Justin Bieber is dead. He died on 11/28/10, in a car accident. Then on 7/28/11, he passed away of leukemia. Finally, on 4/9/11, he died after a gunshot wound.
Place of death: The internet, where teen girls constantly are killing off the pop idol in gruesome or unbearably sad fan fiction. And they’re not doing it out of hate: These “snuff” stories reside on sites dedicated to Justin fan fic, nestled alongside standard fantasies about backstage sex and fan crushes becoming legitimate relationships. The stories are dark and often disturbing, but they may be serving a unique purpose in helping teen girls work through common adolescent anxieties.
In between the standard tales of Jonas Brothers tour trysts and too-vivid descriptions of JC Chasez “entering” me, I found that some of the most devoted music fan fic forums devoted to everyone from Bieber to, uh, the members of Bon Jovi have many stories about their idols dying. Given the choice between fuck/marry/kill, a pocket of fans apparently will opt for the last one.
Boy bands from The Beatles to One Direction have always let girls form a proxy connection to their idol, and fan fiction works in a similar way. It’s a safe way for young girls to explore the feeling of having a crush without dealing with the reality of love, and the thrills of sexual attraction without actual sex. In darker stories, there is still a vicarious experience, says Kristina Busse, co-editor of the peer-reviewed academic fan studies journal, Transformative Works and Cultures. In those, “anxieties and concerns (or actual illnesses and trauma) are acted out and possibly even worked through in the fiction.”
Take this tale about the pop star having already died, which opens with his epitaph:
Justin Drew Bieber
Known to millions for his R&B music, his caring heart, and his love for his fans. Known to close family for being the Justin they knew and loved.
“So many people will tell you that you can’t; all you have to do is turn around and say, ‘Watch me.’” ~Justin Bieber
I felt the stone, and let the tears roll off my cheeks, and onto the newly laid grass in front of the grave marker. I rubbed my fingers on the quote, the one I’d chosen for his tombstone. That was the quote he constantly told me. I slid my fingers through my long, jet-black hair, and sighed.
“Justin, I need you. Please? Come back. Life isn’t worth living without you.” I whispered.
You’ll do fine, I know you will, Jenny.
In another story called “Justin Watch Out!” Those are the last words I said to him. Now he’s gone,” Bieber’s walking down the street when he gets hit by a drunk driver:
After the park me and Justin were walking home and that’s when it happened. A drunk driver was on the road and he was going too fast and that’s when it happened. “Justin watch out!” It was too late. I lost him. That driver hit the most important person in my life. My Best Friend, The Brother I never had, My Boy Friend. I called 9-1-1 and the ambulance was there in no time. They escorted me to the hospital as well. I called everyone! My grandparents, Pattie, Scooter, Chaz, Ryan, and Christian. They were working on Justin in the emergency room. Then they got there and I broke down. “H-h-h-e-e-e g-g-got hit by a c-c-car!” I stuttered while crying my eyes out in Chaz shirt. “He’s going to be ok he’s a trooper” Chaz said to me while rubbing my back. “Let’s pray.” Pattie said while we all joined hands. “Father please have your mighty hand over our Justin right now while he’s in surgery” Then I added, “and please make sure he’s ok I love him Lord.” “Amen”, we all said. Then the doctor said he wanted to talk to me alone. “Yes doctor please tell he’s ok!” “I’m so sorry…” I broke down in Justin’s hospital room. I was lying there, crying into Justin’s cold, cold chest. He was dead… I walked out of his room and then I saw Pattie and she knew right away. I think everyone did.
Sometimes he just suffers a tragic maiming, like in this story from 4tnz.com in which a freak accident leaves Bieber blind at age 12:
” Kitten!” 12 year old Justin yelled while crossing the street to get to his bestfriend Katherine. Katie for short. But for Justin only its kitten. ” Hurry up Bieber! Your gonna miss the bus!” she yelled while flashing him a heart stopping smile. Everything happend so fast. Justin had no time to react the car came swerving all over the place. ” JUSTIN!” Katie yelled while tears streamed down her porcelain skin. She ran over to him and kneeled down beside his bloody body, ” Somebody please help! Justin you can’t leave me here! Justin you can’t leave me here!” she cried out while looking at the sky. “… The doctor called from the door, as they went in to the room where Justin was, the doctor told them some devestating information. ” I’m sorry to inform you that Justin will no longer have vision.” pattie broke into tears as well as jermey. But Katie couldn’t. She just stood there as if she were paralyzed.
