Parasocial Relationships and Continual Condonation within the Panic! At the Disco Fandom
In the early 2000s, a band was formed by Spencer Smith and Ryan Ross, soon after two new members, Brendon Urie and Brent Wilson, were recruited. After naming themselves Panic! At the Disco, they began to post demos online, eventually garnering the attention of “Fall Out Boys, Pete Wentz”, who decided to sign them to his label before they had ever played a live show. After their first album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, the band took off, gaining millions of diehard fans who would later become known as “Sinners”.
All of this support is heightened by their social media presence, and the fandom has been unwavering in its support and is always there to encourage Panic! At the Disco’s next moves. Not everything has been that simple for the band however, the group once composed of four members is whittled down to only one, Brendon Urie.
The behavior of fans across various social media platforms, such as Twitter, differs greatly, and I will explore the original and ongoing development of the “sinners” fandom, as well as the rationale behind condoning the band’s history of outrageous behavior. Scholarly articles will support my claims that a fan’s behavior is often dictated by parasocial relationships by providing context regarding the “groupie” phenomenon, the effects of social media, and the rockstar lifestyle that is oftentimes glamorized.
The manifestation of the “rock ’n’ roll” lifestyle by members of the band has led to issues ranging from drug abuse to sexual assault. For example, drummer and founding member of Panic! At the Disco, Spencer Smith, departed from the band after a decade of performing due to drug and addiction issues, and more recently, the band’s security manager, Zack Hall, was accused of sexual assault. However, throughout it all many, if not most, fans remained unwavering with their opinions and perceptions of Panic!. Twitter is a major platform for “sinners” to engage regularly, where they either obsess over their idols or argue about the issues that have arisen concerning band members.
The presence of social media in fandoms is explored in an article written about the role social media plays in parasocial relationships, and facilitating the perception of intimate relationships They find that celebrities’ self-disclosure, the voluntary sharing of personally relevant information such as feelings, thoughts, values, and beliefs with another, in any capacity, whether it be personal or professional, enhances fans feeling of social presence that therefore encourages parasocial relationships and interactions. These findings result from the Social Penetration Theory (SPT), a theory that states that human relationships are developed by revealing the self, a process that primarily occurs through self-disclosure.
Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram are social media platforms where sinner activity is common. Twitter is the platform where the most conflict occurs, for fans are able to instantaneously interact with one another and assert their feelings at any time, whether they be positive or negative. Twitter also promotes a more intimate or deep relationship between Panic! At the Disco and their fans, the band can post a personal message at any time or place and their followers are able to immediately see it and interact with it. The wait time between a tweet being sent and a fan being in contact with it is nonexistent, which makes this type of instantaneous communication feel less one-sided, even if it is. The vast array of users on Twitter however means that the platform is not always a positive one. Out of all of the social media platforms I researched, Twitter undeniably had the most conflict. The ability to immediately respond to one another means that if fans disagree, they will voice it and it is likely that they will get a prompt reply that will start a never-ending cycle of discord. It also means that fans have the ability to intimidate others into silence, for while many do believe that Panic! At the Disco is in the wrong, many also believe that they can do no wrong, so in a major platform such as Twitter, fans are continually viewing differences in opinion and the fan with the loudest voice or the most aggressive resonance will prevail, consequently becoming the most favored conclusion.
Panic! At the Disco’s fans on Tumblr are eminently focused on the nostalgia factor of the band. Panic formed in the early 2000s, so many fans grew up with them and associate their earlier albums and style with their childhood. Tumblr fans appear to be an older generation, for they are more concerned with the past rather than the present or future, there are also fewer physical interactions between the band and their fans. Tumblr is a more positive platform than Twitter, this seems to occur due to it being a less instantaneous means of communication. Panic! At the Disco Tumblr is also a collection of more random thoughts and posts, without a method to the madness, and fans post and repost without reasoning or thought-process.
