Social Media: "Fans," Supporters, Hypervisibility and Survival

©2013 Trudy | Drift Sojourn

©2013 Trudy | Drift Sojourn

When you become a fan of someone, you decide that you will give up ever truly knowing them. Now this may work for celebrities. We have no access or connection to really know them beyond the art that they share and anything else that they volunteer to share about themselves, in a unidirectional connection where all we do is consume them (or at best, a binary connection of production and consumption). This consumption is happening within the context of a capitalist society. This consumption...is not a relationship. And most celebrities know this. It does not mean that fans do not adore the celebrities. It does not mean that celebrities are not thankful for and respectful of their fans. This does not mean that celebrities never provide fans joy; they can. (Art can impact us deeply, of course. For example, Black music heals me and saved my life many times.) This does not mean that when a celebrity dies, it does not hurt the fans; it can. But this is not a relationship in the intimate sense of the word. Most fans know that they do not actually have intimate relationships with celebrities. 

Most celebrities have resources to protect themselves from some of the harsh realities of hypervisibility and public consumption. They can spend money on a trip to escape it all. They have security at their homes, studios, and concerts/performances. They have finances for mental health care and health insurance. They have people who can filter their emails and social media accounts so that they do not deal with online abuse all by themselves. They have ample resources to soften the blow of fame. And then for some, they do not care. Maybe they enjoy the fame, even if it includes bad sides. Or maybe they are among the celebrities who actually tell tabloids where they will be (yes, this happens; a former high level employee at National Enquirer said so in a MBA lecture that my BFF attended) because "all publicity is good publicity" to them.  They have ways around things though of course fame can still be horrible in a way that I cannot fathom for them. I can only listen to their accounts of experiencing fame. I see how much worse it is for Black female celebrities versus White male celebrities, for example. I can notice this very real difference that misogynoir causes while still not discounting what White male celebrities experience. Being cognizant of this difference and the severity of what the former experiences matters.

However, this "fan/celebrity" model simply does not work for non-famous people who are primarily trying to survive while using social media with large follower counts and reach. This does not work in the context of being a Black woman who is an independent artist and writer that uses social media. I rarely have money to spend on trips to escape it all; I do not have security anywhere I go and further am not safe via the police either; I cannot afford mental health care (counseling and medication for Anxiety or Depression are out of my financial wheelhouse most years of my life); I have had health insurance for only 8 of the 36 years that I have been alive (and this current year is not one of those 8); there is no one to manage my social media to help mitigate the microaggressions, gaslighting, plagiarism and abuse that I deal with daily for years now. I do not enjoy most forms of attention and I am not interested in "status." Get Rich or Die Vlogging: The Sad Economics of Internet Fame by Gaby Dunn on Fusion is so elucidating to me, especially since I have thought, tweeted and written about hypervisibility online for several years now. She mentioned "the disconnect between internet fame and financial security is hard to comprehend for both creators and fans." There is no reward for hypervisibility without resources. 

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When people online overstate intimacy that we do not actually share as a way to scapegoat from accountability for their own behavior towards me, it is triggering. (It reminds me of extremely harmful interactions [including extreme emotional abuse that I endured for several years] with people I both did and did not share emotional intimacy with who used that lie or the truth as justification for why the only acceptable response to their harm is my silence.) All of a sudden they are a "fan" or even more preposterous, a "friend." They "know" me. They have seen me before. They tweeted me for months or for years. Then why are we in this predicament? Why are they doing harmful behavior that mirrors the behaviors of the online trolls who hate me? The trolls do what they do because I am a Black woman or based on tweets where I defend Blackness, womanhood, Black womanhood, oppressed groups that I am not a part of, independent artists or unaffiliated writers of colour. How are the biggest "fans" and "friends" equally as harmful? It honestly is a proverbial punch in the gut to me when instead of an apology, I get a "well I did (insert some unidirectional act of consumption that they pretend is shared intimacy between us), so clearly I cannot be held accountable for my behavior online." My rebuttal to this continual type of triggering manipulative behavior is that I think about certain questions. You are my biggest fan? No you are not. You read "everything" that I write? No, you do not. Do you really know me? Not even close. Being a "fan" is not being a supporter and most certainly is not a relationship as a friendship is. Consumption is not compassion. I do not want any fans. There is nothing good that comes from this for me other than more harm. More dehumanization. More "no, really it is you who 'hurt' me by expecting accountability instead of allowing me to do as I please to you, as long as I continue to consume your work." 

