The Superfan Phenomenon
Literature on fandoms, the fan and fanatics are very common to come across but when trying to find scholarly information on the Superfan, literature is more limited. To find a definition, you have to scour through pages and pages of article. Once you have found one, you have to see if it caters to the material that you are dealing with and if it doesn’t, you have to see if it can be modified but not changed to fit, or if you have to continue this search. Finding articles on how technology impacts the sports fan seems to be the most prominent result when looking up superfan, the literature is not abundant, but it is there.
In an article called “The Science of Social: Beyond hype, likes & followers”, Michael Wu sets out to explain that the “’superfan‘ is the term for your most influential, prolific and knowledgeable customers”. Here, not much is said about the superfan other than that they are a very select segment of the population. They are the most well-versed, knowledgeable and most dominant of customers. Here it specifically is referring to consumerist and economic notions of the superfan but for the benefit of this study the definition is still well suited. Wu further goes on to explain that the superfan belongs to a tiny percentage of a community, potentially reaching one percent of the population and their desires help drive the community. Not only do they help drive the community but they are the dominant controllers of one. They are the ones creating the biggest demand and therefore supply is returned to them.
““For certain fans, ones who have a very strong connection to a team, that role of team follower is very central to their overall identity,” says Daniel Wann, a sports psychology professor at Murray State University.” This is a direct quote from a HuffPost.com article titled “Inside the Mind of a Superfan” published on the 14th of May 2015. Although this article directly pertains to sport, it is still relevant in other popular culture. Let us redefine this in terms of celebrities: For certain fans, ones who have a very strong connection to a celebrity, the role of a follower or supporter is very central to their identity.
RadioTimes.com published an article called “Inside the Mind of a Recovering Superfan” on the 15th of March 2015. Sarah Doran describes her own journey of superfandom but also offers a definition: “These are the people we tend to label ‘superfans’, that select few who’ve crossed the line between adoration and obsession and go out of their way to get that bit closer to their idols. There’s little they aren’t willing to do to breathe the same air.” This teeters on the edge of negativity,with words like obsession falling into play that normally bares more negative undertones. We will discover whether or not this perception is correct or not however.
With the limitations placed on how much research was in existence, with this project I set out to discern whether or not there was a physical manifestation of the impact that celebrities have on this superfan audience. Being a superfan myself, I found this initially quite difficult to navigate as I had preexisting notions in my head of what a superfan is based off of my very own engagements with the material surrounding my celebrities. I found that although this was initially limiting, it led me to a pretty awesome discovery:
So, what exactly is a superfan? The Oxford English Dictionary defines one as: “A person who has an extreme or obsessive admiration for a particular person or thing”. I wanted to explore further and see if this definition is a fair assessment of the superfan.
The words “obsessive” and “extreme” have negative connotations. The history of fandom itself consists of more negative than positive observations. Fans have typically been considered to be the “obsessive loner” or “hysterical crowd” (Joli Jenson, 1992). Fandom was seen as an unhealthy obsession linked to psychologically deviant behaviours.
In my research, it has gone on to suggest that the definition of fandom needs to be reassessed and reclaimed. Which within the research it does this to a certain extent. Most writings were done before the shift into the new millenium and whilst their material is still relevant and applicable, there are updates that are continually being made. The notion of fandom is constantly shifting, just like the world around us. But understanding fandom is how we learn to understand its extreme: superfandom.
With the rise of media influence, the perceptions of fans has changed and become more positive. It is almost impossible to find someone in modern day society that does not identify as a fan of something or someone. But how is a fan different from a superfan, especially when we talk about words like “extreme” and “obsessive”? The Oxford English Dictionaries definition definitely is more in line with older world-views surrounding fandom. Is today’s Superfan merely a modernized version/understanding of what older academia describes as fandom?
The three A’s of Affect
Oxford English Dictionaries defines affect as to “Have an effect on; make a difference to”. Media is said to have the most direct impact on a person and therefore it is not surprising that celebrities are having such a profound impact on everyday citizens. If someone identifies as a superfan of a celebrity, they are going to want to consume as much knowledge as they possibly can and they allow this knowledge to infiltrate into their everyday lives. The superfans that I have found are impacted in three very specific ways.
The first theme I discovered is titled Aesthetics and I discovered this through my first superfan, Palesa who is a superfan of Rihanna. Aesthetics is where the celebrity impacts the external look of their superfan. Whether it be their makeup, a hairstyle or their fashion choices, there is often a direct link with the style of the superfan and their chosen celebrity.
The second theme is Attitudes and this was the easiest theme to define. Once you have met my second superfan, Jayde who is a superfan Nicki Minaj, you will completely understand why. So definitely go check out his story! This is where a fan embraces the characteristics of their celebrity or embodies the belief systems and ideologies of that celebrity. Take a look at the attitudes section and Jayde’s story for more clarity on this. A great example of this is when Khloe Kardashian started the whole “okurrrrrt” trend, once people heard it, everyone was saying it, even Cardi B!
My third superfan, Lee who is a superfan of Radiohead/Thom Yorke, definitely did not fit into my idea of a superfan representative – and I’m glad because he challenged my views and helped me understand that there are many different types of superfans. Lee represents a theme that I call Activities. This is where a fan is so enamoured by the actions of their celebrities that they themselves try to mimic these actions.
Interestingly, although each of my superfans uniquely represent each theme, I found traces of all themes in each of my superfans lifestyles. While some themes are more strongly presented than others, they all manifest in some way in each of my superfans. And therefore I really like to think of this project as the Three As of Affect. The three As that impact the lives of Superfans based off of their adoration of a particular celebrity.
So therefore, what you will find on this website, are stories of superfans. You will see that various different kinds of people with vastly different backgrounds can be superfans, that there is not one particular mould. However you will find that they will share similar attributes to the ones stressed above.
This project shows that a superfan is someone that is so embedded into the lives of the celebrity that they admire that they embody them in multiple areas of their lives. Not only do they celebrate them, no as much as they can about them, idolise them and fall into the consumption cycles surrounding them, but in many ways they become them. This is not as direct as it sounds, because they could never become their celebrity, but they start to dress, act and do what their celebrity does. They begin to share similar ideals, begin to share similar routines and in fact, the celebrity becomes part of their identity, part of who they are.