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I love you, Jake Gyllenhaal

What I learned from a year of obsessive fandom

Illustrations by Lizzie Plaugic

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A year ago, I started writing a weekly newsletter about the life and times of actor Jake Gyllenhaal. The newsletter followed what he said, what he wore, where we went, who he saw, and how other people reacted to it on the internet. Some weeks, there wasn’t much to go on; other weeks, Jake Gyllenhaal would give thanks for the appointment of Robert Mueller in the middle of a press conference about a new Netflix movie. The newsletter also covered, maybe the most intently of any of its topics, how I felt about Jake Gyllenhaal at any given time.

I love him. I believe he’s the most gifted actor of his generation, and I came to this conclusion on a Greyhound bus with my best friend when we were 18 and decided to watch four of his movies back-to-back.

I had the idea to write a newsletter because I was already talking about Jake Gyllenhaal on this website a lot, and the people in charge of me had started to say “cool it.” I did not want to cool it. I wanted to talk about my favorite actor all the time and in depth and without any particular news peg. I hoped that people who also loved Jake Gyllenhaal would read what I said and talk to me about it, that my boundless affection for a famous man would be nothing but rewarding.

So, after 12 months and more than 50 Jake Gyllenhaal newsletters... has it been? Nothing but rewarding? Yes. If by “rewarding” you mean “educational” — not a different definition that would involve, for example, money or untempered joy. I’m ready to say that I was totally right. It was rewarding and an educational experience. Here is everything I learned.

Being an obsessive fan will cost a lot of money

One of the first things I realized after taking on the self-assigned task of chronicling the life of Jake Gyllenhaal with intimate detail was that I would lose money on this venture. Two weeks in, it came to my attention that if I was going to be thorough, I would have to pay for a ticket to see him perform in the off-Broadway play Sunday in the Park With George during a one-weekend benefit concert reading at City Center. Luckily, it was approximately my birthday, so my parents became quiet patrons of the newsletter. When Jake moved over into Broadway’s Hudson Theatre for a limited run starting in February, I was not so lucky. I shelled out $135 plus convenience fees to do the simple job of being a true Jake Gyllenhaal fan. Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out if this is tax deductible.

'Sunday In The Park With George' Broad Way Opening Night - After Party
Photo by Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

Once in a while, it occurred to me that my fandom constituted labor — sifting through Google News alerts, transcribing lengthy interviews, writing film criticism, and cordoning off half of my Saturday to think about Jake G — and that I was usually paying for the privilege of performing it. I know people who have figured out how to monetize this type of dedication, but I am not one of them. I spent money on Amazon Video rentals, magazines, movie tickets, a one-size-fits-all men’s skeleton suit, and an IMDbPro account, all to keep Jake Gyllenhaal at the front of my mind and ensure I could discuss him as authoritatively as possible. This is a reality for all sorts of fandom, and explains why subcultures spring up around cost-saving measures like building your own Stormtrooper costume or asking for the latest Harry Styles single as an iTunes gift from a stranger halfway across the world.

Being an obsessive fan will become your defining characteristic, whether you like it or not

As soon as you say “I have a Jake Gyllenhaal newsletter” people will send you stuff about Jake Gyllenhaal all day, every day of your life. They’re just trying to be nice, but it does start to make you feel a little bit like a freak. They’ll also ask questions. “Why do you love Jake Gyllenhaal so much?”

Okay, I don’t know! That’s the point of the entire exercise, I would tell them. “Hmm,” they would tell me.

Two months into my obsessive Jake Gyllenhaal fandom, I felt compelled to write a letter to my readers (and repost it for the benefit of my family and friends), titled “I am not going to commit any crimes to impress Jake Gyllenhaal.”

I didn’t want to come off as a weirdo — just a quirky and delightful web presence and a role model for young people with inexplicable crushes around which they had constructed elaborate fantasies. “I feel like this should go without saying,” I wrote, “but I'm only joking about being deeply obsessed with Jake Gyllenhaal... If you listen to the beautiful love ballad from Stephen Sondheim's 1990 musical Assassins, in which Squeaky Fromme promises to murder President Gerald Ford in order to win the love of Charles Manson, you can feel free to weep or whatever but you CANNOT say it reminds you of me. So, don't!” Nobody responded to tell me that their fears were assuaged.

