The Fangirl Culture Epidemic

Article by: Melissa Dy

Video by: Bernice Delos Reyes, Chris Evora, and Tomas Matias

Nearly overnight, a single photo transformed an unknown teenage boy into an internet  sensation. How exactly this happened has just about everybody confused.

On November 9, 2014, two 15-year-old girls took the now-famous photo of Alex, a good-looking teenage Target employee, and posted it on Twitter. It went viral almost instantly. Alex, commonly known as “Alex from Target”, had just over 144 followers on Twitter before the picture was taken. He currently has over 65,000 followers. Already, there have been memes and fake accounts made revolving around him. Since the release of the photo, Alex has been featured on CNN and has made an appearance on the Ellen show.

Alex’s nearly instant rise to fame just goes to show the power of the fangirl demographic (a “fangirl” is a female fan, usually teenage, who is obsessively enthusiastic about something). Fangirls have managed to transform an ordinary, everyday Target employee into an internet celebrity thanks to their relentless obsessiveness and extreme social connectedness. This demonstrates that as a demographic, teen girls are a powerful and valuable group, and because teenagers tend to be early adopters, they have become gatekeepers of social trends. They now control what is and what isn’t popular; in this case, they decided that this particular ‘cute guy’ would be the latest internet trend

However, when you consider the actuality of Alex’s life as one of countless Target employees,  it doesn’t seem logical that Alex has acquired such accidental attention. After all, his grocery bagging has not really made any exceptional contribution to society. Shouldn’t society pay more attention to people like Malala Yousafzai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting for girl’s education in Pakistan? Or the four teenage Nigerian girls who created a urine-powered generator? Or the 15-year-old girl who found a possible cure for cancer?

“It’s the entertainment and relatability factors,” argues sophomore Beatrice Olivera. She says that Alex is a normal everyday guy who happens to be really attractive, and that people can relate to him more than they can relate to people who have actually accomplished something, simply because the average person hasn’t contributed anything significant to society. Alex is an average human being just like us (albeit better looking), whose life accomplishments involve the mundane task of efficiently bagging groceries. This ability to relate to him is what makes him so attractive to many teenage girls.

Another factor influencing who gets famous and who doesn’t, is the escapist environment provided by popular culture and social media perfect for people looking for distractions. Things like cat videos, boy bands, or in this case, a cute guy, can quickly become viral because of the common need for quick distractions. Something like the discovery of a strain of bacteria that increases the crop yield of barley and oats by 75% is not exactly going to become the next viral thing, precisely because it lacks the ability to easily entertain.

With the seeming unpredictability of the internet’s various subgroups, the inner workings of the current trends and crazes will continue to baffle and confuse. It looks like we will just have to wait and see what the next viral craze will be.