Free «Youth Culture and Consumption» Essay

Youth Culture and Consumption


As a specific case-study fandom in music involves such items as the individual and group psychology, the influence of music on a human consciousness, the phenomenon of mass-culture. That is why for the essay I have chosen scientific journals, scientific books, fan web-sites and fan creation as the material of study. For the essay I have used methodology of archive work and psychological analysis based on observations and analysis of the fan’s creation.

1. Admirers and fanatics. Music as a part of mass-culture

In the modern society with its tendency to entertainment the phenomenon of fanaticism acquired other significance, than this phenomenon had at the beginning of the last century. Above all it is related to domination of the mass culture, piercing by itself all spheres of life and influencing on consciousness of society. In the modern understanding of this word fans are passionate admirers of anything, mainly of modern musicians, actors and sportsmen (Nayak 2003, p.12).

Fanaticism is a person’s steadfast and rejecting alternatives adherence to certain convictions, which is expressed in his activity and intercourse. Fanaticism is connected with readiness for sacrifice; devotion to the idea is combined with intolerance to the dissidents, and neglect of the ethics norms, if it prevents an achievement of the general purpose. Fanaticism often has the ideological and religious character.

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In the classic understanding fanaticism is directly related to religion. But there are a great number of music and football fans in the modern society. It is important to delimit a concept “fanatic” from a concept “admirer”. An admirer is usually a man, who is fascinated by creation or activity of certain musical performer or sporting command without affectation and utterly expressed obsession. An admirer can be well informed of creation and activity of the idol, but he does not show such signs of hysterical fandom as: uncritical attitude towards an idol, search of like-minded persons and idealization of idol (Browne, Marshall & Fishwick 1990, p.20).

Thus, fanaticism is a special phenomenon of group and individual psychology. Here it is also needed to delimit the concept of musical fandom from football fandom. Both of them are related directly to the mass culture, however musical fanaticism has under itself the hidden motive of another character. Above all it consists in the special and potentially other influence of music on psychology of a man (Myers 2001, pp. 651-652).

Music as a type of art, counted on the auditory perception, can actively affect senses of people. It brightly expresses the need of an individual in beauty attended by strong emotions. Music differs from the literature or fine art in that the pictures of emotional type reproduced by it do not have physical basis actually. Music language is universal and it is able to be understood by a man of any nationality (Myers 2001, pp. 653).

Music always occupied a considerable place in the life of a man. Music develops emotionality; it is able to unite people. But absence of necessary musical knowledge results in superficial perception of music. Love to music is regulated by the stereotypes of the mass consciousness. It is included in the system of the so-called youth subculture, in its non-material aspect (Myers 2001, pp. 657). The phenomenon of subculture is based on creation of own values in opposition to the values of adults. In music people find a reflection of their own emotions, desires and aspirations. Music helps to overcome emotional crises, it effects on the human soul sedative and in most cases creative. The strong influence of music on the psychics can explain the process of arising of the special type of senses, called fanaticism. It is needed to notice that music by itself can not cause such a strong affectation. It can not be a condition, but only a ground for the origin of the special sort of fanaticism – musical; because in the modern world, through the prism of mass culture, music comes to the listener mainly as a vaudeville art. The stage must be attributed to the synthetic types of art. While affecting a man, it uses not only experience accumulated by music but also dances, acrobatics, different examples  of reciting art, special illumination for every show, special atmosphere and style of communication with an audience. Due to it one irritant gets a few additional, which together can affect the soul of a man stronger and steadier. The person can listen to music very often, however the mechanism of formation of so-called fanatical dependence arises only under condition of that the strong signal, received by the individual from external irritant, causes aggravation of reaction to it and leads to the following addiction to this strongest irritant. Instead of finding a new source the potential fan continues to come back constantly to the previous one because he has received the strongest and pleasant irritation due to it. Thus, it is possible to notice that inclination to fanaticism is an inclination of the person's mentality to decode a strong signal. Quite possibly that in process of fading of one sort of fanaticism, later in the same individual arises a new one (Swingewood 1977, pp. 54-55). It is necessary to notice that phenomenon of the musical fandom in the majority of the cases is connected with the fanaticism directed first of all to the separate, private person. Peculiarity of the musical fanaticism connected with the separate person, consists in that fact that the mass culture more often, more plentifully and more aggressively is displayed in the musical perception. Maintaining primitive feelings of the person the mass culture uses music for intensive influence on mentality of individuals inclined to fanaticism, therefore there is a special type of mentality. So, the musical fanaticism is the phenomenon of group and social psychology. The fans of all nationalities and any age are inclined to gather in social groups and to build the relations with the world around by a principle, developed by them in this group. Mostly fans do it under such a scheme of interpersonal relations:

