Why One Direction Fans Are Smarter Than You

Over the weekend, rumours have spread that Crazy About One Direction, a documentary on the eponymous boy band broadcast by the UK's Channel 4, has led to suicides among distraught fans. One thing is certain. The group's admirers are incensed about their portrayal in the show.

Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

According to reviews, the program isn't kind to the people who made the band a global phenomenon. It depicts "Directioners", the band's devoted fans, as hysterical fantasists whose obsessions are simply weird, and even pathological. Apparently, this is more than the new Beatlemania that grabbed your mum. The eternal propensity for teenagers to swoon is sharper, because heartthrobs can touch you through Twitter.

The suicide rumours build on other recent tragedies where young people appear to have taken their lives in response to social media experiences. This troubling development revives some of the anxieties that landed in Australia, along with Harry Styles and his fellow band members, in 2012. Famously, fans who had waited all night to welcome the band were suckered as the singers sneaked out the back entrance of Sydney airport. The fact that thousands of teenagers had taken the risk of staying out all night for no reason only confirmed, to adult eyes, how cynically boy bands manipulate their gullible audiences.

What these accounts ignored is that Australian Directioners had a great time hanging with their mates, and playing up to the stereotypes of incredulous journalists. Audiences use boy bands to create their own entertainment. The English group are just raw materials that teenagers fashion into cultures of emotion, identity and friendship. This is probably why Directioners are upset over the documentary: the world is poking fun at their work. Certainly, studies of teenagers who love heartthrobs often find sophisticated understandings of media industries, and the place that girls in particular have in them.

Parents might fret. But when addressing these fears, painting girls and boys as dopes is the worst thing you can do. Looking at the evidence on what teen heartthrobs mean to the people who love them, we find that many are wiser than we imagine.

This isn't the first time that global teen media has spat in the face of the kids who make it tick. But young women comprehend this culture very well. And they can change it.

If you want to know what girls think about teen idols, all you have to do is ask. When you do, you find a knowing cynicism. "Fanatics" say things like this about boy bands:

…they're just like five people they think you fancy…you have the sweet blond one who's the main lead singer, you have the ugly tall one…it's not hard to do.

You also discover people who know only too well that the adult world – including the objects of their affection – regard them with either patronising or scornful eyes. And this makes them angry.

Take the film Titanic as an example. It owed its success to the millions of girls and boys who fell in love with Leonardo DiCaprio. These were the devotees who saw the movie over and over again, buying all the peripheral merchandising that pocket money and Saturday jobs could afford. But where their love for Leo may have been unrequited, it was not unconditional. Girls noticed when the rising Hollywood star bristled at a heartthrob status that didn't sit well with his acting ambitions. And frankly, they thought that he should have been more grateful.

Twitter channels this anger into a redoubtable force, at times to the platform's chagrin. When Twitter changed its trending algorithm to knock Justin Bieber from his eternal summit, his fans responded with skilled hashtag manipulation that kept the Canadian crooner right there. Fair enough, Bieber egged them on. But this doesn't change the fact that millions of girls forced a global media brand to recognise that they existed.

Outraged One Direction fans have employed exactly the same strategy. The hashtag #THISISNOTUS is an online call for girls and boys who want to demand more respect for who they are: people with thoughts, feelings, intelligence and taste. One Direction seem to know this, and they're worried. They've quickly taken to the same medium to distance themselves from the offence Crazy About has caused.

Far from being a story about poor deluded adolescents, the One Direction incident confirms that girls are major players in global media industries. This gives them power which they are willing and able to deploy. Efforts to "protect" them from the risks of media must start by acknowledging that their passions are considered. They're really quite rational, even if they look hysterical to others.

The main predicament for most One Direction fans is that they live in a world that either pretends they don't exist, or else doesn't take them seriously. So the next time you laugh at a teenager screaming at a boy band, remember this: she knows what you're thinking, and you are the problem.

Andy Ruddock is the Senior Lecturer at Monash University's Research Unit in Media Studies. He does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The ConversationThis article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.


    I fail to see how this means they are smarter.

    In fact the only time smart appears in this article is in the title.

    And the statement: "So the next time you laugh at a teenager screaming at a boy band, remember this: she knows what you’re thinking"

    Is pretty stupid because everyone knows what you're thinking, its along the lines of "These girls are pathetic" or "What a bunch of idiots"

    What the hell..

    I especially really liked the part where you casually attributed the severity to twitter.

    I'm surprised this article came out of an erudite website such as The Conversation.

    All I can grok from it is "Harry doesn't really matter, we just enjoy fapping together".

    This one was less believable than even the usual Conversation rubbish.

    Mr Ruddock you are an idiot and no doubt dumber than your title..!

    Last edited 19/08/13 11:11 am

    As someone who was once a teenage girl, I feel I can safely say, from experience, that most teenage girls are morons. While I was never as bad as the average 1D fan, I've seen how stupid and crazy teenage girls can get when it comes to their favourite band of the month. Heck, I remember at a school dance I had to take a friend outside to get some fresh air and calm her down because she was working herself into a frenzy over a Spice Girls song. This was just a recording of the song, not the actual Spice Girls playing live, and she still had a fangirl freak out over it.

      I concur - most preteen to teenage girls are morons.

      Present company excluded though right? :)

    It's the same thing that makes blokes go to footy games and yell that the players, telling them to "go" when one of them finds a gap and runs through it.
    Humans love being part of a crowd of people sharing the same experience. Going to these things let's them socialise with a large number of people they have something in common with. This is unlike their classmates at school, which tends to get cliquey and exclusive.

    As for choosing a boy band as the focal point, it's simply because they acknowledge that they are teenage girls, and have a free pass to act silly about a boy band. The rest of society expects this behaviour, and isn't shocked or concerned. You would have to be a grumpy bugger to be anything more than mildly annoyed.

    A teenybopper thinks those 5 boys in the band One Erection are
    - better than all the other 'real' boys in the world
    - all straight
    - are singing their songs directly to them
    - not taking advantage of them
    - actually care about them

    Man, those teenybopper really are smart.

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