Driving down the south highway on a hot summer day at the sound of Siouxsie & the Banshees1, I look at the road ahead of me and see it covered with a pool of water. However, I never reach it, because what I observe was a mirage. For many, the word mirage brings images of thirsty travelers moving slowly across desert sands toward the image of a pool of fresh, clear water. However, as they approach the water disappears, because the vision is merely an optical illusion. The characters may vary, cowboys in Death Valley or soldiers in the Sahara desert, North Africa, but the symbolism is clear, people dying of thirst chasing an image that only exists in their minds. We are then inclined to consider the mirage as an illusion of an overstressed mind, a figment of the imagination of people parched with thirst.
The same symbolism has been used to describe fans. In the realm of common sense, the fan is seen as someone unable to make distinctions – between reality and fiction, between admiration and unconditional love, and among his own identity and the identity of the idol (Jenson, 2001; Storey, 1996).
Locked in his own universe, the fan would then be an individual in a constant crisis of identity and values, which projects in the figure of the idol, all that he would like to be but is not, generating a mixed feeling of dependence and frustration. In addition, he receive the label of childish and immature individuals who do not live their lives completely and try to compensate for failures in his life through invented relationships with characters and idols (Jenkins, 1992).
According to the American Meteorological Society’s Glossary of Weather and Climate, mirage is a phenomenon of refraction in which an image of a distant object appears displaced from its true position because of large variations in density vertical near the surface, so the image may appear distorted, reversed or trembling.
In the case of mirage on roads, the rays of sunlight into direction to the asphalt suffer refraction due to temperature gradient of the air layers near the asphalt. This refraction shifts the direction of light propagation, and so it is reflected (total reflection) in the layers of air near the ground. Thus, what our eyes and mind initially interprets as water are actually light rays from the blue sky and clouds above and ahead of us refracted by string changes in air density near the surface so that they appear to have come from the ground. In resume, the image we see is real, is not an illusion, the interpretation of our mind that is incorrect.
The term mirage comes the French expression se mirer which means looking at yourself in the mirror. So mirage, contrary of what people believed, is a phenomenon (optical) real, is not an illusion. The same can be said for what is to be a fan.
The first step of being a fan is looking at yourself, seeing yourself in the mirror. Independent if the mirror is an idol, a character or a story. Se mirer is to put yourself in that situation, living it not as a passive observer, but as an projected agent. For Matt Hills (2002) this projection of self on the other does not reflect a lack of personality or identity dysfunction, because to impersonate an idol, a character or a story, the fan needs to know who he is and is perfectly self-conscious. The projected mind of a fan allows him to continue his interest and strengthen his own identity, through self-awareness, which in turn allows him to assume a new identity for a moment and experience new situations (Hills, 2002).
Moreover, looking at yourself in a mirror, involves not only fascination or adoration but also frustration and antagonism, and the combination of these two reactions that motivate active engagement of fans in creative production of fanfiction, fanart, fanvideo, among others. Because the narratives often do not fully meet the fans, and they must fight with it, trying to articulate between themselves unrealized possibilities within the original narrative (Jenkins 1992).
Therefore, fans see adhesion to the fandom as a movement that comes from the cultural and social isolation toward an active participation in a receptive group to their products (Jenkins 2006). In this environment, fans share references, interests and a shared sense of identity that makes them have a sense of belonging to a large group that is not defined by traditional terms such as race, creed, gender, social class or geographical location, but for individuals who share knowledge and texts. Being in this group is to seek an acceptance that has more to do with what you have to add to the community than who you are (Jenkins 2006).
However, as the phenomenon of mirage, information about our idols, characters or stories may suffer a type of refractive until it gets in our eyes, mainly caused by the elements of our cultural environment (media, interviewers, advertising agents, market) or by idol’s own filter. Then we see a distorted , inverted or trembling image of the real object. Often what we think is the real object is the reflection of ourselves. That does not mean that it is an illusion is real to us, only the interpretation of our minds on the real object that may be incorrect.
JENKINS, Henry. Textual poachers: television fans and participatory culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.
JENKINS, Henry; Introduction: “Worship at the Altar of Convergence”: A New Paradigm for Understanding Media Change. In Convergence culture: where old and new media colide, New York University Press, 2006.
HILLS, Matt. Cult Bodies. Between the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ in Fan Cultures, Routledge, 2002.