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-         System “fan-idol” (relations with the person who is for the fan a firm authority and a subject of active worship)

-         System “fan-fan” (a dialogue between  members of the  same group)

-         System “fan-all the others” (relations with representatives of other social groups and the persons who do not belong to any group). (Kenway & Bullen 2001, p.14)

2. Fandom in music and textual poaching

The conception of mass culture is closely connected with the concept of “cultural text”. The cultural text can be considered as a certain uniform text with a uniform code or as a set of texts with defined set of codes corresponding to it. Thus the set can be mechanical, consisting of certain plurality of the texts which essentially is not giving in to decoding by means of the general code, or it can be structural: to include the texts which require various codes only at certain level and at other levels can be deciphered in uniform sign system. An important property of cultural texts is their semantic mobility - the same text can give out to each its "consumer" different information.

Any cultural text at the speech level (an empirical reality), probably, represents not an embodiment of any one code, but connection of various systems. (Collins 1989, p.26)

The problem of revealing and classification of additional semantic characteristics of cultural objects, obviously, is the most important in this case, as there the spectrum of connotations is widest and diverse (the image in art has more different meanings than the mathematic  symbol), therefore a problem of polysemy of the cultural object and allocation of various semantic levels in it (according to orientation of sense to certain group of users, by principles of remembering the information, on its degree of verbalization etc.) becomes one of urgent issues (Collins 1989, p.28).

This quality of the cultural text becomes a basis for text poaching. This term was coined by Michel de Certeau (1984) who characterized active reading in which reader interprets texts, specified as television shows, novels, comics, movies, and other forms of media, beyond the original dominant meaning.(Jenkins 1992, p.27) Jenkins has explored this idea in his book “Textual Poachers”. Henry Jenkins calls it an impertinent raid on the literary preserve that takes away only those things that are useful and pleasurable to the reader (Jenkins 1992, p.28).

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Within the term “poaching”, fans extract from the text an alternate interpretation, which is different from the creator’s intended meaning of his or her work. In this way, fans are able to co-author the text and even produce something new. Fans, as the consumer, become the producer: they consume to produce. Jenkins uses this term as a typical character  of the literal poaching, where hunter illegally hunt animals for alternative uses - for fur, meat, and display - which goes against the State’s original use for the animals (Jenkins 1992, p.31).

Thus it is possible to say that the fan interprets the sense of the work according to his subconscious expectations and during this process produces a new sense which is pleasant and necessary to him. In this process an important role is played by the hidden motives of the individual, his aspires and dreams.

That is why it is necessary to notice the fact that gender distinctions among fans have a special importance. Experience shows that the percent of female fans is higher. It can have following explanations.

The first consists in peculiarities of psychological perception of an idol by women. The special role in it is played by development of female sexuality. But the dominant role in involving women into the fanaticism process is played by the feeling of empathy. Empathy is ability to empathy and to feel an emotional state of the other person (Myers 2001, pp. 661). The phenomenon of empathy based on attraction is the main motive for female fans. It is considered that idols and objects of fanaticism of young girls are men. But the woman-idol is equally an object for imitation and the sample for self-identification. It is considered that imitation depends on a sex – men are usually less inclined to imitation, than women. Character of imitation is also distinguished. For women it is based on emotions. Emotions have predominating value for attraction when the woman-fan finds the person who is her future idol, and then this individual evokes in her the positive feelings of love, friendship and liking. As to males in fanaticism system, here their presence gets other sense. It is qualitatively established that   male fans are much more among the musicians playing so-called «men's music». It is a heavy rock, hard rock, metal, punk. The popular musician or singer usually possesses that set of man's qualities which actively promote his popularization among fans. Musical producers actively use this quality. The popular performer has in the opinion of the fan more personal, rather than musical value. As to rock music and styles similar to it, in this case image of the musician or the leader of a band is not exposed to the strengthened polishing by musical producers. Music has here a predominating role, and, that is why, it is possible to notice that fact that here the percent of women-fans is much less (Browne, Marshall & Fishwick 1990, p.28-29).

