fan got on stage and kissed Remo Drive’s frontman Erik Paulson at The Bowery Ballroom, prompting a necessary but utterly vibe-killing mini-lecture from the band’s bassist, Stephen Paulson, who’s also Erik’s brother. That NYLON article wasn’t about me, it was about that kid.
But then I thought, well, what if you expanded the scope of piece’s argument from musicians to other public figures? That made me feel a little uneasy, a little indicted. I’ve DMed fellow writers, I’ve cold e-mailed fellow writers asking to get coffee. One time I introduced myself to J**** W****** at a Makaya McKraven show. By virtue of the rules I’ve made for myself, I probably wouldn’t have gone up to McKraven if I saw him around, but I eagerly went up and disrupted W******’s night, and afterwards DMed her “was great meeting you last night!” That’s not good! To answer your question, she did not respond, nor view.
The line between stage and audience floor makes our respective roles clear: down here are us fans, and up there are the performers.
But the domains of writers and all media workers have expanded to include a 24-hour self-marketing practice on the same platforms we use to talk to our friends and families. Writers, as Allegra Hobbs wrote for The Guardian, are influencers. Because really, everyone is an influencer. Whether you have one million followers or one hundred, social media is a part of your job; you’re a 360-degree brand that includes writing, or singing, or whatever you do, or at least you should be if you want people that could hire you to notice you.
So, between listening to episodes of a writer’s podcast, we see what they’re cooking for dinner. We hear about their mental health, their families and their pets, and if you live in a place in New York, you might even see them around.
To me, it feels like this brings a couple of conventional wisdoms into conflict. These are people with whom I share an industry, people with whom I may even write for the same publications. We’re… colleagues, right? And colleagues network with each other and build relationships, or so I’ve heard. But at the same time, I’m also their fan. I enjoy their work, but know that it’s work, and that when they’re not working, they’re entitled to be left alone. But then, I’m also a member of their audience, and know from experience that “engaging” with them on social media, liking a picture of their dog and commenting say it’s cute, actually helps their career, for some reason.
All of those relationships come with their own etiquettes, their own placements of “the line.”
"Journalism and academia are aligned fields that have had to contend with celebrity in ways they didn’t previously when we had just print culture,” Rea McNamara tells me over e-mail. To ensure that the train of thought that inspired this blog post wasn’t just a manifestation of neuroticism or self-consciousness, I reached out to fellow members of the writers’ guild Study Hall. McNamara, who writes about niches and subcultures both on-and-offline, continued: “[Previously,] everything stayed within the white ivory tower, or your only perception of that writer or intellectual you respected came through their bylines and credits or encountering them at a book reading.”
“With the advent of Twitter and [Instagram], and different celebrities joining I feel like it's become a rat race to accessibility,” says Lauren Busser, another Study Haller who writes about television and fandoms. McNamara agreed: “Twitter, etc. brings a visibility, but also a transparency to the influence and networks people have. It’s easier to be connected, but it’s also more challenging because you start to really map out and understand your proximities to a certain big name. This is probably where the parasocial comes in.”
We know how parasocial relationships develop between fans and the subjects of their fandoms. But when we’re all influencers, we’re all also each others fans. I don’t feel like I’m more of a fan of a musician that I like than I am of a person I’ve never met but follow and Twitter because they’re funny or smart.
A few months ago, drinks with friends segued into a party at someone’s apartment. The person whose apartment we ended up in went to college with all of us, but is an acquaintance-at-best of mine, and has since become, uh, famous, in a way. The person I met a couple times in college, and the person whose work I follow on social media suddenly became a single person, and I didn’t know which to address.
On the walk back, a friend noted that someone else at the party had actually been a Twitter user we all knew by screen-name. We talked about how weird it felt to know things about someone before meeting them, and not knowing what to say, how much to let on. It’s disorienting, alienating, to be confronted all at once with the extent to which you’ve surveilled the life of a person you don’t really know. I’m glad I didn’t recognize him.
The “media industry,” like music industry, is one that rewards its workers for exposing their lives and their feelings to the anonymous void of the internet. We’re simultaneously the audience and the performers in this peep show, hobbling together social and professional lives out of vague and baffling gestures like “likes” and “DMs”, validating and violating micro-etiquettes, and squirming restlessly across the line that divides persona and self, and back again.
That kind of felt weird to write; half the time I was wondering if I was just writing about a weird insecurity that I have and not actually Doing Cultural Criticism, so if this resonates with you please validate me via e-mail.
I’m going to do more “radio” tonight with friend-of-the-blog Stephen Wood, at 8PM EST. Call in, hang out, chat, play a song: mixlr.com/endingworld Don’t be shy, I just admitted to you in a blog how weird I am.
I chopped and screwed a song I like:
For TIDAL, I took in a year of posthumous releases and tributes to Nipsey Hussle. Read that here.
For Pitchfork, I reviewed the latest album from Montreal indie rock band TOPS. Read that here.
For Paper Magazine, I reported on DJs experiencing copyright takedowns as they try to live-stream their sets. Read that here.
I’m thinking about how to write about death. A lot of the time that I read writing about death I find it thirsty, self-serving and unseemly. I’ve been overusing the word “frivolous,” but it’s the word that keeps bouncing around in my head when confronting how small writing about music, or really anything, feels against the enormity of this catastrophe. But here’s a very recent John Prine song, a collaboration with Swamp Dogg on Swamp Dogg’s new album. “Memories" is something very special. Swamp Dogg's radicalness seems refined, not discarded. As John Prine sings the chorus, which repurposes "Memories Don't Leave Like People Do," Swamp Dogg is mostly reduced to a wet delay signal, a palimpsest and a fine representation of multiplicitous, inescapable, ever-disappointing memory.
In a more hopeful time, I can see an argument coalescing around something like “contributing to a collective memory,” but in the midst of all this it just feels futile at best and cynical at worst. Writing is never not going to be self-indulgent, and that’s arguably fine, but maybe there’s a way writing can be a service? IDK.
That’s it! Can you believe I do this for free? Me neither—pay me to write by clicking here. As always, the Instagram for this project is @CriticalPartyStudies and you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk. Subscribe and tell your friends if you think it’s good!