My name is Amanda
and I am a Yogaholic. What is that, someone who has a yogurt problem? Hardly, a Yogaholic is one who has an unnatural admiration of
pop singer George Michæl--born Georgios (pronounced yorgos) Kyriacos Panayiotou--who is known
to friends and family as Yog. To put it bluntly, I am an obsessed fan. I can tell you his date of birth as fast as I can tell you mine, and rattle off the name of his siblings with as much ease as I can my own. In the 15 years of his career, he has released close to a hundred songs commercially, I can sing you every one. Every one of his music videos is so deeply entrenched in my memory that I don't need to watch them on TV anymore. I plan vacations to suit my George fixation. This summer I am off to California to host a fan convention in Los Angeles. The goal for next summer is a trip to England. My spare time is consumed with YOGMÆL--the Unofficial George Michæl E Mail Mailing List.
If you saw me on the street, you would not think anything was "wrong" with me, I look just like anyone else. If you met me and we had a conversation, you would not be lead to believe that I was anything out of the ordinary. If you came into my room, you would see some things that might lead you to believe I was a George Michael fan. The official 1997 calendar hangs by the stairs, and a custom made Wham! one is by the computer. A few pictures of George are amidst my "wall of fame" that boasts pictures of several celebrities, as well as my close friends. My computer mouse pad bears the cover art of his latest album. Nothing too out of the ordinary there though, I know people who have a similar theme in their homes with dolphins or the work of Monet.
Yet look a little closer and you see I am no mere "fan". Boot up my computer and enter into the America Online software and notice that of my three screen names, two are George related--Yog88, and Yogmæl. A close look at my CD collection reveals that a large portion of my 130 CD's bear the mark of Yog. Fourteen were released under his name, six by his former band Wham!, one by former Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley, and five others were purchased for their "Georgely" connection, in that he dueted or donated a track to a benefit album. Open the many audio tape storage cases and see all the bootlegs and cassette singles I have amassed. Rummage through my boxes and boxes of video cassettes and find enough George Michael and Wham! footage to watch for 24 solid hours. Peruse each of three filing cabinets and find the book collection, several years worth of press clippings, a shoe box full of Wham! buttons, George trading cards and concert ticket stubs, several dozen pin ups from teen magazines and old calendars, and my fledgling vinyl collection. In the back of the closet sits a mailing tube chock full of posters, and a box of tour t shirts. This collection represents the last 12 years of my life, how much money I have invested in my hobby I shutter to think about...
Though I do confess to my obsessive behaviour, I must admit I was not always deviant. Back in my "teenybopper" days, there was nothing wrong with being really into one singer or band. To have such a fixation was to be totally normal. Indeed, to not have a pin up picture of some sort in your locker was an indication that you were not a normal 12 year old. The fact that my locker was plastered with various pictures of George was a source of pride, my friends would wait for me to gather my stuff between classes and happily ogle. When the disc jockey canceled for a school dance and a couple of fellow students had to take on the task at the last minute, "the grapevine" told me I had to run home at lunch to get my copy of Faith so that they could play the current number one song in North America. When the familiar strains of "Faith" wafted through the gym of Prince of Wales Elementary School that afternoon, most people knew who was responsible judging by the number of people who smiled at me and gave me a "thumbs up". There was nothing deviant about being a huge fan when I was in my early teens, it was a rite of passage.
In 1995 I started university, and to both reward me and make sure I had the "necessary tools to succeed", my parents bought me a computer. Within a couple hours of the purchase, the computer I had dubbed "Siobahn II" was working--the name a jokey reference to George's personal assistant. By midnight I was signed onto Prodigy online service and doing searches for search term "George Michael". It started innocently, it really did, but all of the sudden, the thought of fellow George fans, who admired his talent, his music, and the like, seduced me back into being a George Michael fan. To quote the Godfather III "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."
found the George bulletin board--known online as a BB--and started reading about how George, now signed with a new record label
after a protracted legal battle with Sony Music, would be releasing a new album by Christmas. I stayed with Prodigy for about 6
months, making George contacts, downloading pictures from the worldwide web, etc., before making the switch over to AmericaOnline in
February of 1996. I made friends with people based solely on that fact that we were both George Michæl fans. It was at this point
that my "real life" friends realized that they were losing me. They joked it was a good thing one of them was on AOL,
because people would just call him and ask him to log on and e mail me to "Get offline, so and so needs to talk to you
now." Hours were spent online talking to fellow George fans about the new release, which kept getting delayed, causing me to
rant to friends who literally began to pat me on the head and say "Soon Amanda, soon." When the new album came out, I was
in state of mania for weeks! I ordered my close friends to go and buy copies, I gave several copies away to friends and family as
gifts. When I went to someone's house, they made a point of putting on "Older" just to see my "goofy George
smile." Both family and friends were amazed that here I was, this normally rational 20 year old, acting like a teenybopper.
