Weighing up the repercussions of fandom run amok

Ke Jiayun
Rampant idolatry has prompted many young fans to become overly zealous of their celebrity idols. Experts believe it's a very sorry environment for teenager to mature in.
Ke Jiayun

I was born in 1990 and went through a phase when I was fascinated by singers and groups like Jay Chou, S.H.E and Jolin Tsai. I bought their music and practiced the songs at home so I could perform them on karaoke outings with friends.

Back in those days, fans went to meet-and-greet sessions with celebrities and attended concerts to show their support.

Times have changed. Now when I turn on the television, I see a parade of young talent – all beautifully made up and wearing the same smiles. New idols spring up on screens and billboards in Shanghai. Each has a big fan club of supporters.

Rampant idolatry has prompted many young fans to become overly zealous of their idols. Some pull out all the stops to make sure that their idols are cocooned from criticism, however legitimate it may be. Anyone who dares to criticize an idol is considered the enemy.

It's a very sorry environment for teenager to mature in. How much will all the misplaced fervor and even the hate evoked by some fan activities influence their minds and shape their future behavior?

Dai Yin, a political adviser in Hunan Province, submitted a proposal to Hunan's legislature in January to block fan culture from permeating schools.

Dai, who is also director of publishing for China South Publications & Media Group, said a family member had suffered cyber violence from fans of her idol's rival after she promoted her star's TV drama. Police were called in. The cyber bullies were found to be minors who weren't punished.

She said she used to think that the fan economy was part of the market economy and not a bad thing. But with the rising popularity of the Internet, the fan economy has infiltrated daily lives, affecting the values of teenagers.

The Ministry of Education said that last year, a record 1.2 million students applied for the yikao, or art exams, hoping to gain entry to institutions like the Beijing Film Academy and Shanghai Theatre Academy. Many were basing career choices on the entertainment sector that includes fan clubs. Meanwhile, traditional subjects like physics or education were attracting fewer youth.

Dai concluded that today's teens now show a tendency toward vanity and mammonism – reaping without sowing – and that may be correlated to the fan economy.

The trend is particularly concerning where it relates to minors, who can become brainwashed in fan cults, she said.

To address this phenomenon, Dai said the Internet watchdog more tightly monitor social media groups of fan clubs and require those who participate to use their real names. Minors should be prohibited from such groups, she added.

More work needs to be done by schools, she said. Student focus needs to be directed to healthy activities, with "star chasing" discouraged.

Many teenagers spend a lot of time, energy and money on idolatry because they think it's meaningful for them. Fan clubs give them a sense of friendship and peer acceptance.

What starts out as an innocent hobby can become addictive, affecting personal behavior and family relationships. It's important for parents and teachers to address feelings of emptiness that may lead teenagers to embrace the idol culture.

And authorities should be cracking down on all those shadowy people who nurture and profit from fan fervor.

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