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I'm A Fan // I Want to Punch My Dad


Do you want to punch your Dad? Just proper thump him in the face. Right hook, uppercut, fuckinnnnn slug him. Maybe you’ve thought about the sound it’d make, the shape his face would press into as impact hits. Would he bleed? Bruise? Would he yell? Cry? I don’t know, I hope so. Maybe you actually love your Dad and he loves you and you’ve got a really healthy stable relationship — good for you and also fuck you. Not me. I want to punch my Dad. I haven’t ever punched my Dad, but if I found myself on a deathbed of some kind, the fact that I never got round to it would represent the centrepiece of my regret. It’s my new year’s resolution: PUNCH MY DAD.

I want to read a book about a girl that punches her Dad. She will speak, first person subjective, direct address to reader. ‘I want to punch my Dad.’ Yeah, her cards nailed down to the table. I’ll hear her internal monologue. She’ll say something conspiratorial, like: ‘I will call him on the phone and admit: ‘Dad, I want to punch you.’ He will be silent but I will continue, ‘please meet me [here] at [this time and date].’ And there I will be, ready to sock him in the face. And he will acquiesce, though he has never acquiesced to me before. And I will punch him. And it’ll feel great.’

I’m skipping to the good bit. The book itself will take its time. She will give a compelling and reasonable justification. She’ll tell us why this punch is a good thing actually, why it’ll make her feel better. She’ll admit to her traumas but will be dignified in this backstory exposition, it won’t be a kind of vulnerability. We won’t feel sorry for her because — please, she’s about to take matters into her own hands. She is not a victim of circumstance, she is an active participant in this life she is living. This is vigilante justice. This is sweet vindication. Even if she has been the victim in the past, it led her here and now she won’t be walked over — she will fight back. Quite literally. With her fists.

I have never punched my Dad, but I want to. I think that reading about a girl who does punch her Dad would be like a balm, a vicarious experience I could gain satisfaction from, in the full circle of narrative closure.

I’m a Fan is a book about a weird and frustrating desirous triangle. It’s not a love triangle. It’s more of a misery triangle. The Fan is in a situationship with the Man She Wants To Be With, and he won’t stop telling her about his other lovers and his wife. One of his other lovers is the Woman the Fan Is Obsessed With (and allegedly a Fan of). The Woman She Is Obsessed With looms large over her relationship with the Man She Wants To Be With. The Woman (for brevity) is famous on instagram for having very good taste. That’s all. She has a lot of fans who love and adore her, including the Fan, but the Fan also hates the Woman. The Man (brevity) will not have sex with the Fan anymore. They just meet up and he is cruel or evasive. The Fan wants him more than he wants her, so he sets the terms and pace of their relationship. He won’t cut her loose, he seems to feed off her excessive desire for him. The Fan is Obsessed with the Woman on a cellular level (different to her excessive desire for the Man) but the Woman doesn’t know the Fan exists. The Fan watches the Woman’s every move online, studies the Woman so precisely she absorbs her mannerisms, she goes to the Woman’s luxury lifestyle brand’s pop up shop, tries to organically befriend the Woman’s Sister and Niece in their local park. While all of this is happening, the Fan is actually in a relationship with a boyfriend she secretly hates. Then she openly hates him. Then he leaves. Obviously, he leaves.

I’m a Fan is about taste, what makes up good taste, about aesthetic hierarchies and what aesthetics say about the people and cultures they’re deployed by. I’m a Fan is about visibility, the attention economy and the algorithm overlords. I’m a Fan is about digital image culture and the way things like Instagram are informing and warping taste, aesthetics, our relationship to images and to each other. I’m a Fan is about power and who gets to have it, who gets to wield it like an enormous sword. I’m a Fan is about modern relationships in our post-digital era of casualised and precarious everything; zero hours contract, zero hours love. I’m a Fan is about urban disaffection and ennui. I’m a Fan is about self destruction and why we might seek it. I’m a Fan is about obsession. I’m a Fan is about class and money and who gets to afford to be an individual — like, an INDIVIDUAL. I’m a Fan is about race and the weird relationship between white men, white women and everyone else, but especially with women of colour.