Just as everyone else is realizing that music is nice background noise to their normal lives, I began to regress to the state of a
teenager who lives and dies by where their favourite artist is on the charts this week.
My oldest brother was working the stand up comedy circuit at the time, and confessed over a drink one day that he had used me in his act. He spoke of his "very proper and very academic" sister who having been accepted to Oxford, flies to London's Heathrow airport. Upon setting foot on British soil, she drops to her knees and kisses the ground saying "GEORGE MICHAEL LIVES HERE!!" I asked around in my inner circle of friends and associates. "I'm not that bad am I?" Their reactions, not verbal, but just in the way they looked at me when I asked--as they all visualized me doing exactly that--told me that my brother had pretty much summed me up. My friends viewed me as, for the most part, totally normal, but at the drop of a hat, or rather the mention of George, I would snap and become what George calls in his self-confessional song "Freedom '90", a "little hungry school girl."
People--specifically my friends and family--feel that I have this tendency to act in a manner that is contrary to how a normal 21 year old is expected to act. In other words, my feelings toward George and his music are socially unacceptable, because I take the overall matter far more seriously than the average person is supposed to take pop music. Even though just six years ago such behaviour was acceptable, now that I am an adult it is time to act accordingly or be labeled deviant.
I have never really understood why people deem my hobby as anything all that out of the ordinary. Compared to some of my friends--the sometime drag queen, the recreational drug user--I am remarkably normal. So what if I like to listen to the man's music, happen to like his face enough to have it grace the walls of my home, and spend my free time looking into what is new in his career? My best friend is an avid cross-stitcher. She spends many the hour doing her cross-stitch while on the phone with me, proudly displays her latest work, and reads magazines on the topic all the time. Why is it that no one laughs when she speaks of her hobby and yet I have to endure the polite mocking laughter of strangers, and the patronizing "Oh really?"'s of my family and friends?
For some reason, music moves me more than anything else, and there is something in George's lyrics, an honesty I think, that just really connects what he writes to certain elements of my life. But to try to explain that to someone is impossible. To say that Beethoven moves you is acceptable, but to say "Man, the first time I heard FastLove something just connected..." is not.
There is a certain perception of the obsessed fan I suppose. You think "obsessed fan" and you see this image of a stalker who wants to either be the person they admire, or else marry them. I have no true ambition to do either. I would certainly like to meet the man of course, but I think I can safely say I will not be scaling any security walls or hiding in room service trolleys to do so. I am not that bad. I am capable of listening to other artists, I can have a conversation without referring to George, and I can even go 24 hours without checking my e mail for the latest news on him. Though I will confess it is safe to say I think about him regularly and I cannot ever really imagine parting with my collection.
DEALING WITH THE LABEL
I am a deviant in the eyes of many because I am an obsessed
fan. So what? Does it bother me? Sometimes I admit it does. To know that other people do not have to wonder what the reaction will
be when they reveal their hobby is a bit frustrating. I consider myself to be an intelligent well rounded individual, and yet when a
person realizes how into George Michæl I am, they are a little surprised. Seemingly shocked that someone I have never met could be
such a big part of, and have such an impact on my life, almost making me feel as though I should "know better".
The decor of my room used to be a lot more George intensive than it is now. I think at the peak, 100 pictures of George graced the walls. Now, there are only five visible pictures of George on the walls, and he has to share wall space with Madonna. In fact, horror of horrors, I even took his picture out of a frame recently to frame an autographed picture of someone else. There was a time when a dozen tour t shirts were in regular rotation in my wardrobe. Now they all sit in a box safely in the closet. My computer has been renamed (the non-Georgely) Omega.
If you ask me what my hobbies are, I will tell you. I will not lie and say "Oh, I'm a fan of Dickens and Shakespeare" just to seem like the intellectual type. But I likely will not offer much more information than what you ask for. You almost have to prove that you are interested, so that I do not feel like I am ramming something down your throat. I try to be as unobtrusive as possible basically. I guess you could call me a closet groupie. I have disguised my deviant identity by playing down the importance of George in my life to a level that is socially acceptable.
That is to say I have taken my secondary deviance and--as George himself once said about his star personnæ: "locked [it] in the basement, [it's] in the basement under the stairs until [it] grows up. Don't hold your breath." (Michæl & Parsons, 5). My deviance is not going to disappear anytime soon, but it is does have to hide an awful lot of the time. By hiding the Yogaholic in me, I am able to avoid a lot of the negative that is associated with any obsessive behaviour.
