One Direction, Fandom, and White Supremacy

I went to a One Direction concert a couple days ago. (FYI, Leeyum was delicious and wet and sprayed down the other boys with a fire extinguisher… THE FIRE EXTINGUISHER IS HIS PENIS, the absence of Zayn in the harmonies sounds profoundly wrong, and it was lovely hanging out with friends and going to my very first stadium-sized concert).

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Photo taken by Shane Camastro.

[Description: A dark stadium lit up with a few spot lights. THOUSANDS of people can be seen in seats on the ground and filling two upper tiers to the brim. Two silhouettes in the foreground can be seen of two figures with hands raised.]

As I surveyed the audience from the nosebleed seats, I couldn’t help but notice how many people were there. I heard it was estimated 10,000 people were in the stadium. In the nosebleed seats, there were a lot more families with young children (both boys and girls) but the vast majority of the seats were taken up by (white) girls and young adults.

On the one hand, seeing so many girls in one place was empowering. It’s not every day that you see a sea of girls in one place. Exiting the stadium post-concert, I exclaimed to my companions that it looked like a mob of zombies in front of us due to the sheer number of people. I naively imagined that we could enact powerful change with such numbers. Imagine if the money for the tickets to see this concert were instead collected and used to create more sustainable systems of food production… Over many concerts, this money could change the world!

On the TTC subway ride back home, I saw many Directioners journeying north like I was back to their abodes. None of them really got off between when I got on and when I got off. This meant that they lived in more affluent parts of the city. If my assumptions were correct, they were likely from Markham or another suburb. I also noticed that many of them carried pieces of streamers that had been launched from the stage which meant that they had a ground level seat! (I’m clearly not envious of them…) I was struck by how privileged they were to be able to afford tickets that cost hundreds of dollars and wondered where were the people who didn’t have as much money? (Besides folks like me in the nosebleed seats…)

Source: http://www.hollywire.com/2012/08/brit-power-one-direction-and-spice-girls-lead-olympic-closing-ceremony [Description: An image of the band One Direction circa 2012 all decked out in grey suits touching their Brit Award. A second image is juxtaposed to the right of the image of One Direction. This image is a poster of the band the Spice Girls from some time in the 1990s. The Spice Girls are all wearing cute dresses themed around Britain likely to convey nationalism and “girl power”.]

In the article, The Queers Left Behind: How LGBT Assimilation Is Hurting Our Community’s Most Vulnerable we see a similar situation. NYC Pride held an event/concert/party featuring Ariana Grande with costly tickets to attend. Across the street, we see queer and trans youth of colour who can’t afford the hefty price to attend. I was privileged enough to be able to attend the One Direction concert (but not privileged enough to be close enough that they may see me…) In these two situations, we see a common trend. Primarily white people with access to money populate a highly coveted position of being physically close to the musical icon. Although I didn’t see or at least recognize marginalized youth outside the stadium, it doesn’t mean they weren’t there in spirit. What youth couldn’t afford to attend the concert even though they wanted to? Whose voices, passions, and stories aren’t present at all because they aren’t welcome by those at the concert?

As a racialized, queer, trans, and disabled person, I don’t feel completely comfortable in girl space even though I identify with it. I feel incredibly ambivalent about participating in privileged, white culture. With Zayn’s departure, One Direction is all white. (Zayn is also mixed race, Asian, and he makes a gorgeous woman). I spotted a sign that said something like, “Harry take off your shirt, I paid for this” and I felt that this was not my community. This was not who I really wanted to make community with.

I did see a sign by a brown girl wearing a hijab that made me smile though. She thanked all the security people whose work goes unacknowledged as a part of One Direction. When doing a bit of research for this article, I found Rainbow Direction and I really wish I could have joined in with them. These folks are all my community. They occupy middle space where they have some privilege (having access to community), but also likely face marginalization in their lives.

There aren’t enough people like me explicitly in fandom and visible in places such as concerts. I believe part of it is obviously about cost, but I also see it as a construction of space which inherently affirms and supports white experience and norms. I don’t see people like me as part of the band. I don’t see anyone like me as part of their entourage. Few of them are explicitly queer, or are free to be queer. The people they publicly date don’t look anything like me. I don’t feel that they’d even look at me as a valid sexual partner even if such an opportunity were to arise. Their song lyrics usually explicitly re-affirm their heterosexuality.

It feels like I’m drowning. It always feels like I’m drowning. I’m constantly exposed to and end up becoming obsessed with normative, white cis boys without any visible disabilities, are thin and “fit”, and usually straight. I feel guilty about my obsession with One Direction. Nothing about their lives. Nothing about their music. Nothing about the fans I see offline. None of this has much in common with me. Even though there are little pockets of amazing media that represents people more like me, it’s incredibly difficult to turn off the rest of the world. I found little pockets of fandom which gave me a space to breathe. Zayn/Liam fan fiction is my life. Some of it is awful, but some of it is also amazing. This one writer wrote translady!Zayn independent of my asking and I cried while writing a full two-post review over her story. The writer is queer and of colour and has some amazing (and really hot!) stories that touch on explicitly/culturally queer moments and racial issues that arise.

The reason why I decided to write this was to convey the ambivalence I feel about participating in One Direction culture. Girl culture is not about someone like me. I sit outside of the bodies that are supported to become meaningful, empowered individuals. I sit outside of the bodies deemed useful to the c(r)apitalist nation state. When I do find people who do amazing things in fandom, as girls, in feminism, in the queer community, I feel connected to them in that moment. I’d love to see a world where I can see more of me out there on the screen, working behind the scenes, in fandom. I don’t feel like my life actually matters in this strange, alien(ating) world. The fight to stay afloat is incredibly difficult in the ocean of oppressive white supremacist, colonial etc. culture that fills your lungs, nose, ears, mouth, eyes, pores with its tendrils trying to drag us down into its depths. I can find little pockets of amazing media, but when the biggest names and the biggest fandoms look nothing like you or are willing to write about folks who look like you, how can we say that we’ve systemically changed things?

Vid that I really liked about movies:

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One thought on “One Direction, Fandom, and White Supremacy”

  1. Sadly I left a long response and then lost it as I couldn’t remember my password and had to reset ugh. Long story short: excellent post!!! Agreed on all fronts!

    Like

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