Remember Fan Clubs? You could send away a dollar, maybe a bit more, along with your registration form clipped from Tiger Beat or 16 Magazine and become an Official Member. You would receive a membership card and other special memberships items in the mail. Perhaps even an autographed picture.
Today it is not about joining a fan club. Today it is about Fandom, pursuing your fandom, and curating multiple fandoms. Fandom is a multi-modal explosion of entertainment, merchandising, technology, and social media. In an earlier age one might have had one big teen idol or crush, collected some popular item like ceramic ponies or troll dolls, and pursued a hobby such as roller skating, horseback riding or listening to records.
Today's concept of fandom can reach into every aspect of leisure time. You watch a television show/ movie/ musical performer. You can watch again and again on Netflix or YouTube. You can join social media communities to discuss it, create Pinterest Boards to collect images of your fandom, connect with retailers who are selling fandom themed merchandise. You can read or write fanfiction created specifically in response to the shows or performers you like. You can narrow your selections to those highlighting the specific romances that you "ship". You can go to conventions or social events dressed in character.
This makes the old days of joining the Fan Club look very old indeed. Is it better? Is it worse? To me, it is both fascinating and overwhelming at the same time. I think it would be pretty scary if Fandom replaced everything in a young person's life. It is capable of being pretty much everything. To the teen, if feels self-generated. And yet it is also part of an enormous merchandizing machine.
How will this affect how our kids approach other things in life as they get older? Politics, religion, community involvement, love, family...
Yes, in every generation there is something that the young really "get into" and that the parental generation fears or distrusts. That's a part of life. And whatever that is, we all have to learn to cope with it, whatever it is. In general, the more adults denounce, the better it looks to their kids. We have all been there.
I'm not denouncing. But I look at how easy it is to get sucked in and think that establishing balance is more important now than ever. And that's not just a lecture for the kids, but a lesson for all of us. Whenever we allow one thing to be our life and our leisure, our hobby, our game, our goal and our self-image--we are in danger of losing ourselves.
That's what grown ups worry about, anyway. Adolescence is a time of experimentation, teens are pretty flexible. Remember when your mom said, "what if your face gets stuck that way?" It didn't.