Visualizing the death of a celebrity, a real-life flesh-and-blood person, seems macabre, but in the world of fandom, stories that imagine a character’s tragic end have become quite common, and are known as deathfic. “Part of [liking death stories] is, I think, an appeal to the desire for tragic endings,” an anonymous author wrote in a 2002 Fanfic Symposium paper titled “The Appeal of Death Stories.” This subgenre of fan fiction has boomed in recent years, with morbid stories about characters from Supernatural, Star Trek and other cult shows getting filed under the “deathfic” tag on Tumblr.
Wanting an unhappy ending to a story is one thing, but why would teens fantasize about the death of their number one crush? “Death not only connects [the writer] to their idol, but humanizes the celebrity,” says Dr. Kimberly Williams, a pediatric neuropsychologist and clinical psychologist in New York who specializes in children. “Describing the details of the death scene can be an unconscious, yet cathartic way teens process life’s real conflicts and distress.”
Indeed, once a fictional Justin dies, a ghost Justin often comes back for some (polite) haunting. “My boyfriend, Justin Bieber, died in a car accident last month. Everyone’s taking it hard. Pattie never leaves her house. Fans have lost hope in their dreams, I always have tears in my eyes. The world just isn’t right without Justin. Lately some weird things have been happening to me. I feel like I can feel Justin’s gentle touch on my waist, and his sweet kisses on my neck.” Other stories have a happier ending. In one, Bieber’s been missing for nine years and presumed dead when he shows up again mysteriously, live and in the flesh, at a girl’s doorstep.
Bieber isn’t the only heartthrob getting the axe in fan fics. In one 15,000 word opus on a Jonas Brother fan site, Joe Jonas “finds himself inexplicably living in the past, trapped in a possible life existing in Latvia in 1941 where everything is different. He finds that his family left Germany to avoid persecution for the quarter-Jewish blood, and are living a meager existence on their farm outside of Riga.” He ends up in a concentration camp. (Later, it’s revealed to be all a dream.)
Over on an *NSYNC forum, Lance Bass dies from AIDS, and for some reason, his homophobic mom only finds out a month later. In one jarring story, Liam from One Direction commits suicide. The phenomenon goes back to the serendipitously timed dawn of both the internet going mainstream and the late ’90s/early ’00s rise of boy bands. In a story from 2001, Taylor Hanson is a drug dealer incarcerated on death row penning a letter to the unborn child of his pregnant girlfriend: “Taylor handed an envelope to Isaac shortly before his lethal injection, ‘Give this to Jr when he’s 14, I know that he’ll have music in his veins’… The shot took effect and Taylor was pronounced dead at 4:27 PM.”
In the same way they can explore the feelings of romance, then, the writers can ponder mortality and imagine the heartbreak of losing a loved one without actually living in a soap opera. In most of these “snuff” fictions about Justin Bieber, a female character is intimately attached to the singer, either by becoming his grieving widow, nursing him in his last days of a fatal illness or being wooed by his ghost. Dr. Williams explains it as the Twilight effect. “Adolescent girls are drawn to the current contemporary literature with themes of morbidity, the afterlife, extraterrestrials and the paranormal. Teen girls often connect ideas of pain and fear, with the notion of heroic pleasure and romance.”
Stories in which Bieber comes back as a ghost can function as tools to help teens grapple with their own relationship to fame, says Dr. Williams. “When the celebrities emerge from the dead as ghosts or heavenly beings, the girls are actually returning them to their larger than life omniscience and healing their own internal teen conflict. Describing the details of the death scene can be an unconscious, yet cathartic way teens process life’s real conflicts and distress.”
But Busse says that these morbid fanfics are a drop in the bucket compared to the larger genre of stories of the writer’s imagined trauma and recovery, like the ones where Bieber saves a girl from self-harm. “[Deathfics] are few and far between compared to the much larger and more popular ‘hurt/comfort’ genre,” Busse says, “where the pain and suffering functions as a way to bring the characters together, like a cancer victim meets Justin and they fall in love, or as a way to test their love.”
Fan fiction of this stripe can even have a therapeutic effect. “[In fan fiction], tragedies that are then survived and overcome are actually much more common,” says Busse. “They’re a very safe way to work through imagined or real trauma.”
Jessica Misener is a senior news editor at Huffington Post, and has written for Rolling Stone, The Awl and The Atlantic.