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One Direction member Louis Tomlinson explicitly denied having an intimate relationship with bandmate Harry Styles yesterday, but that won’t likely change the opinion held by many of their fans.
Titled “Won’t Stop Til We Surrender,” the 15-minute video offers a compendium of every intimate look, hand touch, secret smile, innuendo-laden joke, and gesture of love between One Direction members Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson. Fans of their relationship, or “shippers,” refer to this fanvideo as their Bible.
And as near-religious devotees, the shippers are undergoing a crisis of faith.
Fans of Styles and Tomlinson’s imagined romance, dubbed “Larry,” are legion. They’ve produced meticulously compiled lists of evidence of their intimate relationship. Many supporters of Larry believe what they see between the two men is undeniably true love.
But like any other matter of faith, it’s not so simple; Tomlinson currently has a girlfriend, model Eleanor Calder. Styles spends much of his time with U.K. radio host Nick Grimshaw.
And yesterday, Tomlinson snapped at a fan, calling Larry “bullshit.”
First he tweeted in reference to many Larry shippers’ widespread belief that Modest Management, who works with One Direction, are keeping him and Styles in the closet:
“Still months on reading ridiculous conspiracy theories. It’s upsetting that I have to read them daily. Thank god for the lovely people on here.”
Twitter user Skyleridk responded indirectly, stating, “[F]unny that no matter what happens they will never deny larry.”
Minutes later, Tomlinson replied: “Hows this, Larry is the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard. I’m happy why can’t you accept that.”
He also allegedly tweeted one Larry shipper directly with the following heartfelt plea:
“If you really support me then stop being so awful to my girlfriend. People can come up with all the bullshit and conspiracies they want. I love Eleanor, there’s nothing more to it.”
He then went on to thank his “real” fans for their support.
Cue a fandom-wide meltdown—a mix of anger, denial, defensiveness, disbelief, and disappointment. Regardless of whether Larry shippers and supporters believe their ship is real, no fan likes to be marginalized.
“Just because you don’t believe in Larry you shouldn’t tell us we’re idiots,” one fan said.
Larry shipper Monitchka, the video blogger behind the beloved, aforementioned Gospel of Larry video, shared her thoughts with the Daily Dot:
“We are tired of being treated as insignificant and told that we are not real fans, just because we believe in the love between two people. A real fan is someone who purchases their music which is the reason for their fame. We buy their music, concert tickets, merchandise, etc. We vote for them to win awards. We spend a lot of time, money, and energy supporting the band and we are treated horribly. Instead of bashing their own fans, they should be thankful that they have any fans at all.
“Larry supporters would also like to point out that the majority of us do not send hate on Twitter and we do not appreciate being blamed for the few that do.”
Breaking the Fourth Wall
The interaction between the band and fans, traditionally called “the breaking of the fourth wall” in fandom, has always been complex and tenuous. When the U.K. X-Factor sensation-turned-pop-craze made their American debut, they commissioned an author to write 1D fanfiction for all of their supporters, and the band members currently maintain Twitter accounts to interact with eager fans. But in recent months, tension has mounted as fan pressure has grown, especially surrounding Larry, and the band’s increasingly high-profile relationships have come under attack.
Since Tomlinson’s relationship with Calder began, fans have sent tweets to the band, its management, and to Calder herself, critical of both their relationship and what fans see as an ongoing effort to keep Styles and Tomlinson apart. Larry fans, angry what they view as a conspiracy of silence, have also lashed out at family members. Allegedly, Directioners—as fans of the boy band are called—have been contacting staff at Calder’s university to attempt to have her kicked out.
Conversely, countless fans have tweeted messages of love and encouragement. Yesterday, SmileBooBear, a term that refers to the Directioners’ affectionate nickname for Tomlinson, trended worldwide on Twitter, as did the phrase Directioners Support Louis. Countless other fans have been begging Directioners not to bother the celebrities or their loved ones at all.
The “fourth wall” is a controversial subject within the fandom, and many fans would prefer that their activities be kept quiet and under the radar. Other fans view their active and vocal support for Styles and Tomlinson’s relationship as a way of encouraging the two friends to come out of the closet.
Ironically, however, the more openly embracing fans attempt to be, the more awkward the band members feel.
Bromance or romance?
