Election as Fandom

Readers, you all know better than anyone that fandom has been on my mind lately. We know from online life that fandom is a living, breathing, evolving thing. When we talk about it, though, we tend to think in terms of popular culture. Baseball. Star WarsHarry Potter. Beyoncé. Halo. Soccer. American Idol. Justin Bieber (I assume–is he still a person?). We think about extracurriculars, hobbies, entertainment. I like a lot of things other people have made; I belong to many fandoms.

It’s occurred to me this election season, however, that political followings have, in fact, become fandoms, too. (Perhaps they always were, although it’s a bit hard to imagine anyone feeling about Richard Nixon the way they did the Beatles.) Donald Trump is a demagogue cultivating a cult of personality–however, his means of engagement are on the face of it no different than those of Katy Perry.

Think about it: his followers even behave like hardcore fans. They defend him at every turn. He can do no wrong. No matter what he says, no matter how racist or hateful, they will still love him.  And this is in part because his followers share many of his prejudices, but it’s not only that. I have seen Trump-enthusiasts balk at his Islamophobia while still pledging their loyalty. Is it any surprise his campaign is a veritable circus when the point and product of it, on some fundamental level, is entertainment?

It’s a horrible sort of entertainment, to be sure, but I would certainly say the same of Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo or Duck Dynasty.

Nor need we limit these conversations to the Republican primary race. In fact, it’s even more apparent on the Democratic side that more than two groups of people divided by ideology, we have two groups of fans defending their chosen idols to the death. How else can we explain the vitriol between Hillary and Bernie fans? This is not to say the candidates are qualitatively the same, but they certainly have more in common with each other than they do the likes of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. As Democrats, we’d be lucky to have either of them in the stead of any Republican candidate.

And yet, their most passionate fans have become so diametrically opposed that some worry come November, the Democratic nominee will lose the election for lack of support. They’ve become the Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj of politics. Not identical by any means, but they both make compulsively listenable popular music and their followers are more alike than they think.(Again, I assume.) But the interactions between their fanbases threaten the fabric of social media with mutually assured destruction and, subsequently, the success of both politicians.

Our political rationalism has probably been deceased for a while, if indeed it ever lived, but if it needed a further death blow, this election season has certainly succeeded. Of course, there will always be people who thoughtfully measure issues and outcomes and consider whose vision for America best conforms to their own. But much louder is the cry of the opposing fandoms, shouting each other down until their throats bleed.

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