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TikTok and the Art of Being a Fangirl

Editorials Mar 5, 2023

by Lauren Woodzicka

I have an obsessive brain. This has always been true, but I recently noticed how especially suited TikTok is for my brand of compulsion. TikTok’s algorithm is like an attentive lover—it knows what I like at churns it out at a precise, calculated rate.

Lately, my For You page has been populated by fan edits. This shouldn’t be surprising, since I am at heart a fan girl. What is surprising is the quality of said edits. During adolescence, I spent my days scouring tumblr for the perfect gif set or screencap. Now I can go on TikTok and see an intricate short film put together by a teenager on their smart phone.

“Fan girl” has always been a derogatory term. Anything girls or women express interest in is belittled and infantilized. If a girl wears a Nirvana shirt, there’s no doubt a trail of teenage boys asking her to name three of the band’s lesser-known songs and Kurt Cobain’s date of birth. Being a female fan is inherently political, since said girls are perhaps the most ardent consumers despite their perceived lack of agency.

There’s something kind of beautiful about fan edits in this sense, since they allow fans to take part in defining and creating their interests. Edits become a pastiche of pop culture. You can layer Taylor Swift on top of a David Lynch film and there’ll be an audience ready to consume it. And if you like consuming it, you too can create it. Download a $5 editing app and you can curate whatever you want out of your particular media obsession. Open the comments and you can find a ready-made community of fans who thirty years ago would have never existed in the same space.

The sheer abundance of information available to me still shocks me. Ten years ago, I thought I was the only person with my proclivities and interests. Part of this is the self-absorbed stain of adolescence, but equally due to my upbringing in a small conservative town. There’s no doubt that social media hasn’t really challenged this obsession with individualism—it’s just become branded to the point of commodity. There’s “sad girl music,” “female rage,” and “-core” added to the end of any mundane indicators of personality. TikTok revolves around digestibility and the capitalist desire to create a brand for yourself. It’s reductive, but the transmutability of internet personas allows us all to feel unique and connected all at the same time.

It’s very easy to say TikTok is artless. Despite this claim, I’m endlessly fascinated by it. The accessibility of the app allows pretty much anyone to make content, and the algorithm is specific enough to push it out to the people who will appreciate it most. While it’s disturbing to consider how the app knows exactly what I was talking to my friend about earlier in the day, or what show was playing on my TV mere minutes before I opened the app, it’s also comforting to find exactly what I’m looking for without even knowing I’m looking for it, created by individuals who I’ll never meet who nonetheless share a part of themselves with me.

Lauren Woodzicka is a recent Lawrence University graduate attempting to learn how to write for enjoyment. She has a particular interest in film and visual media, and received her B.A. in English Literature and Film Studies.