Indian Idol and Flash Fandom

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Over the past few days, talk about Indian Idol has revolved around the violent clashes following the insulting remarks made by a radio DJ in New Delhi (coverage and reactions here). And leading up to the finals, media coverage was focused on how Amit Paul and Prashant Tamang, the two finalists from the north-east of India, were bringing people together and creating a space for people to cast aside decades-old separatist identities. In cities across the northeast, hundreds of people took to the streets to express their support for Amit Paul and Prashant Tamang and it seemed they were willing to look past linguistic, ethnic, and other separatist lines of identification (see, for instance, this story on CNN-IBN).

My friend Arijit Sen, who has been covering the northeast region for CNN-IBN over the past few months, had this to say about Amit Paul and the situation in Shillong:

In Shillong, the Khasis ( matrilineal society but property management vested in mother’s brothers hands) , the Garos (people from the Garo Hills/are of Bodo Tibeto-Burman stock and have settled in the Garo hills for 400 years and have 5 broad matrilineal clans) , the Jainitias ( people from the Jaintia Pahar, Hindus, traditional belief system close to Khasis ), the Bengalis and the Marwaris have never been this close before.

In Shillong, everyone except tourists heads home in the evening. Areas are marked within which Khasis stay and areas are marked within which Bengalis stay. Ignoring the past, people came out of their water tight compartments and started singing songs of Amit Paul. They even had a Khasi version of “yaad aan rahan hain tera pyar.”

But the music one associates with Shillong is western music. Bands like Boomerang and Soulmate are supposed to represent the state.Western music as much as it acted a bridge between Shillong and the rest of the country, also gave this state a distinct identity that somehow made it difficult for Meghalaya to join the Hindi film music party. Amit Paul broke it. So for the first time, you had popular mainstream music blaring out in the main square of Shillong. And so I guess everyone thought, who cares, this is our moment, let us all celebrate.

But people did not just come out all of a sudden. Businessmen and people living in Shillong for years took initiative. A fan club was formed. fans enlisted as sponsors of PCOs that were open all night for people to come forward and vote. Posters were distributed. Prepaid mobile cards were distriburted. So this was a much needed push and it worked like magic.

For me, it is this moment of fandom that is the most interesting aspect of Indian Idol. I was excited to hear about this and see a rally on the streets of Shillong with banners and posters announcing the formation of an Amit Paul Fan Club.

shillong.jpg

However, given the broader socio-historical context, the nagging question is: so what? Can we expect this moment of fandom to have any sort of lasting impact on inter-personal relationships in this region? How will different stakeholders cash in on Amit Paul? The state government has already appointed Amit Paul a brand ambassador of peace and communal harmony, and with elections to be held in February 2008, it will be interesting to see how this moment when cultural differences were blurred is (re)framed by politicians.

But then, given the structure of the show, isn’t it unfair to expect an Amit Paul fan community to cohere and sustain itself for a long period of time? After all, there will be an Indian Idol 4 within the next year or so. How, then, do we think about this instance of fan expression?

Would it be useful to conceptualize this as an instance of flash fandom? Flash fandom – like a flash mob, a fan community that coheres for a brief time period and draws people together but is so inclusive that it can only be fleeting. I think this notion of flash fandom lets us acknowledge that this was a space of sociality that allowed people to transcend rigid definitions of identity and, crucially, doesn’t force us to pose the “so what” question in entirely negative/cynical terms. Perhaps, more broadly, we could argue that flash fandom is the modality of fandom for reality TV shows.

(pic courtesy Arijit Sen)

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12 Responses to “Indian Idol and Flash Fandom”

  1. Music » Indian Idol and Flash Fandom Says:

    [...] leodini wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptA fan club was formed. fans enlisted as sponsors of PCOs that were open all night for people to come forward and vote. Posters were distributed. Prepaid mobile cards were distriburted. So this was a much needed push and it worked like … [...]

  2. Arijit Sen Says:

    Aswin

    great post. Effect on fans for American Idol, vastly different, anything similar?

  3. aswinp Says:

    Arijit – thanks for stopping by! Re American Idol, fan expression is quite intense but doesn’t compare to what we’ve just seen with Indian Idol 3. Did you get a chance to speak with any of the businessmen or folks who were leaders within the Amit Paul fan club?

  4. Arijit Sen Says:

    Aswin, yes I did speak to businessmen/ folks who leaders. In fact Amit Paul was singing in Guwahati last night and the madness is still there. The amit-iites of Shillong are planning a huge concert. I am in touch with a businessman who seems to be eternally distributing Amit Paul’s music, VCDs, posters to everyone. Will try and send you a VCD copy. He is affiliated to a political party. But till now, it looks like just fan-following. Am waiting for the next concert in Shillong. Will the madness stay? Also actually waiting to observe the Durga Puja celebrations in Shillong where celebrations often witness violence between the khasis and non-khasis. Will it be a happier Durga Puja this year? BTW, fans of Amit Paul kept asking me about how does it happen in American Idol. How?

  5. Jonathan Gray Says:

    Fascinating stuff, Aswin. Matt Hills has a piece on “cyclical fandom,” looking at fans who shift allegiances between things, and their ephemeral attachment to a fan object is presented by Hills in rather concerned terms. But I really like the addition to fan studies’ vocabulary and taxonomy that of “flash fandom,” especially since it captures how fandom, journalism, and public politics intersect. Liesbet Van Zoonen, in her recent book Entertaining the Citizen, suggests the *potential* for fandom to provide models for political expression and mobilization, but here you actually show it in action.

  6. aswinp Says:

    Arijit – I’d love to see the VCD. And you’re right, this is still early days. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months. Do keep me in the loop re what happens during Durga Puja and if there are any Amit Paul floats/decorations!

    Jonathan – glad to hear it makes some sense! I’m going to follow this over the next few weeks and see if I can write up something longer.

  7. PM Says:

    As per reports in some newspapers, the concert in Shllong seems to be huge success too. AmitPauleans seems to have created a VDO too.

    Check out:

  8. aswinp Says:

    PM – thanks much for alerting me to the fan-video!

  9. PM Says:

    aswimp – welcome. Found the topic interesting hence posted it. Best of luck!

    Here is another decent one enjoy :-)

  10. David Archuleta Says:

    Josh Gracin released his second CD“ We Weren’ t Crazy” this week. Josh placed fourth on American Idol Season 2— you can still see him on American Idol: Rewind this weekend. His self- titled first CD sold 695,000— almost as much as Taylor Hicks.

  11. Gaurav Says:

    Kindle let me know the name of song in khasi “yaad aaraha hai”

  12. NoOne Says:

    Amit Paul is a proper wanker, innit? Even needed a piece of paper to sing ‘To Be With You’ with Eric Martin. THAT was pathetic. He is also a pseudo-snob and a prima donna. I know coz I saw him behave like – “I want that, and you’d better get it for me ‘coz I’m Amit Paul”. Fan Club for a loser.

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