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Film: I Think We're Alone Now (2008)
Director: Sean Donnelly
Streaming On: Netflix, Amazon
Primary Focus Of Study: Tiffany super-fandom
Secondary Focuses Of Study: Obsessive fandom in general, mental illness, loneliness
Obsessive fandom is a subject of particular interest of me. I wrote a book (You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me) about Juggalos and Phish fans, and when I worked on “Weird Al” Yankovic’s coffee-table book, I vividly remember turning around during one of his shows and seeing the fan behind me mouthing along to every word, an almost spookily huge grin on her face, lost in the music, as if she were in a hypnotic trance.
Yet in all my work on those books, I never encountered fans as obsessive as Jeff Turner and Kelly McCormick, the fans of 1980s pop star Tiffany chronicled in the 2008 documentary I Think We’re Alone Now. That might be because Turner and McCormick cross the line separating obsessive fans from what are commonly known as “stalkers.” (Turner in particular gained a degree of infamy when he attempted to give Tiffany a samurai sword as a present, a gesture that was not received in the manner he intended.) Turner and McCormick’s interest in Tiffany seems to be a byproduct of mental illness more than a matter of musical preference.
Both live on government assistance. Turner is a 50-year-old man with Asperger syndrome who has invested much of his money in books on secret conspiracies and contraptions he is convinced will increase his already intense telepathic connection to Tiffany. Kelly is an intersex running enthusiast who was raised as a girl by her mother and a boy by her father. She developed an obsession with Tiffany after waking up from an extended coma in the late 1980s following a bike accident. For both Turner and McCormick, Tiffany fandom fills the role that in most people’s lives are filled by jobs, families, and romantic relationships. It gives them a focus for their energies. Turner is also a devout Christian; he worships at the altar of Christ as well as Tiffany, and seems to see both faiths as equally important and worthy of his time.
In the end, the subject of Jeff and Kelly’s fixation doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as the fixation itself, and the way it fills otherwise sad and directionless existences with at least the illusion of meaning and connection. This is underlined by a film-closing revelation that Jeff, having reconciled himself to the fact that Tiffany’s marriage will unfortunately keep them from ever being together, switches his energies over to someone he considers much more attainable: Alyssa Milano. As he talks up Milano’s “erotic art films” Embrace Of The Vampire and Poison Ivy 2, it becomes apparent that he’s just putting the same compulsive instincts into a slightly different form. So while I Think We’re Alone Now is not terribly educational on the specific subject of Tiffany fandom, it’s a fascinating look into the strange emotional terrain of obsession and the role it plays in the lives of its utterly singular, yet strangely simpatico, characters.
Educational value: Meets expectations.
Entertainment value: Exceeds expectations.