Instagram is a platform of entirely pictures, therefore it inherently focuses much more on the physical appearance of band members. These photos also focus on the “aesthetic” of the band and encourage fans to replicate them. Instagram is different from Twitter due to the degrees of separation between the celebrities and fans, for on Twitter there is instant gratification involved, fans can immediately respond and interact with their idols after they post, and the posts generally are more heartfelt and intimate. Whereas on Instagram celebrities tend to use it in order to release more PSA, public service announcements, type messages, such as upcoming shows, or to advocate for a cause they hold dear. The comment section makes conflict possible but does not invite it the way Twitter does.
Since the beginning of rock ’n’ roll, the term “groupies” has been thrown around. A groupie is defined as an “extreme type of female fan who seeks intimate emotional and/or sexual relations with musicians”. This stereotype has plagued female fans and forced them into the role of strictly a consumer. This concept of “groupies” does not only affect the women forced into that position, they also affect the object of a groupies attention. In the rock ’n’ roll industry, musicians are trained that rock music is understood as overwhelmingly masculine and an expression of male sexuality. These traits are commonly known to be aggressive, boastful, assertive, and even arrogant. By accepting these attributes, society is enforcing this behavior, which thus leads those exhibiting this behavior to believe it is not only condoned but also supported. The understanding that this hypermasculine behavior is supported and encouraged leads these “rock stars’’ to believe that they walk on water, meaning they can do and say whatever they want and not have to deal with the consequences. This is tied to my claim that fans, for this hypermasculine disposition has been romanticized to a point where fans yearn for it, making it effortless for a fan v. artist relationship to become a parasocial relationship.
In another article exploring the memoirs of rock ’n’ roll artists, the author finds these icons are rarely interested in talking about their success and instead choose to speak about their time breaking into the business and their “teenage music infatuations”. Each musician speaks of his time on the road, the good and the bad parts, and also the apparent drinking and drugs that come along in this field. They also all speak of their fans, people that would travel across the world to see them, and positively melt after they caught even just a glimpse. The negative aspects, neverending access to booze or sex, look like they are nothing but positive to outside spectators. These memoirs provide context for the outlandish behavior Panic! At the Disco has demonstrated, and explained how regardless of their actions, their fans still stand with them.
Panic! At the Disco’s most recent scandal of the band’s security manager, Zack Hall, being accused of sexual assault. The most significant aspect of this scandal is not even the allegations, it is that Brendon Urie has stood behind Hall, and believed him over the women that came forward. While many fans have voiced their disappointment and anger at Brendon Urie, many are also supporting him, citing that he too honorable of a person to support anyone who actually committed sexual assault.
Not only do their fans, sinners, have a means of communication that is effortless and accessible by all, but they also have a way of connecting with their idols in a much more personal and seemingly intimate way through social media. Parasocial relationships have plagued celebrities forever, however, now fans can access their idols with a touch of a finger and see messages at any time or place, this convenience has made parasocial relationships much more common and much more aggressive. Due to the Social Penetration Theory (SPT), these fans truly believe that they have a special relationship and connection with these celebrities based on the inherent self-disclosure that occurs through social media.
Rockstars are expected to act in a way that is paradoxical to expected behavior. The glamorization of the rockstar lifestyle is a tale as old as time. Rock ’n’ roll musicians are considered as gods and are treated as such, their music gains them fans, and the more fans they have the more chaotic their lives become. This chaos usually consists of an overwhelming amount of partying, which although has its demons, looks spectacular from an outside perspective. These musicians are taught to walk and talk a certain way, where they generally treat others as below them and focus solely on their music and the work it took them to create it. Fans, especially young women, swoon at this behavior and long to be with these artists. These ambitions are what begins a parasocial relationship. This is true even regarding fans who do not believe they are in a relationship with their idols, for although they do not see themselves as with them in a romantic way, they still believe that they know them personally. This leads many fans to be exceedingly defensive and intentionally oblivious to a star’s poor behavior.
The longevity of the sinners fandom demonstrates that Panic! At the Disco’s music has endured the test of time, at least till now. However, with the increasing prevalence of cancel culture and a society more sensitive to simple mistakes and less willing to offer forgiveness, especially for recurring offenders, Panic! will likely struggle to maintain the affection of the majority of their fans like they have up until this point. While there will always be diehard Panic! At the Disco fans, if they do not play into the wants and needs of their fans, who are now more attentive to the morality of certain behavior, their permanence will begin to dissipate.