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The male fan usually uses the attraction of an idol as a way of self-improvement, for him an idol is the sample of moral, creative and other qualities. The woman-fan perceives an idol-man more often as the ideal partner. For her the man-idol has a certain set of qualities which she would like to see in her man. The predominating role here is played by the developing of female sexuality. More often the young man-performer becomes an object of steadfast sexual attention. If to consider that this image maintains these features of an idol it is clear why a high percent of female fans are among commercial musicians. In this case the sexual orientation of fans plays a predominating role. Musical abilities of an idol and his personal qualities have in this case almost no value. The idol is perceived only in a role of the possible sexual partner.

Concept of the idol has value only in relation to his fans. It is the certain image born in consciousness of the fan, and fixed as ideal. The idol is always an ideal. It possesses a complex of features and qualities which seem to the fan the best. In a basis of fanatical enthusiasm the idol always brings an element of passion and painful, emotional obsession. Strictly speaking, the idol is the certain person endowed in imagination of the fan by exclusive qualities. Any person that is able to possess any social importance can become an idol. (Kenway & Bullen 2001, p.46). In the case of musical fans it is singers, musicians, leaders of musical groups.

The fan can not estimate his idol critically. The idol always remains an ideal, his status is infallible.

The fan’s love to an idol is characterized by a big accumulation and emission of emotions. But the most important thing in relations between the fan and his idol is that unlike the usual enamored person the fan perceives not the person of an idol, but only his cover, external idealized signs. In a case with musical fans the special aura to an idol is given by music. There are two ways on which the musical fan can go. He takes a great interest in the music of an idol, and listens to it only because the idol creates it, or gives in to the power and force of favorite music and is even more fascinated by its creator.

Relations between an idol and the fan in general words can be divided into two cases. The first case consists in that the fan seldom has possibility to meet the idol in reality, especially, if he lives in other country. Therefore the rare live and numerous records of concerts become the ways of the dialogue. In the case of a live concert we have an open way of dialogue. It consists in the expressing of accumulated emotions and sometimes has a hysterical type which is shocking for others (Kenway & Bullen 2001, p.47). .

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Records of concerts of early Beatles show a deranged emotional state of the fans: the crying and shouting women. The similar phenomenon occurs to those fans who managed to see the inaccessible idol in the natural situation. The incommensurability of emotions with a reality generates strong emotional conditions up to a nervous breakdown. Here it is possible to note the behavior of Tokyo Hotel's fans which have arrived on performance of the band to Moscow.

It is possible to consider all other cases as the closed way of dialogue.  Having no opportunity to associate with the idol, the fan is contented with music records, video recordings of concerts, photos, newspaper articles and dialogue with similar fans (Kenway & Bullen 2001, p.47).. In this case the spontaneous and strong emission of emotions does not occur.

For consideration of the phenomenon of fanaticism, definition of approximate age of fans is of great importance. It is considered that usually this is teenagers (people from 12-13 till 18 years) and special group of people with a bad formed life experience of various age. Teenage and youth age are characterized by the emotionally-sensual attitude to a life, including culture and its manifestations. It causes feeling of empathy and imitation of illusory heroes, search for entertainment, accompanied by manifestation of the group stereotype.

Imitation and desire to imitate is a leading force of fanaticism. The fanaticism is a special kind of self-affirmation. Being guided by congenial samples, the person builds his own person. The nature of the given phenomenon is explained by the person's need for self-identification. Social samples are necessary especially for a young person. They represent more or less successful decision of socially significant problems at level of actions, judgments, behavior, and dialogue. In their basis lie the moral-standard relations. Similar samples help people to recognize the social and cultural environment, to distinguish and estimate events and phenomena of the world around. The given samples existed at all times and in all political systems. They were used for socialization of the individual, for formation of the certain social type .

