When I was a kid, I was socially very typical: I had friends, I followed fashion and popular culture, and had pinups of male heartthrobs on my wall. I thought they were nice eye candy, never thought I’d marry one because, hey, in Hollywood, you don’t know where they’ve been — and never wrote to one or ever bothered to haul myself to see one in person, not even in concert.
Then one day I looked at my walls, and counted the pictures, and then thought, how many pictures of me do they have?
I took down the pictures, and never looked back.
I had that picture on my wall, and then I didn’t. I still could enjoy the show, but suddenly, it felt liberated. I could put pictures I drew or art I bought, and could express myself more freely and authentically.
Hollywood wasn’t going to dictate what was pinned to my walls.
I didn’t think much about it until years later when I mentioned it to someone and they could not believe that was the reason I took them down.
The person thought it was a horrible reason. Why would I expect them to have fan pictures on their wall?
I didn’t: I just thought it was silly to have photos in a one-way dynamic. I can enjoy a movie or show without the pictures. It is sanctioned insanity.
The person still could not understand why that would be a good reason. It was as if I was on a lower-rung on some pecking order and I had no right to find it silly. They thought your age alone was the “right” reason: not personal revelation and liberation.
And then I had the same response from other people, and that was interesting.
I thought about it a lot over the years, and then came another revelation.
You have classifications of people who support you, and not all of them are fans because you are special or endearing or whatever.
Yes, you have people who genuinely like you. These are few and far between. Be grateful for them because they aren’t selfish or exploitative. They support you because they appreciate what you are trying to do creatively.
But these are the minority and the unwitting façade for a different kind of supporter: the Crusty Fouler.
Crusty Foulers are the barnacles they latch on to the bottom of your ship. You think they are supporting you when they are dragging you down. They have a vested interest in singing your praises, and often, these are not the kinds of supporters you want or need. Monster fame often turns on the famous person. Those with smaller followings are blessed, but even they need to be careful.
So what other types of followers are there?
You have “investors”: people who support you because they think they can put support into you, you’ll go big, and then they can get something “back” from their investment. It could anything from proving they are ahead of a crowd and can spot a winner. Other times, they see you as an ideal mouthpiece for their ideology, and as they are less charismatic, you are the ideal to “sell” the narrative.
You have people who see you as their avatar or proxy: they never see you singing on a stage: they replace you with their fantasy of them singing on stage. Or, they see the person they have someone they are dating, but they merely plaster your face on their fantasy, and then impose it on the person they are seeing. When it goes too far, you have a stalker.
You have empty followers who support you because it is posh to do it. People who bank on having social media numbers know it and inflate the numbers by buying fake followers in hopes other people join the bandwagon. They do not understand the deeper nuances of what you are, do, or represent.
You have people who want to cultivate an image, and liking you represents veracity of their narrative. They like “smart” actors, and you are seen as smart. It has nothing to do with you personally, you are just shorthand for something else.
This last group of so-called “fans” are the most troublesome, particularly if you are a politician, Titan of Industry, or some sort of scholar. You are expected to remain static and on point. Veer one inch away, and they will turn on you.
But so are the investor fans who try to get more from you than you ever get from them. They seem appealing as fans on first glance: they cheer you on in your early days, but that is the way they lure you. If you are full of yourself, that’s what you’re seeking: praise. If you’re not careful, you wind-up as Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose who has a pile of exploiters living in your antlers and expect you to carry the weight.
These “fans” are the kind campaigning politicians try to seek with promises and bribes: they need numbers to win, and then they make big promises, not realizing that these aren’t actual supporters: they will drop you if a rival promises double. Kathleen Wynne discovered this the hard way.
The hardest thing for most people living in the public eye to understand is that you have very few true supporters, and that there are people whose support you do not want because the price is too high and you cannot afford it.
But your detractors may also have the same motives. It’s nothing personal: you are an obstacle that prevents their homogenization of thought and behaviour.
Some people understand the problems of it. Howard Schultz wants to run for president as an independent. It does not take an overly intelligent person to see how corrupt and beyond repair are the Left and the Right. So he is running as an independent. Trying to get to a fresh parcel of land where you do not have a well of dubious support is almost impossible if you are thinking large scale, such as national political office.
You are boxed in in many ways.
I have seen these dynamics when I worked as a journalist: you have tethered and uptight politicians trying too hard not to make a misstep with the established supporter-base because tradition dictated that to win votes, you have to pander by giving in and not challenging people’s thinking.
That created a very bad habit in citizens and leaders alike.
A leader needs the support of followers: they pool they resources and give up part of their power to the leader, and, in return — the bargain — the leader gets power over people, but does things to benefit the collective. The leader gives up some freedom, but get the final say on how that benefit will be executed.
The followers have to back off and not meddle or second-guess the leader in order for this to work. If you have a control freak base, you are out of luck.
The leader cannot betray the followers: if the promise was to help people, then people have to be helped. You cannot turn on them, or take the power and spoils all for yourself and then turn on the people who gave you power.
The leader has to have ideas, vision, and courage in order for this to work. If you have an inexperienced leader who caves in, you are out of luck.
But there is one more thing: you cannot expect to get more than what is available. The investment for both the leader and the followers has to reap some dividends, but modest ones. The bigger and more unrealistic the expectations, the bigger the downfall for both.
The more selfish the leader and followers, the less they end up getting. It becomes a pendulum that swings too hard and too fast.
One of the most important things for both sides to remember is that followers cannot give all of their power, meaning they cannot be passive and expect the leader to do all of the work. The leader is not the slave. But that also means that the leader does not have all of the power and expect the followers to do all of the work. The followers are not slaves, either.
Why Western culture is angry is that every leader is a disappointment because this dynamic is broken and both sides are equally to blame: the leaders and the followers. When you have able-bodied and education youth want Basic Income, what you have is a selfish electorate. They see it is all just a bribing game, and now they are going for broke with sob stories and temper tantrums.
And pity the wannabe leader who promises them that demand: there will be no end to the dissatisfaction, and then the leader will be resentful and then try to plunder by some other means, setting off outrage and abuse.
Crusty foulers latch on to any ship. If you want smooth sailing, you have to deal with it.
The need to be validated is not a motive for seeking power or a public career. You must improve upon the world. You need to want to be helpful and useful to strangers. It is not about ego.
But it is not about being a doormat or mask, either.
It is about leaving the world in a better and kinder place than you found it. That means standing your ground as you both find your footing and make you climb to your little cloud in the sky as you look at the world and are grateful for your gifts that you give to others — and receive from them in kind…