Back to the book about the girl who wants to punch her Dad. I think critics would review this book and say, ‘this is a raging and effervescent work of bracing fiction. A scorching look at the quality of female anger and its powerful immediacy in the 21st century. In a way, we all want to punch our Dads’. I would pick it up in Waterstones and read the little endorsements on the back. I’d mumble to myself, ‘oh right, mesmerising? Deranged? Timely and urgent? Hmmmmm’.

I think white men and white women handle people of colour very weirdly. Obviously. But they handle women of colour the most weirdly.

Sometimes white women look at me, at women of colour, in a specific way. It’s this mix of desire, disgust, jealousy, superiority. I don’t know where it comes from and I don’t entirely know what it’s about, but I have my theories. It’s relative. Sometimes I’ll meet a white woman and realise, ‘oh, she feels guilty and she wants to look after me because that extension of unsolicited kindness will prove to herself that she is good and worthy in a world that tells her she is bad’. Sometimes it’s, ‘oh, she thinks she is prettier than me, she thinks she must be prettier than me. She needs me and everyone in this room to affirm that she is prettier than me because there is something about me being here and being different to her that she finds threatening’. It’s mostly, ‘oh, she wants me to like her because she believes me liking her will make other people think favourably about her in a way she desires’. White men get a different but similar assessment. I have been in rooms with white men and realised that they fancy me but the fact that they fancy me makes them quite personally nervous. Or they’re surprised by it? They’re excited by fancying me and that makes them fancy me more (these ones are my favourite). They feel good about the fact they fancy me. They want to fancy me but they don’t, and they feel guilty about it.

All these options are situations where I’m being afforded quite a lot of power, if I care to have it and if I know what to do with it. I have fun with it because I am mischievous and I take genuine pleasure in making people nervous, especially men. But the premise of this weird little dance hinges on my difference to them, their perception of my difference. It also hinges on the fact that they want something from me and that wanting is palpable. They’re all so busy wanting something from me that they don’t leave space for my wants.

Obviously I do want things. From white men and white women, from London, Europe and the world — don’t we all? It’s interesting and bizarre, this weird dynamic of desire and obliteration. The friction of the interpersonal. It’s not the systemic institutional stuff, it’s not even an unconscious bias that can be trained away with a couple of workshops, it’s not really about fetishising or exoticising. It’s just… psychic or energetic or vibes based. A subtextual soft economy of discrete social transactions. I think this is the most interesting and astute observation I’ve ever made.

I am at my laptop reading about wish fulfilment. Yeah, what actually is wish fulfilment? Freud says our psychic apparatus is made of three moving parts: the id, the ego and the superego. The id is the animal self, driven by the pleasure principle, it seeks out gratification of impulse or desire. The ego negotiates satisfaction, it is the rational self that mediates between animal desire and reality. The superego is the perfect self, the self that exists in relation to the culture or authority, the self that toes the line. Wish fulfilment happens when the id’s unconscious desires are repressed by the ego and superego. These desires seek resolution through other means. They leak out into our dreams, our daydreams, when our waking sober conscious self has a looser grip on the wheel of our psychic apparatus.

I am watching an interview on Youtube. Sheena Patel is talking about how women want things from men and men know this and they leverage it as a sinister advantage in a game of social or romantic chess. She says, community support is so decimated under capitalism that being in a relationship is one of the few ways you can have access to care. I was eating my lunch, but now I have stopped chewing. Now I am staring, slack jawed and nauseous, at my laptop screen. Now I am thinking about a TikTok where men have stitched together confessions that they have no one to call when they’re having a bad day. Now I am thinking about bell hooks’ All About Love and how it made me cry so hard I nearly threw up. I mean, it didn’t actually, but it should’ve.

I don’t think fiction is the same as dreaming. They’re both imaginative but dreaming is passive, fiction is forceful. Fiction requires choice, it doesn’t arrive fully formed in the writer’s lap, it waits to be discovered or forged or configured. In that context, I don’t think it’s satisfying to read about a girl who gets everything she has ever wanted very easily. We want things, we want to be able to ask for them, we want the world to say yes, we live in a world that’s more likely to say no, we want the world to say yes to us anyway.

