Strong Enough to Break – Requiem for a Fandom

In the movie Adaptation, Meryl Streep’s character is fascinated by Chris Cooper’s character’s capacity for fascination. She is taken by his deep, all-encompassing love for things. Depending on the time in his life, it could be turtles, ice age fossils, resilvering old mirrors, tropical fish.

But: “Then one day I say, ‘Fuck fish.’ I renounce fish. I vow never to set foot in that ocean again. That’s how much fuck fish. That was seventeen years ago and I have never since stuck so much as a toe in that ocean. And I love the ocean!”

She’s baffled. “But why?”

He shrugs, smiles. “Done with fish.”

I never understood that line.

What I did understand, however, implicitly, with all of my being, was the measure of longing Streep’s character has in the next scene when she confesses, “I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately.”

I have always known this. I have always been someone who cares about something passionately.

The first of those things always makes people laugh. It’s the band Hanson.

It was 1997. I was eleven years old. They were my age. They were happy, rollerblading, singing about utter nonsense with a melody so convincing that I never once questioned it. I was coming of age and they were there to greet me. It made sense.

Cameron Crowe tries but no one can really explain the impact of music on people and why they become such ardent fans of it, and that’s kind of the point. Music, even with lyrics, reaches parts of you that words and images can’t. Music begets both emotional and physical sensation. It burrows and pulls and lifts. It understands you but has no idea who you are. Within it you find parts of yourself that you didn’t know existed.

It was at the exact time that “MMMBop” was released that I first began listening to music at all. I was at the exact age at which human beings start to become sentient members of society, when you become aware of your surroundings. Hanson’s music burrowed and pulled and lifted – exalted! Their lyrics were uncommonly philosophical for their age and life experience. I loved them and I just never stopped.

It was such a love that as I got older, if people knew anything about me, it was this. Hanson is Angela’s favorite band. But, no, like, her favorite band. The kind of pride I felt for being recognized as this fanatical unicorn was consuming. After the initial scoffs, when people heard the depths of my fandom they’d often look at me with an impressed respect. Few people loved as deeply as I loved.

And I really, really loved. When I was young, I kept a box full of Hanson clippings from teen magazines. My bedroom was wallpapered with their faces for years. I saved trinkets from concerts I went to, and there are quite a few of them: I’ve seen them live 19 times. (Hardly a number, compared to some fans.) I met them twice: once in 2004 when I camped out with friends at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square for the debut of Underneath, and again in 2005 when I had the opportunity to interview them for the official fan club. (I never did submit that interview… sorry, Leigh.) For the interview, I got to sit in a little room with just the three of them. It was surreal and spectacular and a total blur. I was understandably nervous but kept a reasonable cool even though they talked over and to each other the whole time, so much that I could barely keep up scribbling the answers to my lame questions. I still have the blue Hanson hat my dad bought me at my very first concert.

On the 20th anniversary of Hanson Day, I finally got my Hanson tattoo. I figured two decades was long enough to prove my love was real, and I had spent much of those two decades trying to decide what to get. Hanson has a cute little logo, but I couldn’t envision it neatly anywhere on my body. Instead I drew a little design based off of some typography I found on Pinterest to fit around lyrics from their song, “Weird.” Even though it’s one of the earliest tracks from their debut album, it resonates still: “Isn’t it weird?”

It is.

It wasn’t just the painfully slow, way-too-delicate way in which Hanson as a group and individually addressed the Black Lives Matter protests and the events preceding them. It didn’t help.

I encourage everyone to come to their own conclusions about the massive compilation of receipts, but from where I’m sitting, Zac Hanson is a robust supporter of things I find morally and ethically abhorrent, including the defense of Stand Your Ground laws and of the murderer of Trayvon Martin. I can’t imagine anything more disingenuous or hypocritical than retaining my status as a Hanson fan after learning this information.

Is there a part of me that always suspected this could be the case? Sure. These guys were born and raised (and are bearing and raising their children) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Bible belt, the location of the decimation of Black Wall Street, the place where the mayor just said on the radio “we’re shooting African Americans about 24 percent less than we probably ought to be,” and where the current president of the United States will be holding his next rally… on Juneteenth. Racism lives everywhere, but maybe the odds were against them.