What interests me are supporters. People who are interested in me the person even more than whatever art I create, no matter how much they like that art. This means that they understood when my mental health was thoroughly shot and I decided to close Gradient Lair. They understand why I feel tired when people only engage with me in a parasitism/paternalism binary model where either they expect constant education and coddling, or they discount my intellect and abilities and constantly force unsolicited advice on me because of their deep-seated discomfort with someone like me being considered knowledgeable about anything. They understand that plenty of times I willingly share information, but I do not "owe" them information. They understand that if they say "I read all of your writing" it means that they do not only look for race/gender facts for their academics/careers, or art tips, or book lists etc. but that they actually read the unpleasant parts about my experiences as an artist including the impact of hypervisibility without resources and online abuse, or what everyone turns their heads away from as to continue their own hyperconsumptive uncaring acts without guilt.

See, supporters do not follow my work for years on end yet magically engage in the same harmful behaviors as the random bigots who happen to see one of my tweets for the first time. They do not make excuses. They apologize. They do not exploit my hypervisibility on Twitter or Tumblr to pretend as if they are incapable of harm solely because they have fewer followers than I do. And if they are Black, they most certainly do not exploit fictive kinship, which is something that I find to be extremely egregious and triggering. This notion that our shared race, history, culture and experiences means that they can do whatever they want to me and I must reply with coddling, education or silence altogether? I do not want fans. I do enjoy supporters. I wish I could unload the former and have more of the latter. I doubt that this will happen though. There is too much going on in the world of social media with the overestimation of "social capital" and the underestimation of actual misogynoir.

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Social media is a part of my work and how I make a living. Whether it is people who buy my publications, people who pay me for intellectual and emotional labor that I do for them, or people who donate to my past/continuing work (that has provided them value) and future creative projects, social media directly impacts my income. I delete social media, I need a new source of income then. There is no back to corporate jobs for me. That ship has sailed. My physical and mental health already paid the price for that decade of time of abuse, some of which I have yet to even write about (and I never will). Further, many corporate jobs do not take kindly to people who speak out against systemic oppression online. They also rarely like creative people who do anything independent of the jobs. Even being photographer cost me many job opportunities from companies that resent that type of independence. In the past, some jobs found out about my interests outside of work and began punishing me inside of the office upon their discovery. They made those places abusive and unbearable so that I would leave. There are no other types of brick and mortar jobs for me. Either they do not pay enough or they do not want to hire a Black woman with a Master's degree. I am "overqualified" and a "flight risk;" in other words, "the uppity Negro might get bored with the fact that we are going to underpay her, be microaggressive and never intellectually challenge her, as to not make the Whites/men that we pay more for the same work upset."

Do I love writing, photography and creating/publishing my own work? Sure. Do I love social media. Well...no. I thought that I might finally be at the place in my life (after only 18 years of suffering in adulthood, and growing up in poverty before that) where I live where I want to live, deal with people I want to deal with and do what I want to do. But if I still keep running into the same problems with social media, it means that I have to rethink my work. And if I have to rethink my work, that can impact where I live. And if I have to rethink where I live, that can impact having to deal with people in my life that I prefer to keep at a distance for my own well-being. I still create my art and find it enjoyable to do so. Art saves me. But social media is not going to get any better. It will only get worse. Every year is worse. 2016 is significantly much worse than 2014 than 2012 than 2010. I have tried my best to function while using social media, but it is vile and I cannot pretend that wonderful friends, clients and supporters make dealing with hyperconsumptive "fans" for whom I am not a real person to, trolls and bigots, plagiarists, and the trinity of abusive academics, journalists and some "activists," any easier. While I adore the former, the physical, intellectual and emotional cost of dealing with the latter is a price that is beyond what I will be able to pay for much longer, mental-health wise. Honestly, I am just here so that I will not get fined. In my case, "fined" means "have my entire life unravel because I have no way to maintain the resources needed to survive." (I have already been through complete physical, emotional, mental health and financial ruin in a major way twice in my adulthood. A third time happening and well...I will not stick around.) This is how I feel about social media. And since people know this, they continue harming me. They really are no different from abusive people at traditional jobs when they know that you need time to quit or cannot quit at all. Trading in one violent dynamic for another has been really heavy. And while I enjoy the freedom to make my own schedule and not have racist and/or sexist microaggressive middle management stale coffee and cheap cigarette breath in my face in a cubicle, my new "cubicle" is simply thousands of exploitative and harmful people online instead. What did I really gain then? 

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