I am watching a YouTube video about something called reality shifting. Disaffected teenagers are convinced that they can close their eyes and shift into a new reality where things are better. They just need to concentrate on it hard enough, enter a meditative state or open a portal and they’ll slip into the alternate reality. I think about the zillennial taste for manifesting what you want by writing it all down as if it’s already here. I think about affirmations and the culture of present-tensing your desires. Maybe delusion is the only sensible mental state under capitalism. Maybe we live in a culture of denial but we all hope we’ll be the exception.

Do we all want to punch our Dad? Do we just agree on that and leave it there? No, we club together and form a roving gang of Dad-punching bandits. The girl slips her head into a balaclava and leads the pack. She waves her hands in the air and howls like a coyote from the backseat of a droptop sports car as we zoom from Dad to Dad, punching with joyful abandon. The police will never catch us. We can literally do whatever we like.

The Fan wants openly, without invitation and without embarrassment. The Man doesn’t facilitate her desires or even give her the space to express them aloud, he simply doesn’t care. She wants anyway, in private, in secret, in obsession. She doesn’t let the lack of opportunity obliterate her ability to want. She actually wants loads. I cannot help but like her. She wants to be with The Man, she wants to be close to him, she wants his time and attention and commitment, she wants him to want her so she wants his desire too. She also wants the things he has. She wants his money, his status, his power and his acclaim, his talent, his confidence and the way he demands from people without ever asking anything aloud. She wants the control he has over the terms of his interactions with other people — that one’s fascinating. She wants the ease with which he moves through the world because his life is almost completely frictionless. So she wants to be the Man She Wants To Be With. The same with the Woman. She wants her allure, her beauty, her elegance, her good taste, her goodness. Not that this Woman innately has or even is those things, but people are very willing to ascribe it to her. Because she is rich, white, confident, she is loved by those around her. She gets what she wants all the time.

I once heard someone split the semantic difference between jealousy and envy. I can’t remember which way round it goes. One is the feeling that someone has something you also want. The other is the feeling that someone has something you should have instead. It’s a subtle difference because they both involve resentment. The first is where you both have it (ambivalence, generic want). The second is where only you have it (a desire for the upper hand, a kind of revenge). I think it’s important to be honest about how close those two feelings are. It’s important to be honest about how often we do genuinely desire revenge. The importance of that honesty isn’t moralistic, life is just more pleasant when we admit things to ourselves.

Somewhere before the mid-point climax the girl who wants to punch her Dad will seek out a moment of solitude and silence. She will reflect on the nature of her desire to punch her Dad. She will not shed a single tear over the course of the entire story, but this is the closest she will get. With tears brimming in her eyes and never spilling out, she’ll say, ‘When I first realised that I wanted to punch my Dad, I felt like a terrible person. But then I said it aloud and my entire body unclenched. My Dad is a violent man. He only understands the language of violence. That is his choice, not mine. I must reply in the language of violence or risk being consumed. I WANT I want I want. I want more I want violence I want all my wishes and dreams and desires to come true, and I don’t care if no one has asked me! That’s my answer. I won’t let the lack of a question obliterate my ability to want!! I won’t let the lack of a question stop me from going and getting it for myself!!!’

Sigmund Freud stretches his legs. The Fan is lying on his therapy couch, her hands are folded in her lap and her eyes are closed. She cannot see Sigmund Freud but he is physically yawning with his body. She can hear his knuckles click. She can hear him clear his throat. He says, ‘Madame. It is interesting that within the space of this review, you exist primarily in relation to other people. You are: The Fan. Not the girl, not the narrator, not the dignified human person. The Fan. All the same. The Fan wants cultural power. The Man has it, the Woman has it, the Fan does not. The Fan’s relationship to Man and Woman leaves no space for her to announce what she wants. But the repression inherent in this relationship also acts as an inciting incident, it opens up the possibility of interjection. The Fan is able to access her own wants because, when repressed, her desires declare themselves all the same. Potential wish fulfilment. These people want something from you, but do you return their gaze? By wanting regardless, by not obliterating your desire, is that enough to constitute revenge? Satisfaction? Wish fulfilment or materialisation — is the world saying yes?’ The Fan scrunches up her nose.