This is exactly the situation Hanson has been trying to avoid their entire careers. One podcaster got closer than most recently, and he tried to find the crack that could release the shitstorm and was baffled that he couldn’t. Regarding their personal lives, Hanson’s collective lips are incredibly tight. The Middle American, grass-fed boyishness of “MMMBop” never quite stopped being their brand. But there is no maintaining boyishness, despite the veneer. The men they became fully understand that the power they possess over their (mainly female) fans has everything to do with pulling the tether tied to hormonal nostalgia, of maintaining their fans’ freakish desire for proximity to them. And they granted it all. Enough slack on the tether, anyway, to keep the fandom going for nearly a quarter of a century. The boys of Hanson became very talented businessmen.

Tulsa is the epicenter of Hanson fandom. Before hopping a flight to Vegas for our honeymoon last year, my husband and I stopped in Tulsa for a couple of days. We went out to Route 66 and saw the big oil guy statue. The Game of Thrones finale happened to fall one of those days, so watching that and then talking about it took up a considerable chunk of time. And of course, we went to see a Hanson concert and observe some Hanson Day activities.

Yes, there is a day. And it’s become an annual, week-long celebration in Tulsa not just for fans, but specifically for members of their fan club, because you have to be a paying member to participate. (There is an additional charge for the events you want to attend, at which members of Hanson also attend, if only for a short while.) Lots of women exactly like me, white and in their thirties, go to Hanson Day every year.

After the concert, I ran into some internet friends from my days on Hanson.net as a teen (I was quite active). The general air about the table at which we convened for some craft beers and apps was skeptical at best. These women decided to come to Hanson Day on a lark, and while we all agreed we enjoyed the show (how could we say otherwise?), I wouldn’t say any of us were exactly enthused. The conversation was around why they hadn’t released anything but a single, a Christmas album, and a reissue of old recordings with an orchestra dubbed in in years… presuming they didn’t want to be around each other long enough to record anything new. We wondered why the subject of their songwriting has recently lapsed into somewhat lazy musings about achieving your dreams, instead of something – anything –  more sincere. If we had asked ourselves why we were there, why we were still doing any of this, I’m not sure any of us would have had an answer, except maybe “habit.”

It’s going to sound rather convenient now to confess that for the last few years I’ve been reevaluating my relationship with Hanson, but I have (do I even like this kind of music anymore?), and the trip to Tulsa didn’t help. Seeing dozens and dozens of women walking up the main drag to a venue to (pay to) watch Taylor DJ for a couple of hours, all I could think of was, This is his job. He had dinner, put his kids to bed, then went out to DJ for some fans for a couple of hours, then he’ll go home. Check the mail.

I’m not trying to be critical about the way they’re making their money. Since Hanson created their own record label in the early 2000s, they’ve bolstered their revenue stream beyond album sales to these sorts of events (they also host an annual trip to the Caribbean) and the way they’ve been able to sustain their brand is honestly pretty impressive. That moment for me was just so pedestrian. Celebrities, actors, bands go to comicons or host cruises all the time. But Hanson’s pull is so great their fans come to them.

The relationship between band and fan cannot be reciprocal, and it’s that lack of reciprocity that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. It’s not Hanson’s fault, and in fact it’s advantageous for them to exploit it, so more power to them. But in being as big of a fan as I was for the bulk of my life, I’ve given to them more than I would ever get back, and I don’t just mean money. Because this kind of fandom is not just about an exchange of material goods. When we watch bands play live, we face them and they face us, like a conversation. The love, the joy, the energy, the ineffable ephemera that’s created when you’re an intense fan of something is sent back to the creator, like gratitude. That’s how it feels for me, anyway. Felt. But there’s no returning that. It just doesn’t go the other way.

And now there’s this. Because how can I see Hanson live again? Am I supposed to simply ignore the mental asterisk of racism, transphobia, homophobia? How can I listen to Zac singing about being broken, misunderstood, when now maybe I know what he was talking about? How can I participate in being a fan, as someone who is trying every day to be a better white person to the world, knowing that at least one third of this band thinks this way? My decades-long stream of gratitude feels like it’s being spit back out at me.

