Barber, H. and Callaghan, J. (2010) Reality, virtuality and fandom: exploring gender in online fan communities. Paper presented to: British Psychological Society Psychology of Women Section (POWS) Annual Conference 2010, Windsor, England, 14-16 July 2010.
Recurring themes that emerge from current research on internet usage is the pathologisation of those who use the internet (e.g. as an addiction, as damaging to social skills), and the drawing of a clear distinction between reality & virtuality (i.e. online and offline lives). Online (virtual) lives are seen in a negative light, with relationships and experiences not given the same validity as those experienced offline. Generally, experiences and relationships online are represented in this literature as having a detrimental effect on offline ‘real-life’. There are also parallels between the stereotypes that exist about internet users and about fans of celebrities. Within modern culture ‘celebrities’ and ‘their fans’ are familiar phenomena and the idolization of famous people is an easily recognisable popular social practice. However, the construct of ‘fan’ is one that is both deeply pathologised and caricatured in both academic and media representations, for example through pathological labels like ‘Celebrity Worship Syndrome’. These constructions are also profoundly gendered. Being a ‘fan’ is trivialised as either the domain of the ‘silly teenage girl’ or pathologised as the unhealthy obsession of the (often male) stalker. In this paper, we use a discursive analysis of nine online interviews with fans, about their experiences of fandom, exploring the role of gender in participants accounts in the dichotomy of online-offline life (real v.virtual) in their experiences of the development of a Stephen Gately fan community