Sun, 08 Apr 2001

What makes fans so crazy about stars?

For many adolescents, particularly young women, their hearts really do belong to singing and movie idols. And sometimes those devoted fans can become fanatics, obsessed with their human idols and whipped up into a frenzy when they get a chance to meet them. After the tragic a1 fan stampede last month, The Jakarta Post's Maria Endah Hulupi, Ida Indawati Khouw and contributor I. Christianto find out about those dazzled by the stars.

JAKARTA (JP): "Tanya" babbles on about her love of the boys from Westlife.

In her wildest dreams, she gets the chance to hug and kiss each of the five members of the Irish boyband.

As tokens of her devotion to them, Tanya has sent each of them a handkerchief and letters.

She reserved something special for the main object of her affection, singer Kian.

It was a pair of her panties.

"I don't think it's a form of harassment to give them handkerchiefs and panties," said the student of a Jakarta private university. "They are like artworks to show your deepest love to someone."

Young women like Tanya come from all walks of life and backgrounds (two of the four women who died at the a1 stampede in Mal Taman Anggrek were sisters from a low-income family). They are the clamoring figures we see in photos at fan gatherings and concerts, frantically shouting for the attention of the one they love.

They often lose control as their emotions get the better of them and, tragically, if security preparations are poor, the results can be fatal.

Stampedes at entertainment venues have happened time and again in the country, but event organizers and the police do not seem to have learned their lesson. The a1 incident happened only four months after five people were killed in the crush of fans at a concert by hot local group Sheila on 7 in Lampung.

Adding insult to injury, only a fortnight after the a1 tragedy in Jakarta, there was more chaos at a Sheila on 7 concert in Cirebon. Dozens of fans were injured on March 26 at the end of a show in a sports stadium crammed with about 6,000 people.

So the news about a planned concert here for Westlife, probably the hottest boyband at the moment, has led to concern that adequate measures are taken to prevent another catastrophe.


Why do youngsters often become hysterical when they meet their idols?

Fans say they are overcome by intermingling feelings of sheer joy and admiration when they finally get to see in the flesh the celebrity they have come to know from videos, photographs and articles in fanzines.

"I remember I became hysterical ... I cried uncontrollably and then fainted when I went to (local pop jazz hero) Fariz's concert when I was a teenager," recalls Anna Ruti, a construction company employee in Jakarta, who also adores pretty boy action star Ari Wibowo.

Her love for them has not worn off with time. Anna, 28, is so besotted with Fariz and Ari that she will do anything to collect their posters, albums and other memorabilia.

When it comes to the fans getting out of hand at events, some blame the concert organizers. They say it makes for a better attraction if a concert is full of screaming, frenzied fans.

"For the organizer, the more people who get hysterical, the better," said psychologist Sartono Mukadis from the University of Indonesia.

"Don't forget that teenagers are in a psychological period of searching for their identity. If people around you become hysterical about the idols up on stage and you don't, you would be the odd one out."

Event organizers counter with their own arguments.

Sheila Hardjono, executive producer of event organizer 1/2 Sendok, says that the larger the audience, the more likely it is that mass hysteria will occur.

"Large audiences are common when the show takes place on a public holiday at public places. So in this case, extra security precautions are needed," she says.

Factors such as the location, the band's level of popularity and the occasion (a fans' gathering or show, for example) are key to determining what security measures are needed.

Idolization of a celebrity which is expressed in hysteria is nothing new. There are reports of obsessed women fainting at the sight of U.S. movie star Valentino in the 1920s, and the sometimes racy tales of groupies who followed the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson on tour.

When there is news of a show, fans will find out where the band is staying and try to book rooms in the hotel in the hope they can at least get a glimpse of the celebrity, talk to them or get their autograph.

Young women

Some may wonder why mass hysteria mostly affects girls and young women.

Aryo Wicaksono, a director of event organizer PT Mega Citramuda Mandiri (MCM), says the hysteria usually comes from the great excitement of the event.

"In my experience, it's usually only teenage girls who get hysterical when they see their idols. And, most of the idols are pretty boys around their age, between 13 years and 19 years," he says.

MCM's commissioner Bineta Asterlita believes hysteria is connected to young women being more emotionally "expressive" than their male peers.

"I think this relates to puberty, that most girls are more expressive in showing their feelings, especially when they like someone," she says.

"This is universal -- I think girls everywhere on earth are usually hysterical when they see their idols. Boys don't get hysterical because boys don't usually have particular idols."

Sartono's theory differs -- he believes concerts and other public events give young women a rare chance to vent their emotions.

Boys may appear more calm and rational, but they are freer to express their emotions in daily life.

In society's double standards, young women live under dictates that they must keep their emotions in check at home and school.

"Boys would be considered strange if they became hysterical (at public events)," he says.