Late one night this past August something about this "behaviour" occurred me to, I was obviously not the only one. How could I be? Other people were posting messages to the George BB, and the web sites recorded hits in the tens of thousands. I was not the lone freak out there. So how do I ease my mind of my "obsession" and get into contact with more and more people like me? Start a fan club seemed the easy answer. In other words, let a number of people take what they likely thought was "their" problem, and show them that they were not in fact the only one! It was time to move from being a solitary deviant to being social deviant. It was time to form our very own deviant subculture.
Within a week of deciding I had to do this, I had a link on one of the premier George web sites, and a growing membership roster for an e mail mailing list. On August 26th, 1996 the first issue of YOGMAIL went out to thirty-three people, it was a bit dodgy, containing just two short posts and a large explanatory note from me, the whole issue totaled just four kilobytes. The first couple of months were rough, more and more members signed on, but people were leery to post anything as they tested the waters. To put people at ease and fill space I would "ramble on" about George related matters in my life. At some point, I am not sure when, something clicked between the readers and I. The posts started coming in faster than I could deal with, people were writing about how they were so glad to have a forum like this to express themselves in! The thank you's were heartfelt and plentiful.
YOGMÆL #123, the March 18th issue of YOGMÆL--we changed the name at issue number seventy--went out to 542 addresses worldwide--including three McMaster addresses--and contained thirteen long posts--plus a mention of this essay--for a total of 14 kilobytes.
Yes, working on YOGMÆL does take a lot of time, a good fifteen to twenty hours a week depending on how much mail comes in, but I find it completely worth it. I offer the service for free, but it has its definite perks. (The likes of which the YOGMÆL readership need not find out. Sorry gang. AG) My mom can only laugh and eat her words of "All this George stuff will never get you anything." This so-called deviant now has a hobby that basically pays for itself.
But on a larger scale, the mailing list has helped me to put the obsession into perspective. I have realized that there are a lot of us crazed Yog fans out there. In the last six months, I have met people who admit to going through the same thing I am. People who's house mates are sick of listening to George, people who's spouses cannot understand why they are so into George.
giving them this forum, I have allowed them to unabashedly indulge in their addiction for the fifteen minutes a day it takes to read
their YOGMÆL. For that few minutes they can totally be a George fan in all its glory, and be amongst friends who feel the same way.
In that same respect, toiling away on YOGMÆL allows me that same indulgence. All those years of useless information and suppressed
opinions are actually appreciated!
And on top of that, there are people out there who are worst than me! Yes, there are people on the list that do really want to be George, and those that have their eye on being George's significant other. As I keep telling my non-Yog friends, "I'm not the worst one! OK, so I am their leader, but I am keeping the whole matter in perspective. At least I still have a sense of relative normalcy. I am not totally 'gone'."
YOGMÆL allows me to let the Yogaholic come out from under the basement stairs for a little while every day and hold its head up proud and bask in the glory of being the "Goddess on the Mountain Top of Yog" as a list member nicknamed me. My real life friends no longer have to deal with the "George thing". I can go about my business in the bytes of the mailing list, and not have to feel that I am merely being humoured. I am not imposing my George obsession on anyone who does not want to share it. It is my distinct and extreme pleasure each day to satisfy my "need to Yog" with several hundred people who share, and most importantly, understand that need. In his most recent single, "Star People", George sings the line "and as the demons tower above you, you bite your tongue when you really want to scream." YOGMÆL affords the Yogaholic the luxury of not holding back, of being able to scream "I AM A PROUD GEORGE MICHÆL FAN!" and not have to worry about what society thinks of a bunch of adults who admit to being obsessed with a pop star. We may be deviant, but we have a motto: "There's sanity in numbers." And that motto is really the cry of deviant subcultures everywhere.
UNDERSTANDING MY DEVIANCE
When I signed up for a deviant behaviour class, I was not too sure of what to expect. I think we all have a perception of what is deviant, but very few people ever put any great thought into whether or not they are "guilty" of deviant behaviour. While I admittedly found it odd that I was still, and in fact more of, a die hard George Michæl fan at the age of 21, I had never really looked at it in terms of it being "wrong." It was simply a part of who I was, in a sense, if being a George fan was wrong, then I did not want to be right.
While studying the labeling perspective I began to realize why I was doing the things I did. Why I was hiding the Yogaholic within. Everyone likes to be unique, but few people are proud of being unique to the point of social unacceptability. To do or be something that society does not think you should do or be, can lead to you being labeled as deviant in that you are not adhering to the appropriate norms of your society. You may not agree that you are deviant, but your actions or beliefs will cause others to look at you and say you are. You will be judged by their standards, and you have very little say in the matter. The best you can do is find a way to neutralize that label. I hide the Yogaholic to the outside world, but at the end of the day, I let myself indulge in the deviant subculture I know and love as YOGMÆL.
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