I think a lot of us could see that Zayn Malik was on his way out of One Direction. In fact, since the band was manufactured by Simon Cowell, it was always a question of which one would leave first, and the smart money would always have been on Zayn. He was never quite as comfortable with the fame and attention as the rest of the band (and let’s face it – the attention these boys get is frightening even when you’re NOT involved). They were catapulted from oblivion to super-stardom almost overnight – and not everyone so young would be able to handle that. Zayn was always the one who struggled, a bit of a reluctant pop-star, so while it may come as a huge shock to One Direction’s superfans, to the rest of us, the writing was on the wall.
While some (most) of us can just think – “OK, this guy is doing what’s right for him, the rest of the band can carry on as long as they want to, and he will probably be a lot happier with his millions safe in the bank”, there is a huge fanbase who are quite literally going to be in pieces emotionally. Out of proportion? To us, yes. But to them, the pain is very real. So while it’s easy to mock, we need to try to understand that to them, this news has shattered their world.
Yes, it’s silly – but it also needs to be taken seriously. While we may find it easy to dismiss and even mock this distress, there is a worrying undercurrent flowing through social media that we need to acknowledge and somehow address. A proportion of One Direction fans are known to be extremely militant – offering death threats to anyone who is rumoured to be dating (or breaking up with) one of the band; attacking anyone who happens to say they don’t like them and displaying some frankly astonishing behaviour, the likes of which I don’t think we’ve ever seen before on such a huge scale. A Journalist friend of mine told me this morning that when he’d featured One Direction in a national paper, he received death threats on twitter and to his personal email from fans who simply didn’t like his tone. Considering 1D fans are generally teens/young people, I find this aggression and the fact they think this is even acceptable behaviour very frightening indeed.
Even more frightening though, and the reason that I really do think we, as a collective nation, especially the parents and teachers among us need to be worried about Zayn leaving the band, is the horrific hashtag #cutsforZayn that’s doing the rounds on Twitter. I will not post pictures or link to it as I think it needs to be stopped immediately – but tweets (with pictures of self-harm) encouraging people to do the same, with captions such as “the faster you cut, the faster Zayn will come back” are truly disturbing. Vulnerable youngsters who are in the depths of desperation from this news may actually believe it’s worth a try – spurred on by their peers – even if it’s something they’d never even considered before.
What do we do about this? I don’t know. But as a Mum, it scares the life out of me. I think we all have a responsibility to listen to the young people in our lives, show them we don’t think their concerns are “stupid”, show them we are understanding their feelings and giving them a safe place to talk about this kind of stuff. It may seem trivial to us as adults, but to them, this is very real. If they have no-one to talk to, they’ll turn to their peers, who aren’t mature enough to help them work through this emotion. And if they can’t work through it? They may just turn to their computers – and start hiding things from us. Which is when stuff like this vile hashtag starts happening.
I don’t know how to stop all this madness. I don’t know how to stop the apparent trending of this “craze” of self-harming. All I know is that we have to listen to our kids – even with what we consider to be the little things, because to them, those little things are huge. And if they can’t talk to us about those? The next generation is screwed.
Header image via Daily Mail, copyright (c) David Fisher/Rex