Again, I don’t necessarily have a conclusion for this, it is just the beginning of thoughts and I’m not sure where they should be going. But there is such a nice interesting discussion going on the last thinky post on stardom, that I want to keep the thinking going.
What I am trying to sort out is if there are two kinds of fandom, that maybe sometimes overlap but not always. When I think about my fandom for Shahrukh Khan, or the fandom I have sometimes felt for Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikanth, Mohanlal, The Beatles, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, it’s different from what I feel for Taylor Swift, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Aamir Khan. Like, so different that it shouldn’t even have the same name.
When I saw Shahrukh live in concert, there were 11,000 people in the auditorium and not all of them would have identified as Shahrukh “fans”. I know this because I talked to some of them before the show started (or rather, they talked to me since I was part of the group of weird white people). And yet when Shahrukh entered, every single person was on their feet screaming. There was something about that moment that was beyond conscious thought or logic.
And it was the same when I visited Graceland, except that time I got to be on the other side. I’m not an Elvis fan, I wouldn’t identify myself that way. And yet when I was in Graceland, in this place dedicated to Elvis, surrounded by people who had traveled cross country to be there, I felt something that was beyond any thought.
Shahrukh is “mine”, when I see him onscreen or see his face or hear his voice, something happens that is beyond thought for me. Because of that feeling, and because of who I am, I have chosen to seek out more information on him, write about him, and so on. But a different person might feel that intense something and react by seeing all his movies and not caring to learn anything about him as a person. Or making artwork, or putting up posters around their house. Or choosing to join in a larger community to talk about him and share stories. The response is different because the people are different, but there is that deep deep emotion at the heart of it that is shared.
When I saw Kabali in theaters, I had already seen a couple Rajinikanth movies, I vaguely knew who he was, but I had no particular strong emotion related to him. And then I happened to see the movie on a good day with a good crowd, and when his name came onscreen there were whistles and shouts and mothers telling their children “look look! That’s Rajini!”. And I felt something. There was something in the room, a connection from the star to the audience, that was so big it swept me up in it, a “non-believer”.
I know most of you here have had this same experience at some point, not watching a movie and thinking “I enjoy this film” but watching a star onscreen and finding yourself crying uncontrollably for no reason. Oh right, and this was also my Masters Thesis work, I alwasy forget that. In the pre-blog days, I interviewed a dozen random fans, and got written responses from over 100 more, and most of them had similar stories of deep emotional catharsis. I know what I have talked about many times before is the way the Indian film structure is designed to build that feeling to the peak, by giving you that one to one feeling of connection with a star. But what I’m trying to think about now is how that feeling might change the way I talk about a star.
I’m talking strictly about myself now, and a difference I am trying to articulate in how I behave. Not something I necessarily see in others, or want to encourage, but just something I am beginning to consider how I do myself. If I am writing about Parveen Babi, for instance, I will try to be respectful because she is a human person and everyone deserves respect. I will be cautious and repeat the truth as close as I can find it and strive for fairness in everything I say. But if I am writing about Sridevi, I will weigh the scale a little more because I am not just trying to be respectful to the star herself, but also to the people who have that special connection to her. So yes, maybe, I am unfair. I am overly kind, overly forgiving, towards the bigger stars, in an attempt to protect their fans.
I suppose you could say that the bigger the star, the bigger the scandal, and the more important to wake people up to the truth. But for me, personally, I believe that kind of unthinking devoted fandom is worth of being respected. If I walk into someone’s house and they have a framed photo of Elvis on the wall, and tell me how they were close to suicide years earlier when they heard one of his songs come on the radio and it filled them with light and they changed their mind, I am not going to say “you know he was a pedophile and fell in love with a 14 year old girl, right?” I mean, why would I do that? The bad things are true about the person, but the faith and strength their fans get from their art is also true. And they may already know those bad things and have separated their feelings for the artist from the person. For me at least, I want to let that precious faith stay in place, and respect their choices.
I listed off Shahrukh, Amitabh, Rajinikanth, Mohanlal, Elvis, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, up at the start. I am sure there are other people I could include, I’m just not thinking of them. Those are the artists where I’ve had that moment of more than logical fandom. But then there are the others, Taylor Swift, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Aamir Khan. I really like them as people, I like what they say and do in regular life. I respect their work and I enjoy consuming it. If I heard something surprising and terrible about one of them, I would balance that against what I like and make a reasoned decision as to whether or not I can continue to enjoy them as an artist. And because it is a reasoned decision, I might get into a discussion explaining my point of view and why I feel that way and trying to persuade someone to agree with me. Not online (because I hate online conversations), but in real life, perhaps.
On the other hand, if someone doesn’t like Shahrukh, I don’t really care. I mean, I joke here, someone says something negative about him or one of his movies and I will make a comment saying “you are a MONSTER!”, but I joke because it is so unlike my actual reaction. What I feel for him, or (in spurts and on occasion) for the other people on my list just can’t be affected by what other people think or feel about him.
No, that’s not quite true. It goes back to the division again. If you say Shahrukh is a bad actor, I may engage and have a discussion with you because, in a logical intellectual way, I believe he is a good actor. If you say he is unattractive, I don’t care. Because yeah, my logical brain also finds him unattractive. Bad dancer, same thing. Bad singer, for sure! And yet, in a totally illogical way, I find him attractive, graceful, and I love his voice. But that is me, that is mine. Nothing you say can change that because it is within me.
When I see these social media fan wars start, what I have to believe is that this is only a small subset of fans. Not fans of those particular stars, but a subset of what I would call “fans” in general. There is this vast group that consumes the art and feels a deep personal connection. There is a separate group that has a logical intellectual relationship which they are constantly negotiating and defending and fighting over. Those two groups might overlap, there might be someone who feels that deep personal connection and also enjoys arguing online, but I suspect that there is a much larger group who doesn’t actually feel the kind of spiritual bond and only feels the logical intellectual bond, and they are the ones who are active in the arguments.
Partly because, to drag this back to an earlier point, I can’t imagine someone feeling that deep personal bond and NOT respecting that same kind of bond in others. I have never felt that sort of connection to Salman Khan, for instance, but I want to be cautious and respectful in how I treat him, and his fans, because I know others do feel that. I’m not going to make fun of them for their fandom. And, on the other hand, I would never seriously try to “convert” a Salman fan to Shahrukh, because I know how impossible it would be to convert me from Shahrukh.
Does that make sense? At least the starting point of drawing a line between the fandoms that are logical and reasoned and fun, versus the ones that are overwhelming and powerful and beyond conscious thought? And maybe the continuation of that thought into considering how the stars who inspire the second kind of fandom, and the fans who are a part of the second kind, are different from the first?