Such social samples can be values, norms, ideals, images of separate persons, a fashion, idols etc. Each generation on the basis of self-identification imitates the deliberately or spontaneously developed attractive image. In each culture there are the heroes who are carrying out the cultural functions of creation the values and norms, which correspond to vital expectations of people. In the process of fanaticism the individual adopts certain samples of the behavior formulated on the basis of an idol's image, here begins his formation of psychological mechanisms, norms and values of existence in society (Myers 2001, pp. 670-671).  The problem of the given phenomenon consists in that fact that the fan accepts the product already prepared for consumption by a powerful group of producers, image makers and other people working with image of an idol. Thereby, the image arising in the fan's head   is actually not positive for any imitation.

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3.  Myth-illusion in the pop-music culture. Problem of self-identification

The base of any idol's image, especially of the musical idol, is a concept of a myth. The myth deforms a reality, idealizes it, and forces the myth consumer to accept a fairy tale, as a reality. The postmodernist epoch denies the myth possibility, but people still feel the need in a myth or, at least, in myth simulation, that is in a myth-illusion.

The modern epoch is also connected with revision of idea of the Creator which, as it is known, was a basic link of formation of a myth in the past. After the changing of situation in the epoch of postmodernism which would be impossible without an idol- and myth destruction, there is the same sublimation of the myth, but now on the civilization level, and on the level of subcultures or narration (Collins 1989 p.27).

 The phenomenon of the mass culture can be also explained by the need in a myth-illusion. Sensitive to the social requirements, the mass culture starts to make the local game of myth having the specific addressee and concerning specific area, exalting it to a world-wide level. It concerns pop-music, sports, cinema, TV. Deprived of mythology as the life bases, the person vigorously "consumes" it on some "narrow area”:   the hypercult of pop stars is a result and the reverse side of the absence of Big Cult. In the same way are mythologized “statehood gestures” when the status of Great Battles is given to local political conflicts. (Swingewood 1977, p.54)

The nature of the myth is universal. The role of each myth consists in the explanation of the nature of existing things and phenomena. Nowadays this function of mythologizing did not disappear and still remains the important one.  In ancient times myth was an important part of mental development and self-identification. Now the music myth, as any “myth-illusion” created by pop-culture, is a substitute of the ancient myth and brings a new sense into the fan’s life, which seemed to him too difficult and absurd. (Mallan & Pearce 2003, p.143)

Thus at the heart of the fanaticism lies the “self-concept” phenomenon. It is the difficult compound image including set of representation of the person about himself. The relations "fan-idol" mentioned above are closely connected with the phenomenon of self-identification. The person learns the model of behavior given by an example of an idol that the fan accepts in the role of the spiritual teacher. If the behavior of an idol draws attention and causes feeling of admiration, in the fan arises a desire to imitate, often developing into a mentality and becoming a part of his life. The phenomenon of self-identification underlying the acceptance of an idol's image by the fan, often is based on unconscious likening of an idol to him. The same mechanism of imitation is present at early childhood in the process of cognition of the world by the child. Having found out, why teenagers are involved in it, it is possible to address to the item what pushes already enough adult people into a fanaticism field.

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If the teenager is taking a great interest in music, in most cases he searches for a social sample, but an adult person becomes the fan only if he possesses qualities which can evoke inclination to fanaticism. First of all it is such qualities, as an impressionability, an emotionality, suggestibility, uncertainty in own possibilities (Hassabian 1999, p.137). The person does not realize that he himself is capable to be the sample, and searches for other example for imitation. In it he finds force for overcoming vital difficulties.  

As a rule the fans of adult age posit themselves as admirers of music first of all, and only then as the fans of the singer's person. But in each specific case a big role is played by particular features of the separate person, his education, hobbies, personal experience.

In fanaticism there are some traits of idolatry. The fan zealously defends sacredness and grandeur of his idol in the same way as it was in ancient times. Usually the idol is considered as the perfect, the best one in relation to other objects. The fan's worship to the personal and musical qualities of an idol becomes aggressive and stubborn. The fan does not accept an unceremonious, in his opinion, attitude to his idol, or any criticism, even if it is objective. An attempt to express any judgment about an idol distinct from the fan's opinion causes a storm of unmotivated indignation and insults. An idol imitation   is included into one of the main systems of relation «fan - idol". It is the private, latent dialogue which helps the fan to be nearer to an idol (Kenway & Bullen 2001, p.58). The fan tries to dress as an idol, makes the same haircut, imitates a manner to speak, gait and style of life. Very often fans use the information of an idol’s life for the personal growth, for example, they read the same books; watch the same films, travel to the same countries and cities, up to using in food the same products. It is easy to understand what fatal results this imitation can have if it goes too far. However the imitating style of music and attempt to play similar songs more often bring positive results for self-development of the fan.  