Because fans obviously aren’t privy to the band members’ private lives, shipping Larry is a studious, detailed practice of detection. Fans spend long hours analyzing videos, pouring through interview transcripts, and examining photos for clues to the truth of Styles and Tomlinson’s relationship. Being constantly scrutinized can’t be much fun for the two, and Tomlinson has said as much before, in a notorious interview with Tumblr’s Storyboard.
“This is a subject that was funny at first but now is actually hard to deal with as I am in relationship,” he told Tumblr. “Me and Harry are best friends, people look into our every move, it is actually affecting the way me and Harry are in public.”
Insisting that Larry is actually happening involves many assumptions about the sexuality of the two band members that inevitably involve stereotyping masculine intimacy. As user “carrot” stated on a Huffington Post column about the Larry phenomenon:
“[W]e have a… long way to go before ‘macho culture’ disappears and straight men can, once more, show love for their male friends without being questioned. That fear and suppression of homosexuality and the damage done to straight male culture because of it are different symptoms of the same problem.”
Many fans have noticed that Tomlinson and Styles no longer interact with each other as much in public. The most devout Larry shippers write the change in their public behavior off as a way of placating their management team while never explicitly denying their relationship. Indeed, one of the linchpins of the Larry ship seems to be the case for a managerial conspiracy to keep the two band members in the closet.
Conspiracies, deathwatches, and hope
Kylieealex, who received Tomlinson’s alleged direct tweet, immediately assumed that Tomlinson’s tweets were coming from a management stand-in. “Tell me thats not love,” she retorted. “Tell me that they are just friends. really try.”
“‘Louis’ doesn’t flat-out deny [Larry] however,” wrote one shipper. “He doesn’t imply that ‘Harry and I are NOT in a relationship and the rest of you make me laugh in having thought so.’”
But given the number of boy band members who’ve come out of the closet only after their bands broke up, it’s doubtful that any amount of protestation by the band members will convince everyone.
In A Culture of Conspiracy, William Cooper wrote that conspiracy theories are foolproof.
“Because the conspiracy is so powerful, it controls virtually all channels through which information is disseminated…. Hence information that appears to put a conspiracy theory in doubt must have been planted by the conspirators themselves in order to mislead.”
The Daily Dot saw this phenomenon firsthand when we previously wrote about the Larry conspiracy theory and received a flood of comments, asks on Tumblr, and emails demanding to know how much One Direction’s management had paid us to write the article.
The danger of a conspiracy, of course, is not only that reality can become confused, but that people can get hurt. Many fans believe shipping Larry is life-threatening. On May 7, a Directioner named Demiza announced that she was taking her own life and deleted her Twitter account. Fans grieved, and #RIPDemizaDirectioner trended worldwide on Twitter. But it seems no one attempted to trace the rumor back to a police report or an obituary, and we were unable to verify the claims.
Since then, the 1D fandom has evolved a mythos of its own deadliness. One of the frequent claims we have heard in our coverage of the fandom is that fans regularly take their own lives due to heckling received from other fans. “I had people come to my ask, saying they cut and self harmed due to the large amount of hate they were getting for shipping Larry,” one fan said.
“Apparently nine Larry shippers killed themselves,” another wrote, as the hashtag #RIP9LarryShippers circulated Twitter.
Despite ongoing investigation, the Daily Dot can find no verifiable evidence that any fan has ever taken his or her own life due to One Direction. But the stories circulate the fandom, and when fans feel attacked, they are quick to point out that criticism of their actions could be deadly.
Today at 8pm GMT, Larry fans launched a Twitter campaign to trend the word #bravery, a fandom-wide word that symbolizes support and strength for all of the fans who have received hatemail and cyberabuse because of their belief in their ship.
“[I] am beyond devastated as to what went down today,” a Directioner named Heather told the Dot. “So much destroyed in a few sentences.”
But for many Larry shippers, who feel they have already endured past the point of no return, nothing has been destroyed at all. “Don’t ever give up on what you believe in,” Monitchka tweeted during the #bravery campaign. “Trust your heart above all else and don’t let anyone ever get you down.” The tag is currently trending.
And as for whether or not Tomlinson’s tweets have shaken the faith of fans, it’s doubtful. By far the biggest response to yesterday’s outburst was a tacit “we don’t care.”
Many fans simply let images of the two bandmates together do all the talking for them.
Photo via donkeyjacket/Flickr
Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.