Indian Idol and Flash Fandom
by Aswin Punathambekar — University of Michigan
November 21, 2007 – 04:01
In summer 2007, media coverage of Indian Idol-3 focused on how finalist Amit Paul managed to create a space for people in northeast India to cast aside decades-old separatist identities. In Shillong and other northeastern Indian cities, hundreds of people took to the streets to express their support for Amit Paul. Incredulous journalists from mainstream media outlets – who rarely cover northeast India – noted that Paul’s fans seemed to look past linguistic and ethnic identifications. Following along online, I was struck by this moment of fan expression and excited to see rallies on the streets of Shillong with people from different age groups carrying banners and posters announcing the formation of an Amit Paul Fan Club. Given the broader socio-historical context and tensions in northeast India, I also found myself asking if we can 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 had already appointed Amit Paul a brand ambassador of peace and communal harmony, and with elections to be held in February 2008, it was clear that politicians were keen to leverage Amit Paul for their campaigns. Further, 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. How, then, do we think about this instance of fan expression and politics? 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 allow us to 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 we could even argue, more broadly, that flash fandom is *the* modality of fandom for reality TV.