Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fandom: An Anthropological Escapade

I wrote this for my anthropology class. The Madre asked me to post it here. *posts it here*

It was midnight and my time in the field was drawing to a close. My feet were bruised and blistered; I was shivering and trying to warm my icy fingers. I limped from the venue a little ways behind my companions, bitter to be leaving my experience behind. I had just walked away from the very first concert that I had ever attended- if, of course, I didn’t take my father’s performances into account. It was an experience that I shall not forget- the music, the lights, the calm-and-steady then rowdy-and-ready nature of the crowd. I walked into the theater in Phoenix after a ten hour drive; I limped away nearly six hours later, having been stomped, shoved around, and thrown into throngs of a mosh pit. The top layer of skin on my left big toe was gone, but I had experienced an entirely new culture and come to a conclusion about myself: I have made the descent into Fandom.

I’ve always known about the mysterious kingdom called Fandom. I grew up hearing about it and reading about it- this far-off world where packs of adolescent girls cluster in front of copies of Tiger Beat, squealing and pledging their eternal love to some kid with a good set of bangs. My sister left for Fandom when she was six or seven, I believe; she returned and regaled me with tales of Backstreet Boys, of late nights screaming, “A.J., I LOVE YOU!” As I grew older, I watched many around me depart for Fandom. They would camp out in makeshift Harry Potter conventions; they would spend times in coffee shops perfecting their fanfictions. I never thought that I would be visiting Fandom myself.

That’s not what I was thinking as I stood in line to see Jon Thor Birgisson, a quirky, loveable musician from Iceland. I was too wrapped up in the excitement of the night’s festivities. As I quickly learned, concerts are not what I expected. I was a stranger in a strange land- I didn’t realize that I had crossed the border between the rest of the human race and Fandom. There were three lines. The first was Will Call, where members of the culture are sent to pick up tickets that they had previously purchased. The second line was for members of the culture who had yet to purchase tickets; these individuals are referred to as To Purchase Tickets. The longest line was called Entrance- Must Go Through Security First. My party and I were members of the Will Call line.

I looked around me- there were fifteen people at most in our group. Directly in front of us, a young man and two young women were chatting and rocking back and forth on their heels, their hands thrust deep in their pockets. One woman had a dark purple outfit with neon orange paint splashed across her face. The man wore black plastic glasses. I myself had adopted the proper attire for the occasion: on my head perched a large purple peacock feather.

Our party moved to the front of the line and collected our tickets. With these four slips of pink and white paper, we were allowed to make our way to the Entrance line. In the Entrance line, male Fans were separated from female Fans. About ten minutes later, we arrived at the front doors and were searched by security. Past the gatekeepers, I could see the inside of the venue. It was much warmer in there and the volume seemed to increase the closer that we came to the doors. In order to get inside, certain rituals were necessary. All bags were required to be searched. All Fans were required to be patted down. All tickets were required to be checked.

We completed the ceremony and graduated to the inside of the venue. Around me, more people whizzed around buying concert shirts, albums, videos, posters, and beer. The venue did not have chairs- Fans could either stand close to the stage or sit further away from Jónsi. I must confess- I was not prepared for this. We arrived at the theater shortly after six-o’-clock and the show did not begin until after eight-o’-clock; before the music even started, I was already sandwiched between two total strangers and already in a fair amount of pain. This was a challenge that I did not anticipate.

Shortly before the opening act took the stage, my sister and I encountered another problem. We were among the shorter Fans present and could not see over the taller Fans. The mosh pit encircled us and we could not back out or move to a more suitable location. A boy with a miniature afro blocked my view of the stage.

“What do we do?” I whispered.

“Casually wedge yourself between people. You’ll get closer,” Kailee whispered back.

This plan do not go as well as Kailee had implied that it would. We were four rows of Fans back from Jónsi; I was feeling desperate. I just didn’t know how to wedge; I’m not a wedger. Evidently, this is common behavior at concerts- wedging or else simply stealing seats closer to the stage; but I was a novice in these waters and so took a few timid steps forward and stopped when I could finally see a string of microphones.

After what seemed like a few years of being stomped on by the boy with the afro, the lights went down. In Fandom, this signifies the beginning of something special. We Fans raised our voices to deafening levels, chanting, “JÓN-SI! JÓN-SI!” I stopped screaming for a moment. A thought encroached upon my happiness when I realized who I sounded like- the six-year-old version of Kailee crying over the Backstreet Boys. I was not an outsider, a stranger in a strange land. I was in Fandom. I had crossed over without realizing it. This was my culture. We were a culture of colorful Fans. Some Fans had beers and afros while others had peacock feathers and neon orange face paint. Fandom required a lot more patience and determination than I had anticipated- but I was determined not to lose my spot to another afro by sitting down somewhere in the back.

I have since left Phoenix. But I have not yet left Fandom. My experiences in Fandom have created a sense of community, like a bubble, around me and all of the other Jónsi/Sigur Rós (the name of Jónsi’s band back in Iceland) Fans. We are a smaller kingdom within the kingdom, but we are a vocal minority. Somewhere in the corner of Fandom, we come out in droves to listen to great music and mosh pit. The only thing that unsettles me is that Jónsi writes ambient music; I’m not sure exactly what our mosh looked like to outsiders.

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