The loss of my fan status will mean nothing to them. Maybe not the sign of a great relationship. Maybe intense fandom (eventually becoming toxic fandom) should generally be reconsidered.

Some fans will be okay with this. Of other people’s reactions to this I have no opinion.

If there is a fall from grace it won’t be financial, but perhaps worse (for them), reputational. There will be those who want to defend their reputation, to claim their outward, perceived goodness relieves them of all sins. Hannah Gadsby said, “We only care about a man’s reputation. What about his humanity? Fuck reputation. Hindsight is a gift. Stop wasting my time.”

I will mourn their hooks, their harmonies, the wall of sound that their best songs have and that they’re so good at making. For their intensely thoughtful lyrics that spoke for me when I couldn’t find the words. For the feeling of their sound vibrating through my veins. For the visceral jolt of joy I would feel hearing the first chord of “MMMBop” played live. I’m thankful that I don’t have to mourn the community of women I’ve gotten to know very well over the decades, because that love runs deeper than our favorite band.  

What I don’t have to mourn is my own life being taken recklessly and with purpose from a police officer because implicit bias and hate guided their hand based on my skin tone. I don’t have to mourn for my livelihood when legislation was passed at my expense because I don’t identify with my assigned gender. I don’t have to mourn my future for a lack of generational wealth. I don’t have time to list all of the things I’m privileged to say I don’t have to mourn.

I’m oddly not heartbroken. To wish that I was would signal that this fandom guided my life more than it does. I’m relieved to know that. I’m sure some Hanson fans will read this and decry I was never really a fan… a claim that is a ridiculous measure of worth but admittedly one that once upon a time would have destroyed me. But it’s fine. I didn’t know anything then, and we shouldn’t be expected to continue believing anything with enough experience, wisdom, and a shit ton of receipts.  

Done with fish.

Black lives matter.

2 Comments

  1. Leslie

    You’re an idiot.

    Just because they have the ability to speak to many more people than most, doesn’t mean they SHOULD or NEED to take that opportunity.

    I should have quit reading a lot sooner than I did. At the exact moment you chose to describe mmmbop’s lyrics as “utter nonsense” actually.

    Even if you later complimented the song in your “piece”.
    You were a fucking idiot of a child, who has not surprisingly grown up to be a fucking idiot of an “adult”

    This isn’t even about Hanson. My disgust comes from this entire bandwagon of ignorance in NEEDING TO BE VALIDATED BY FUCKIN CELEBRITIES IN ORDER TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOUR OWN TRAIN OF THOUGHT.

    Of course black lives matter you cunt.
    Of course Hanson believes that black lives matter.
    They’ve NEVER been big mouthed opinionated fuckheads like yourself.
    They don’t need to be.
    They have music to make for those of us who actually UNDERSTAND the lyrics.
    They have families to raise.

    We don’t need their fucking opinion.
    And we damn sure don’t need your ignorance.

    Now go burn something and throw your toddler like tantrum with your kind. So you can all reassure each other on your like mindedness and make absolute fools of yourselves.

    leave your h.net pass at the door.
    One thing I’ve learned in my 40 years on this earth, if something is right to do or say or be, you don’t have to take anyone else down to prove it.

    Do you feel like you’ve accomplished something for black lives matter because you pointed out someone without mentioning their causes they’ve actually made change for the black community with?
    You’re not saving any black persons lives with this article.
    No one gives two fucks about your love for Hanson and/or their opinion. And how you’ve came down with such an incredible conviction for BLM that you just can not longer listen or support a band who has NEVER been counter active to BLM. in fact, a 2 minute search could list their many facets of support. I bet you’re the type that needs to record yourself giving a homeless person a bag of chips, aren’t ya? Bravo.

    Go back to night school. Take some classes and get a job in the legal field. Because that’s where the real folly lies my dear.
    Don’t use something as an excuse for your laziness to really change something.

    Get up and go. Bitch.

    Like

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