der fan/fan girl

feminine isolation & the rabid fangirl

loneliness manifests in many different directions, ever-expanding in the face of constant technological revolutions. in this expansion, the insistence that we are actually becoming more connected only alienates us further, despite providing momentary comfort. people are seeking parasocial scapegoats for their emotional closeness, whether in the form of celebrity, robot, internet personality, fictional character, niche online community, etcetera. while both genders are susceptible to such obsessions, historically, it has been even encouraged rather than normalized for young women in particular to fixate on famous figures. fangirls are as intrinsic to the entertainment industry as the talent themselves.

today, you don’t have to talk to anyone or go anywhere to connect with your beloved as they, to the best of your knowledge, exist entirely on the other side of a screen. it just about goes without saying that the alienating aspects of online fandoms are not the ideal way to experience this kind of community. the immense othering of your object of idealization makes the world around them appear miniscule— beneath them— including you, and your peers, as you exist only to be a penny in this person’s paycheck. Taylor Swift is an international financial dominatrix: regular, relatively respectable women at Whole Foods her loyal and willing victims; a stark contrast from the reality of ‘paypigs’ who thrive on the humiliating aspects.

in succumbing to this paradigm of pedestals, the lonely individual experiences an illusory sense of belonging, importance, and relevance that inevitably feeds the cycle. i’m not condemning this practice nor pretending to have any solutions [to the epidemic of loneliness, that is]. my point is that a black hole is a black hole; it won’t cease to be a black hole even if you keep throwing things in, regardless of the money you spend. combatting loneliness with anything but actual connection is just instinctually pulling the knife out of a stab wound disregarding the flood you’re about to unleash. the blood will keep flowing. band-aids aren’t the same as stitches.

love as consumption

der fan, or ‘the fan’, is a 1982 german film following a teenage girl affected by the aforementioned array of delusions, madly and obsessively in love with a pearly-eyed pop singer called ‘R’. mildly disconnected from her surroundings, she constantly writes him letters, escaping into a reality where her feelings are reciprocated. upon seeing her fantasy in the flesh, she faints, only to be taken pity on by the popstar himself, something which seems to her to be the first page of a fairy tale. of course, reality isn’t that simple. blinded by youthful naivete and delusion, Simone’s dreams are sufficiently shattered upon finding that R’s reciprocation to her affections were only skin-deep. having already isolated him as her everything in life, she can’t bear to just leave it at that. bludgeoning him to death with a statue, she savors his corpse, the remnants of her hopelessness, languidly crawling to the fridge for slabs of meat: the natural conclusion, the only satisfaction she can surmise. the film ends showing her with a shaved head and a distant stare; the audience left wondering whether she feels reborn or as broken as ever before.

this disparity between daydreams, desires, and the satisfaction felt facing them in reality is also explored, albeit arguably more realistically, in ‘fan girl’ (2020). the concept of desire is inherently rooted in lacking the object of your desires. it’s hard to say whether reality can ever live up to the dreams built up in our heads. we even romanticize and idealize the people we actually know, so a public figure with a fabricated and glamourized identity is the perfect canvas for projection. the film follows another teenager with an identical affliction, an infatuation with an idol that goes to abnormal lengths. unlike der fan’s protagonist, after seeing her idol in person, she maintains her composure just enough to jump into the back of his truck. giddy, she relishes in the moment, unconcerned as to how it will all play out.

playing himself, Paulo Avelino is initially cold and harsh to her, but in response to her hysterics invites her in. in contrast to ‘der fan’, where what comes next is a complete departure from Simone’s known reality until that point, ‘fan girl’ stays rooted in reality, twisted in its own ways. the rude awakening plays out in a much more convoluted lineup of catastrophe [though banal in comparison to cannibalism]. whereas R was unaware of the extreme extent of the young girl’s affections, Paulo, well-aware of his own shortcomings, exploits them for his own gain. nameless until the final scenes, Jane’s identity seems to have been entirely tied to this projection. she then faces reality, as bleak as the events that have just occurred, and a similar mystery arises, of how her life will go on, of what she’ll do now. seeped in modernity, personally my enjoyment of this one was lesser — as evidenced by the stupid tears streaming down my face, etcetera.

