I came to twitter late. I’ve technically had an account for over a year, but for most of that time I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. Then suddenly, this September, I “got it” and started tweeting up a storm.
Once I figured out how to make twitter work for me, I decided it was time to understand how twitter works for others. As part of my investigations, I spent approximately 3 weeks following Justin Bieber. The things I learned about our society were mind-blowing. Life altering, even. My powers of comprehension were thoroughly tested.
In case Earth is not your home planet, Justin Bieber is a 17-yr-old pop singer who uploaded a bunch of homemade videos onto youtube several years ago and through some combination of savvy marketing and a really ridiculous haircut, went from zero to superstar more-or-less overnight. And I mean a super DUPER star. Justin Bieber is arguably more famous among the tween set than the Beatles and Titanic-era Leonardo DiCaprio combined. It goes with out saying that his music is awful and asinine. But hey, that haircut!
I already knew that Justin Bieber has nearly 15 million twitter followers, the vast majority of whom are teenage fans that refer to themselves as “Beliebers.” What I didn’t know is that for the tweeting Beliebers, the ultimate goal is to have Justin Bieber retweet you and follow you back. Being personally shouted-out by The Biebs is the Holy Grail of Belieberdom, and fans expend a staggering amount of emotional energy frantically tweeting at him and waiting for a response. Given that Beliebers number in the millions and Bieber only follows about 120,000 people, most of these boys and girls will be disappointed.
And disappointed they are. Below are some Belieber laments being tweeted literally as I write this:
When I gain a follower, I think it’s
@justinbieber but it’s never him 😦 @justinbieber ok so i dm AND tweet you countless times and you don’t even reply like okay that’s rude
it is so depressing how
@justinbieber is never gonna notice me, why cant i be one of the girls he follows 😥 </3
Ok. Let us pause for a moment and turn the clock back to simpler times.
Titanic was released right before my thirteenth birthday and like many girls my age, I was obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio. Though I longed for the day when Leo and I would ride off into the sunset together, I knew that in reality he had no means by which to learn of my existence. I pined from a tragic, insurmountable distance, as did all of my friends to varying degrees. Until recently, I thought this was what a celebrity crush is for — appealing because the fantasy is so grandiose, so tragically inaccessible, and so far removed from the tedium of real life and the frightening immediacy of sexually charged in-person interactions.
Twitter has turned all that on its head. By allowing celebrities to “interact” with their fans in much the same way that normal teenagers interact with each other on the web, twitter has turned Justin Bieber into a boy at the local high school. That’s the way these kids talk about him. They tweet endlessly about their desire to have Justin Bieber “notice” them, using that specific word — “notice.”
That’s the same word you use cry about that dreamy guy on the basketball team: he’s too busy flirting with cheerleaders to “notice” you. It’s a real-life word, implying proximity and visual contact and the acknowledgement that someone exists in your world. And you can get jealous of other girls on twitter, girls just like you, for catching this celebrity’s attention where you’ve failed to — much the same way you’d get jealous of those cheerleaders.
Beyond the more immediate concern of getting the attention of the Biebermeister himself, the Beliebers function as a digital army, one of the most organized and unilateral hive-minds on the web. Pretty much anything Justin Bieber tweets about becomes a global trending topic and any person mentioned in his tweets may find their number of followers increase by the tens of thousands. Lila told me she has a friend who gained 12,000 twitter followers just by tweeting Justin Bieber’s name non-stop for a few days. And Beliebers have also been known to launch twitter attacks against anyone they see as an enemy — his detractors, their detractors, or people they imagine have somehow wronged him in real life.
Basically, Justin Bieber has turned twitter into a global high school in which he is the prom king. And this digital environment has all the hysteria and emotional urgency of a real high school. I mean, everyone knows that the internet contains niche communities where intensity of feeling abounds. But twitter isn’t a niche, and most of these kids, in theory, have functioning social lives in a real-world school environment. Such is the power of celebrity and teenage hormones I suppose.
But of course, twitter isn’t real life. Justin Bieber isn’t “noticing” anyone. With the boy in your high school, once he’s “noticed” you, he can “notice” you again very easily because there you are, right in front of him, every single day in the hallway, reminding him of your existence. Even if The Biebernator sees your message and hits that “follow” button, on a 120,000-user feed one person’s tweets are immediately and irrevocably lost. The interaction is done.
So once that fleeting moment has passed, there is no reasonable grounds to hope that others could follow, and that something could develop. There is no possibility of actual sex. This is what traditionally made celebrity crushes a safe outlet for early sexual longing. It’s also why a real live school environment with real possibilities and consequences should, in theory, have more emotional weight than an internet fantasy world. God, Freud would have had a fucking field day with this nonsense. And I just don’t get it. I must be too damn old.