You’ve seen the images: grainy black-and-white shots of teenagers, mostly girls, crying, screaming, flailing their arms across blockades as police officers try in vain to hold them back. In photos, they look pained, ecstatic, desperate, devoted. The term that came to describe the phenomenon alluded to the irrationality of it all: Beatlemania.
Fifty years later, another British boy band landed in America with a fervor that appeared quite similar: One Direction. In that time, the nature of fandom evolved dramatically thanks to the internet, which enabled people to come together who only shared one thing in common, people to whom it was the most important thing in their lives. Beyond that, though, the fans who populated the internet also played a key role in creating it: the conventions, the language, the mob mindset, the memes.
That’s the subject of Kaitlyn Tiffany’s debut nonfiction book, Everything I Need I Get from You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It, which acts as an ethnography of stan culture through the lens of a One Direction superfan. Tiffany (who, disclosure, was previously a reporter at Vox) provides nuanced analysis of an often-overlooked force in internet history, one dominated by the kind of young women whom the rest of the world dismissed as little more than brainless teenyboppers. We recently chatted over the phone about the experience of writing the book, fandom’s fraught relationship with capitalism, and what the act of screaming for your fave can do.
“There are no girls on the internet” was a common axiom on 2000s-era message boards, but clearly that is not and was never the case. What were women doing on the early internet, and why were they less visible?
There was obviously a gender gap in the early days of the web, but it started closing much earlier than people think. Around 2000 is when researchers started noticing that women, and especially younger women, weren’t using it in the transactional or goal-oriented ways that men were using it for work or promotion, but as a social tool. The internet was a lot more like the telephone, which became a domestic communication tool. With the rise of social media and interaction-based platforms, women were the early adopters, and particularly fans were the early adopters to basically everything that’s been created.
Why were Tumblr and Twitter in particular so fruitful for fandoms?
People forget about this now, but Tumblr was pretty unprecedented as a visual tool. GIFs that were invented on Tumblr became part of the cornerstone of fandom. It was also a counterpart to public-facing platforms like Facebook, which is not where you’d go to publish your slash fic [fanfiction about same-sex romance] under your real name for your parents and grandparents to see. Tumblr had this very secluded feeling and gave fans a lot of tools that they didn’t have on other websites.
With Twitter, it’s the opposite. It was this vacant space that fans were among the first to, like, homestead. That