The self-naming by a name of the idol, the using his name in nicknames and in the Internet-nicks can be considered as elements of imitation. In such a way the fan approaches to an idol, gets a part of his power, and as though appropriates a part of his life, getting the big self-trust.

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The important part in system of relations “fan-idol” is the idol persecution. It is explained by that the fan subconsciously desires to have a dialogue with the object of his passion, and it is indifferent for him in what way this dialogue will be. Also it is attempt to receive particulars of the life of an idol, for example, to see his new car, to know what restaurant he visits, whom meets, how he spends his days off. Persecution becomes a sort of a certain passion when aim to learn a certain information becomes main (Kenway & Bullen 2001, p.63).

But the main thing in persecution of the idol is above all a dialogue. The fan is glad and proud when he managed to meet the idol, for example, near the radio station where he gave interview, either after a concert, or in the shop. The emotional state of an idol, his personal feelings at that moment have no value for the fan.   The idol's attention is the main thing for him. Also it is possible to explain by thirst for dialogue the constant desire of the fan to receive the idol's autograph. More often the fan is content with one autograph, but it happens so that the fan pursues an idol and asks him to autograph many times. The same thing is with photos when the fan photographs himself together with an idol many times in various situations. This obsession shows that first of all for the fan is important the process of dialogue with an idol, those possible words which he would tell, his possible actions. The collecting of autographs and photos also gets a fetishism character when it is important for the fan to possess a particle of something which belonged to the object of his passion. The fetishism here looks like a mixture of prehistoric faith in sacred things   and a kind of sexual stimulation (Swingewood 1977, p.101). A fetish as the thing belonging to an idol is a basis for love and attention. The fan takes satisfaction in the fact of being in possession of the thing which the idol "has presented" to him. That is why many fans aspire to get not only the autograph as a stroke of an idol's pen, but also any part of his clothes, a concert requisite, ware (for example, very often fans struggle for bottles which were used at a concert by the musician, for mediator and drum sticks, and sometimes even steal it).

Everything that concerns an idol is important for the fan, including people surrounding him.  The part of the fan's attention is transferred on them. Usually it occurs due to influence of associations which results in a certain interest in the people co-operating with an idol. It is colleagues in an idol's band, dancers, relatives and friends (Swingewood 1977, p.101).  Such an attention for these people is usually accompanied by all similar displays. For example, the fan of the certain musician can observe the life of other musicians, dancers, to take their autographs and pursue them.











Visiting the concerts can be considered as a kind of dialogue with an idol. It is a unique kind of contact which is possible between the fan and his idol, and each fan subconsciously understands it. The concert for each fan is something like a ritual.  The concert represents model dialogue with an idol, but this process is one-sided. Considering the fact that any musical concert is arranged as the planned template (traditional words, shouts, singing an encore, the planned remarks) it is possible to name this process only a dialogue substitute (Mallan & Pearce 2003, p.67).. Nevertheless, the majority of fans are satisfied with this process, and they take pleasure from it. The idol concert is for the fan a way of energy emission and possibility to communicate with other fans.

The process of donation of gifts by the fan to an idol is also an important ritual part. In ancient times people made sacrifices to idols for their attention and favor. In modern fanaticism there is the certain similarity of such ritual connected with necessity to gain an idol's sympathy. The gift is considered as drawing attention and at the same time as a favor sign (Swingewood 1977, p.78). Usually fans present cheap things – toys, flowers, books, but sometimes there are fans who wish to draw attention of an idol by the especially expensive gift. These gifts are things, which in either case will oblige an idol to the fan.

A direct way of dialogue of the fan with an idol is letters in the fan-club addressed to an idol. More often the fan resorts to such way in search of direct contact with an idol. In the letters fans asks an idol urgent questions, tell about their life and anyway expect the answer. In such a way the fan approaches to the idol, to his life, has an opportunity of a certain dialogue with him, a hope to continue the relations. In this case there is a possibility of interactive model of the dialogue “fan-idol”. Deformation of interactive model occurs, if an idol confines himself by only diary records or cliché of letters to fans.

