“Daily Show,” you should’ve known better. Much like Al Qaeda and ISIS, One Direction inspires extreme devotion among its followers. (In fact, I’m pretty sure that was the actual gist of the joke.) And One Direction fans, as if to prove exactly how zealous they are, have flooded the Internet with criticisms of the show and what they interpret as an attack on band member Zayn Malik, who is Muslim and of Pakistani descent.
Both #TheDailyShowGoneTooFar and #ZaynDefenseSquad trended nationally on Friday, propelled up the charts by the force of more than 114,000 irate tweets. As of this writing, a new tweet appears on #TheDailyShowGoneTooFar hashtag roughly every two seconds. Most are some variation on “you should be ashamed of yourself,” “Zayn saves lives” or the appropriately teenage “THAT’S NOT OKAY.”
We are not here, admittedly, to parse the “okay-ness” of this particular sketch; judging by the fact that most of “The Daily Show” writers are middle-aged men, it does seem unlikely that this throwaway joke was intended as some kind of racial or Islamaphobic attack on Zayn Malik. “The Daily Show” does not even know who Zayn Malik is.
But it’s amazing — mind-boggling, really — that so many people do, enough to manipulate the national online conversation, across multiple platforms, for hours at a time. One Direction is a wildly popular band, of course: As of this writing, they boast a dozen songs on the Hot 100. But their fans’ vocalness, particularly online, would seem to exceed their actual numbers. It’s what makes One Directioners a “fandom,” and not just “fans.” It’s why Zayn Malik or Harry Styles will trend for hours on any given day, while Meghan Trainor — whose “All About that Base” is currently Billboard’s No. 1 — will probably not.
It’s like the virtual equivalent of the fan-girl concert scream, a fascinating phenomenon my colleague Chris Richards wrote about in July.
“Screaming is a way to control a situation,” Michelle Janning, a professor of sociology at Whitman College, told Richards at the time. “When you’re a kid, and a girl, you don’t have control. Young people don’t have a loud voice in society, so screaming in this kind of space is a way to have a voice. Literally.”
There’s little chance, in other words, that middle-aged cultural gatekeepers like the writers at “The Daily Show” care a whit what teenage girls think. But if enough of them get on Twitter, someone will hear them, somewhere. And at the very least, they’ll learn something about Zayn Malik.