Everything I Need I Get from You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It
June 23, 2022
For those that haven’t lived through the firsthand experience of being in an online fan community, Everything I Need I Get from You offers a well-researched, holistic view of what it means to be a fan.
Everything I Need I Get from You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It by Kaitlyn Tiffany, MCD x FSG Originals
One of my longest friendships began when Megan, a college classmate of mine, walked into my freshman dorm room, looking for my roommate. My roommate wasn’t there, but I was, with my back to the open door and my laptop screen in full view.
“Oh my god,” Megan said, “are you on Tumblr too?”
I felt exposed—oh god, she’s going to think I’m some internet weirdo—but to my relief, she asked for my username and told me she would follow me as soon as she got back to her dorm room down the hall. At this point in the school year, I got along well enough with the girls who lived on my floor but was struggling to form any genuine friendships with them—or with anyone else on campus, for that matter. It was for this reason that I happened to be in my dorm that night, scrolling through the social website Tumblr to while away my solitary time browsing through GIFs and fan theories about the latest season of Doctor Who.
Sure enough, I got the notification just a few moments later that Megan was now following me on Tumblr, and not long after, we started bonding online over our shared love of Harry Potter and the TV shows Sherlock and Supernatural. Our class schedules didn’t always line up in a way that let us spend time on campus together, but we could easily reblog memes and message each other online during brief moments of downtime. The pseudonymous nature of Tumblr—where real names were obscured by usernames—meant we could be unapologetically passionate about our interests in a judgment-free space filled with others like us. It's the same pseudonymity that comes with being one of thousands of fans screaming at a concert.
These are the kinds of experiences that make up the heart of Kaitlyn Tiffany’s book, Everything I Need I Get from You.
Tiffany and I went to college at the same time, and our experiences of college never really stacked up to what we’d hoped they would be.
For me, One Direction arrived just in time […] I was nineteen, home for the summer, working in the mall food court. I loved school but hated the event of college, and couldn’t find a place to insert myself in a fraternity-dominated social landscape. Most Saturday nights, I would put on something ugly, drink two beers in a fraternity annex and wait for someone to say something I could throw a fit about, then leave. I watched so much television my freshman year, I received a warning email about exceeding my limit for campus internet usage. I hadn’t kissed anyone, and I’d made only a handful of friends I wasn’t sure I even liked.
That summer, she goes to watch This Is Us, a documentary on the band One Direction, with her younger sisters, who are already fans of the group. Though she’s initially dismissive, she finds herself drawn in by the boys’ on-screen antics, and soon she’s pulled in to the One Direction fan communities on Tumblr and Twitter, where she finds the feeling of community that has eluded her on campus. Though her experiences as a One Direction fan frame the book, she writes (emphasis mine):
This is not actually a book about One Direction, for a couple of reasons: I don’t think they’d appreciate it, and, as much as I love them, they are not so interesting. (They are boys, and we are the same age.) It’s not a book about Twitter or Tumblr or the hundreds of years of technological innovation that brought us to free GIF-making software either. What I would like it to be is a book that explains why I and millions of others needed something like One Direction as badly as we did, and how the things we did in response to that need changed the online world for just about everybody who spends their time in it.
Each chapter of the book provides brief but excellent dives into the pieces of popular culture and technological history that paved the way for the internet as we know it today. We learn about the origins of the “screaming fan” archetype, which primarily stemmed from Beatlemania in the early 1960s. We get a retelling of one the earliest online communities: semi-public listservs for Grateful Dead fans hosted on an internet system so new, it was still living on the U.S. Department of Defense’s ARPANET. We see how fan culture birthed key Twitter features like hashtags, @-replying, and Trending Topics.
“There is no such thing as fan internet,” Tiffany writes, “because fan internet is the internet.”
As promised, Tiffany weaves in the stories of fans—most, but not all of them, One Direction fans—throughout these chapters, illuminating the most important component of fandom: a sense of belonging. Harkening back to the image of fervent Beatlemania fans, Tiffany writes, “Every scream has a personal context, but we rarely hear about it.”
Daniela, a Colombian fan who immigrates to the United States with her family, finds comfort in the international transcendence of One Direction—she recounts going to a One Direction concert alone, yet feeling like she was home. Gabrielle, feeling lonely in her hometown after her friends move away for college, puts up a tiny roadside shrine to Harry Styles as a joke she can share to make her online friends laugh. Abby cleaves to different fandoms throughout her life as a way of coping with major life transitions, such as a move to New York and a new marriage.
In the later chapters of the book, Tiffany doesn’t shy away from the dark sides of online fandom. “Their prodigious talent for amplification is not always paired with an interest in truth,” she notes, shedding light on the proliferation of toxic conspiracy theories about One Direction members and how these moments have splintered online communities, often beyond repair.
But ultimately, Tiffany’s view of fans is an empathetic one.
I wrote this book in part in defense of myself, a fangirl, because I know that my experience is typical. The little indignities of being young and the big disappointments of not finding the love you want or of not becoming the person you’d hoped—these things are tempered by fandom, which is such an ugly, boring word. Fandom is an interruption; it’s as simple as enjoying something for no reason, and it’s as complicated as growing up. It should be celebrated for what it can provide in individual lives, but it should also be taken seriously for what it can do at scale.
For those that haven’t lived through the firsthand experience of being in an online fan community, Everything I Need I Get from You offers a well-researched, holistic view of what it means to be a fan. Tiffany successfully finds a way to balance her objectivity as a journalist and her firsthand experience as an online fan. For those of us who did live it, this book is a rare celebration of our experiences, another safe space in which we can feel united by a shared understanding.
I haven’t kept up with most of my college classmates since we graduated, but Megan and I have now been close friends for over a decade—we still talk nearly every day and have seen each other through the highs and lows of each other’s adult lives. And even though our Tumblr accounts have long gone dormant, fandom continues to be at the heart of our friendship. We wouldn’t be here without it.
“At its best,” Tiffany writes in the final pages of the book, “fandom is an inside joke that never ends.”