4. Fan groups

Speaking about system of mutual relations “fan-fan”, it is necessary to note that the possibility of existence of the similar phenomenon can be exclusively in groups. Fans make a small group based on interests and associate with each other within it. The small group represents a small association of the people connected by the collective interaction and interest. Contact as the possibility of group members to associate with each other makes the main condition for preservation of group. Also the group is complete in the psychological and social plan and is considered as a unit. (Myers 2001, p.670) The group of fans can be named an informal small group because the dialogue within it occurs on the basis of internal requirements for dialogue, understanding and love. Fans build the mutual relations, which proceed from the collective interests and for satisfaction of the requirements.

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Usually contacts between fans are established by means of fans-clubs – the special organizations, created by supporting staff of the musician. Also there is a possibility of fans’ dialogue by means of forums on the official and informal web-sites devoted to this performer. Usually active fans are familiar with each other in reality.

Also it is necessary to note the main traits which usually characterize the majority of active fans. As a rule it is teenagers or the adult people searching for a dialogue and supports. They are people with the lack of understanding in the usual life. Friends are necessary for them. In the small group they feel protected, irreplaceable; here they are needed and paid attention. Thus, there is a compensative function thanks to which the fan gets a new family and friends. This variant of dialogue is widely used by totalitarian sects.

Speaking about relations “fan-member of other social group”, it is necessary to notice that the fan includes in such group first of all hostile, in his opinion, participants of the social process. First of all, it is parents which have been not involved into the process of fanaticism, brothers and sisters, the schoolmates, which do not understand their hobby and anybody, including the stranger who is able to speak about the fan or his idol in categorical tone.

The rivalry moment as interpersonal relations, includes a conflict with members of other unfriendly group and the individual who is not a member of the current group. The contender is perceived as dangerous, his interests are considered as a possible struggle against them. So, fans of the musical executors belonging to different styles of music very often are contenders and they feel hostility to each other (Nayak 2003, p.39)

More often the fan's intolerance is directed on members of his family. It is connected with peculiarities of interaction of various generational principles. Occurrence of the social conflict shown in the form of antagonism of the senior generation to the hobby of the fan provokes the difficult situation. The given conflict can be classified as cultural because the purposes, interests, values of individuals seldom coincide in a family of representatives of various generations.

5. Fan’s classification

According to emotional coloring and the relation to an idol, fans can be divided into four categories.

The first type is a fan-romanticist. The fan-romanticist first of all is focused on a scenic image of an idol. He pays attention to how this image is embodied, how it corresponds to music and the person of an idol. The fan-romanticist has a feeling of love for an idol and a spiritually-emotional sympathy. For him the idol is an ideal of behavior, appearance, musical expression and personal traits.

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The second type is a sexual-focused fan. This type is characterized by perceiving an idol as a sexual partner. A great attention of this fan is paid to the idol’s appearance and private life, and less to music itself.

The third type of the fan – the fan-rationalist. This fan considers himself first of all as the fan of musical creativity of an idol. He is less concentrated on a scenic image and sexuality of an idol.

The most extreme type of the fan is a fan-stalker. This fan feels so involved in process of fanaticism that his hobby is close to maniacal obsession. Usually he pursues an idol sends letters with threats, requests, and confessions of love. The given type of the fan is often a lonely person for which the idol becomes the reason of his life. He can be extremely dangerous to musicians from the social point of view. (Browne, Marshall & Fishwick 1990, p.126-127)

The fanaticism phenomenon is not limited by influence only on the musical sphere. Very often fan of one group is the fan of other musical band or the fan of a film actor.


The musical fandom is a phenomenon of individual and group psychology. An important role in fandom is played by desires and subconscious motives of the fan. In the majority of cases it can be explained by following:

1). search of an ideal partner – sexual motive.

2). the need in self-identification

3). a lack of life experience resulting in need in the spiritual teacher.

4). the subconscious need in myth

This is closely connected with the concept of “textual poaching” – the process, in which the fan takes from the text something which is necessary and pleasant exactly for him. The musical fan takes from his subculture the element which is the most pleasurable for him and creates for it his own sense. Such interpretation can be new and much differs from the original one.

Musical fandom is the most popular among young people (of 13-18 years) as at this age the human psychics is more vulnerable. In this case fandom can have both positive and negative result.

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