“JC made me laugh sooooo much last night.” A smile lit up my friend Harmony’s face, but it quickly lost most of its shine the longer she looked at my own unimpressed gaze. I could only raise an eyebrow in her direction. “I swear, I really think it’s him this time!” I nodded, and said nothing but we both knew exactly what I was thinking.
It was the late 90’s. I was in junior high school. I was a pretty die-hard *NSYNC fan. Not quite the “I will stalk you, sleep outside your house and camp out for two weeks for concert tickets” type of die hard fan, but I was pretty die hard. And one of my best friends sincerely thought that she was talking to JC CHasez on AOL.
Back when that was a thing.
Anybody remember this? You’d get on the computer, tap your foot, bounce your leg, drum your fingers on the table, swivel in the chair all in nervous anticipation while you waited for the longest five minutes of your life for the dial-up connection to go through it’s steps, watching the little AOL man run, finally signing in and hearing that much awaited “You’ve got mail” that told you that your day had some excitement in it.
Then friends of mine would scour the internet and stalk AOL usernames and chatrooms in hopes of ferreting out our favorite celebrities, which in those days were strongly limited to the five young men that belonged to one of the biggest boy bands to ever hit the entertainment industry. When you finally found someone that had some kind of convolutedly obvious screen name that could have had anything do to with *NSYNC, you questioned them endlessly, trying to lie detect your stalkerish, fan-girl way to the truth of who they really are.
I have to admit, I think this was the beginning of the original Catfish in my eyes. Countless friends of mine had online fights, Instant Messaging back and forth, spending hours on the computer being hurt by people who pretended to be celebrities that we all knew so much about, it seemed like they were our personal friends. It was an exciting time. Your heart would pound, your palms would sweat, and you would stay up all night talking to someone just hoping with a glimmer of hope that it would be your favorite singer, and that they would just once acknowledge you and make your day.
And then…yesterday I was scrolling through Twitter. And I realized that fans these days have no idea about the struggle. They have no idea what it was like waiting all day for TRL so that you could catch the world premier of the video that you were chronicling the making of for a full year. The wait around for things to come on television so you could record it on your VHS tape and watch it, rewinding over and over, always in a constant state of anxiety that your tape would break and you’d be done. Or worse, that your sibling or parent would find the tape and inadvertently tape over whatever jewel it was that you had mined from the wide world of television media.
Now, with social media you could potentially know what your favorite celebrity is doing at any time at any point during the day. You can send them messages and tweets, and know that they’ll get it…along with the countless other thousands. You can be acknowledged directly by the people that you idolize. You have Youtube and you have a new video at a moment’s notice. You can watch what you want, when you want, and you don’t have to depend on a DJ or a VJ to choose your music for you.
You don’t have to go through the waiting and wishing, and filtering through band representatives. I feel like with the decline of the CD came the birth of this new form of personalism. The wall was broken down between the fan and the star, and interestingly enough, it made everyone love their stars even more. Knowing them on a more intimate basis, having access to their everyday lives, bridging that distance actually became helpful for encouraging the fan base. Now you really are supporting not just your favorite star, but your friend. You know what they’re eating when they go out. You know what they’re drinking. You know how they like to have fun. The days of the television expose that was needed to find out what was in your star crush’s bedroom is over. Now, you sign in to Instagram and boom it’s already there. An alert comes to your phone with all the latest updates.
I can’t help but feel a bit of nostalgic sadness for the old days where there was more mystery and you had to work to get far enough to know your favorite idol. But at the same time, It’s kind of a genius move. It also makes me feel slightly old to look at how much things have changed since I was a diehard fan. It’s fascinating to watch, but I’d love to talk to fans who have actually used social media to make their way closer and farther to their celebrities than ever before. It’s like watching and internet fan-based version of survivor.