I recoiled from the repression inherent in this story, and I’m interested in why. Every desire goes unfulfilled. Revenge? Unfulfilled. Anger? Unfulfilled. Sexual desires? Unfulfilled. Destructive impulse? Unfulfilled. The Fan is unreasonable, angry, the intensity of her animal desires make her a kind of tyrant. But despite that, she is also impotent, passive, unsatisfied. As much as she is at her id’s mercy, her ego and superego will not let her push past the line. She toes it, carefully. If they were friends, the girl who wants to punch her Dad would sit the Fan down and say, ‘Darling friend, your behaviour is getting very odd. It seems to me that you want to feel toxic rather than actually be toxic. You always remain polite, your insanity takes place in private. But you’re hurt, you’re an underdog, you’re well within your rights and we wouldn’t blame you. So actually you should give into your destrictive urges and just go bananas.’

I didn’t like I’m a Fan. I thought it was bad. I didn’t get on with the style of the prose, the notes app rhythm felt like an affectation, the chapter titles made me cringe. I respected it, including/despite my lack of like. It’s complex, there’s a lot in it and — most new(ish) fiction about modern relationships is really very insufferable. I’m a Fan was sincere and unconcerned with being a Proper Book in a way I did find interesting. It’s not this book’s or this author’s job to write something that personally pleases me, like I am a tyrannical child king. Books don’t have to give me what I want.

But I want, all the same. Even though I know it’s not reasonable or justified. I WANT I want I want.

I’m a Fan is a story about a girl that wants but can’t actually have what she wants. The world says no, the Man says no, it’s no no no-no-nos across the board. I guess there are some people that the world may simply never say yes to. The girl who wants to punch her Dad snarls at me. Ok! Alright, so what then? When you want something and the world says no-no-no, what do you do?

I recoiled most in the moments where the Fan is reflecting on the nature of race and desire, visibility, algorithmic value, institutions, power and wish fulfilment. There are scathing, cutting critiques of the nature of being racialised in a country like Britain. Scathing, cutting critiques of how white womanhood is really a kind of morally bankrupt depravity, a hypocritical state of violent denial. It should have felt cathartic to me, but it didn’t. The Fan goes about the process of this critique like she is explaining it all to someone who doesn’t understand it. I read it and felt impatient.

Even in her moments of burning rage when she wants to tear the Man, the Woman, London, Europe and the world apart — she doesn’t. She never does. The Fan has genuine legitimate grievances! She becomes furious and disgusting but the only person she makes miserable is herself. Even at her most furious and most disgusting, she turns her anger inwards to spare whiteness (the Man and the Woman, the Man’s wife) the discomfort of having to confront her unrequited desires — the desires that they unrequite. The Fan’s mercy was unsatisfying because the Man, the Woman, the system they exist within (London, Europe, the world) — they only understand a language of violence. I liked the Fan. I wonder how far my understanding, sympathy, my liking of the Fan could be stretched.

((I think she should have killed the Man She Wants to Be With at the end of the book. And his wife. And then she should’ve hunted down the Woman She’s Obsessed With and butchered her, live on Instagram. She should’ve stuck her head on a pole and paraded it round her good taste living room, dripping blood all over the antique Persian rugs.))

Maybe this is a shit complaint, maybe you vehemently disagree because this is what real life is like. There is accuracy in the impotence of never being able to direct your anger at its true source, in an act of precise revenge — wish fulfilment, a wish rather than satisfaction. I don’t care. I don’t want accuracy. We live in a world that is more likely to say no to us, why does fiction have to say no too? I want precise revenge. I don’t care if the Fan is telling the truth — she is, but — what is the point the function the purpose of telling the truth? What do we expect to happen after the truth has been spoken aloud? Do we think things will change, that wrongs will right themselves? Is speaking the truth an utterance that changes things? Does it have affect? Will it change a no into a yes? Is the truth spoken aloud enough to count as actual action?

I say this with full self-awareness of what I do for a living: no. I don’t think it’s enough to just say some truth aloud. It isn’t action, and it isn’t even interesting to me anymore. And it’s not this book’s job to be interesting to me. That’s fine! But I read I’m a Fan and was left dissatisfied, and by being unrequited it was a kind of inciting incident. It taught me what I actually want from fiction. I want poor impulse control, I want violence, I want gratuitous indulgence of every passing whim, I want writers to push harder at the limit of what I am expected to believe, care about, stick around for. I want to be given exactly what I want, and what I want is more. High octane unstable narrative. I just think we should all do whatever the fuck we want. I think we should all just punch our Dads.