both films present a bleak and vicious cycle, an abrupt end to youthful obsession rather than the way for most it slowly fades away. director of ‘der fan’, Eckhart Schmidt, states, “The real story was about love, of course. Basically, the star calls out to the fan and says: ‘I love you.’ All pop music tries to conquer the audience with affection. And the fans believe it. They come and say: ‘OK, on the radio and TV you said you love me, here I am.’ But the star can't live up to that promise.” the adoration and gratitude celebrities offer is immensely enticing, especially to those who don’t receive such words often. ‘community’ being the answer is a bit of an insufficient answer when the individual feels ostracized by those around them. this is what leads to scenarios such as reverse-kidnapping and murder by blunt force trauma. what other option is there?

the case for happy endings

more recently this trope can be seen in ‘swarm’, a 7 episode series largely thrust into the spotlight due to its being helmed by donald glover. the show follows Dre, an obsessive fan of Ni’Jah, a character blatantly based on Beyoncé. her world of mundane daily escapism is turned upside down when she finds her foster sister and roommate, Marissa, dead following an argument with her cheating boyfriend. her only tangible tether to the good in the world, thus begins Dre’s descent. after bludgeoning aforementioned boyfriend in a fit of rage, she develops an infatuation for revenge [though not more consuming than her infatuation for Ni’Jah]. for years following, we watch her scroll stan twitter scavenging for victims, flying under the radar and eviscerating anyone who stands in her way. this differs from the previous iterations of this kind of character in that the distance between Dre and the object of her affection is larger; the scale of Ni’Jah’s fame is repeatedly presented, inarguably harder to approach than some new-wave german guy.

despite this, she closes the distance, but when she sees Ni’Jah, dazed, all she can do is bite her, calling back to the consumptive angle. what better way is there to possess someone in their entirety? before i fully spoil the last episode, i want to emphasize the acting; Dominique Fishback’s unrepentant performance gives me chills just to think about. a wide-eyed, unapologetic depravity reminiscent of Mia Goth in the final scene of ‘pearl’, the dichotomy between her ecstasy when engaging in her hobbies (listening to Ni’Jah, serial murder) and the soul-sucked bleak, blank stare when doing almost anything else is disquieting. her rage is of a volatile nature, slowly building up until it bursts, in a way that feels palpable and unfortunately familiar. [reminds me of a scene from the not-very-good film ‘suicide room’ in which the main character explodes at his mother after she disconnects his wi-fi, which has permeated my mind for nearly a decade.] Dre in particular is a sympathetic character because her circumstances have been so relentless. as someone susceptible to anger, i see characters like her and Pearl and feel endlessly grateful i’ve lived a life which has allowed me to foster a false sense of calm. the scenes with cult leader Billie Eilish were also especially affecting. anyway don’t read the next paragraph if you haven’t watched the show unless you don’t plan to watch the show which is a dumb plan but whatever.

i presumed the meta-mockumentary episode to be the last one as i am allegedly extremely gullible and had begun to believe that these events had actually occurred. the real last episode is titled ‘only God makes happy endings’. i don’t mind an ambiguous ending, but admittedly the endings for the last two fangirl films have left me empty; is it so much to ask to see a psycho girl smile, even if ephemeral? i enjoyed the endings of 'pearl' & 'PVT chat' [among countless others] because despite the main character’s many missteps, their endings echo a sense of hope in the haplessly hopeless world they’re/we’re presented within. regardless of the real-world implications of letting murderers live free and of granting monkey’s-paw-ass wishes, movies and TV aren’t real life, and i want to see a woman win for god’s sake!!!

the final episode of swarm finds Dre ditching her phone and staying on the down low following the crime doc about her. by chance, she meets and starts dating a woman named Rashida, despite her adamant stance against Ni’Jah. we start to wonder if this is the happy ending; she overcomes her obsession in the face of someone who really loves her. it starts to seem like this is the case, until their anniversary, when Dre delusionally purchases a pair of Ni’Jah tickets. obviously Rashida is unhappy with this, and obviously Dre is unhappy with her unhappiness, and obviously this escalates. next is an overlong strangling scene, during which you constantly want to plead with her to let go, but it’s too late. unaware of the tickets in her pocket, Dre rushes to burn her girlfriend’s lifeless body. in perfect contrast to the hyperreal mood of the preceding episode, what follows is fairy tale delight. scalping (not really sorry) a scalper in order to obtain tickets and swarming the stage, we anxiously assume the culmination of her fantasies will come crumbling down. instead, wearing Marissa’s face almost seamlessly, Ni’Jah, like R in the first act of 'der fan', comes, miraculously, to her rescue. unlike in 'der fan', Dre isn’t forced to face reality. she rests her head on the shoulder of her fantasy: happily ever after.