Title: Has Fandom Gone Too Far?

When a performer takes ill, there are a few ways the fanbase will typically react. A wave of condolence messages is appropriate, or public demonstrations of solidarity, or even a well-meaning tweet.

Throwing dough at a merchandise truck is probably not the most appropriate display of support, but this is the kind of juvenile response apparently warranted by Justin Bieber’s announcement of a rare diagnosis that paralyzed half of his face. Following a concert cancellation (one of several during the fraught few years of a global pandemic), one Belieber* chucked donuts at an idling semi truck and at the face of the venue where the performer was supposed to have played his upcoming Toronto show. She flipped double birds (two middle fingers, dear parents), and stalked off to put it on TikTok.

While the immaturity of one fan is not indicative of a widespread problem within a group, this churlish behavior goes back a ways in Justin Bieber lore. For example: he once responded to fans who attacked him for a hairstyle by shaving his head. He faced another wave of backlash in one of his recent albums after including audio of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Just last month, after requesting a moment of silence for the victims of the Buffalo shooting at one of his concerts, he took to Instagram to reprimand a handful of fans who used the quiet to call attention to themselves by screaming out over the crowd.

Biebs is no stranger to the court of public opinion, and he does not tread lightly when it comes to serious (even career killing) topics.

Recently he posted in support of Kanye West, who has been absent from social media since his highly publicized verbal lashings of his ex wife Kim Kardashian’s new boyfriend Pete Davidson.

Kanye, who has been vocal about his own struggles with mental illness, has also received hideous ire from his fair-weather fanbase. He’s been mocked for his political views, his fashion line, his music… Honestly, there’s not much of his legacy that’s been left un-scrutinized.

This hater culture is neither surprising nor is it new. These days it’s as easy as sending a single tweet that picks up steam and fuels the outrage machine for an entire news cycle. Fans can change the narrative in a way that was impossible a decade ago. And some are addicted to the concept of #cancelculture.

As the story develops and both Bieber and Kanye cope with their respective illnesses, it will be interesting to watch how the mob will respond. Will the masses be in support, or in opposition of “heroes” who have wronged them?

Young fans are watching not just these events as they’re announced, but also the replies and repercussions. We’re witnessing the next big wave in celebrity behavior and interaction with their fanbase in real time.

Here’s hoping a little compassion emerges in the face of serious illness.

*Die hard Justin Bieber fan

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