On the bright side, putting “I write a Jake Gyllenhaal newsletter” in my Tinder bio, according to my unscientific data analysis, resulted in a 400 percent increase in my Tinder messages. Everyone knows at least one thing to say about Jake Gyllenhaal. Usually it’s “I love Zodiac” or “a Jake Gyllenhaal newsletter?” But it’s something. So thank you, Jake.

Being an obsessive fan will often disappoint you

Part of monitoring Jake Gyllenhaal without his knowledge or participation means monitoring the Wikipedia and IMDb pages for his production company, Nine Stories, which is unfortunately named after a fiction collection by J.D. Salinger. While Jake Gyllenhaal gave several interviews this year establishing himself as a public feminist and a producer who hoped to give more women the chance to make movies, I was not permitted to ignore the fact that Nine Stories has yet to announce any major projects written or directed by women. Each time a new Nine Stories film was announced, it felt like a personal affront. Again, Jake? Another guy director? Another war movie? Another cocaine movie? Another video game adaptation? Are you kidding?

Another cocaine movie? Another video game adaptation? Are you kidding?

I wouldn’t have noticed these things if I hadn’t been paying an absurd amount of attention to Jake Gyllenhaal, reading Google Alerts and scrolling through hundreds of tweets each day. It made me sad and tired to know so much. It was easy to extrapolate and decide that any person would fail me if I looked at them too hard.

So, 11 months into the project, I decided a year of Jake would be more than enough, and wrote to my tiny, lovely subscriber base, “They say not to meet your heroes or your celebrity crushes, but I think another piece of valid advice would be not to pay too close attention to anyone for months at a time — they will disappoint or bore you.”

Being an obsessive fan will feel like being in love with a stranger

Sometimes, writing a letter to and about Jake Gyllenhaal every week felt like writing a letter to the air. There is no obvious answer to the question “What does anyone get out of principled fascination and one-sided communication with a celebrity?”

About nine months into my year of fandom, I reread Amy Hempel’s 1997 novella Tumble Home, a series of letters written by the narrator to a male artist who she is emotionally and intellectually obsessed with. It’s all call and no response, dozens of unanswered questions, like “Do you find consolation in a person?” and “Do you get angry with yourself?” Her little blips of desperation felt familiar. When the narrator asked, “How can I possibly put an end to this when it feels so good to pull sounds out of my body and show them to you?” that was familiar, too. “I want to know everything about you. So I tell you everything about myself.”

The relationship between average people and celebrities (or fictional characters) is often described as being “parasocial,” meaning that we can feel and experience their words as though they’re being spoken to us one-on-one, even if they’re being broadcast to audience of millions. This is how I wrote in the Jake Gyllenhaal newsletter, as though the book or sneaker or dog park he chose was a secret message to me. “Just once, I wish Jake would find a way to communicate with me in a code that I could prove,” I complained. Investing time in a character or celebrity can feel like investing time in a relationship, even if we don’t actually know these people. These relationships can be enjoyable and real in certain ways that count — investing time in people is good for you and investing time in someone who will not outright hurt you, ever, is a rare experience for any person. But talking to someone who will not talk back can also make you feel like you’re losing your mind.

Jake Gyllenhaal is someone I’ve both never met or spent a lot of time with, and he’s also one of my most labor-intensive relationships. A little more than halfway through my year of fandom, I wrote, “Jake is of course, not my crush, nor my parent, nor an inanimate object. He is his own thing, and a figment of my imagination. He is a person, but I made him up.”

Being in an obsessive fandom feels better than going it alone

At its peak, the Jake Gyllenhaal newsletter had only 126 subscribers. The Jake Gyllenhaal fan accounts I follow on Twitter have somewhere between 2,000 and 20,000 followers. But my tiny, lovely subscriber base — made up partly of friends, family members, and co-workers — included about a dozen Jake Gyllenhaal fans who wanted to correspond about Jake. They sent me rumors about his dating exploits and his life in New York. They corrected me if I messed up a filming schedule or a production history. I came to rely on them for news and previously unseen GIFs. It felt better to have a shared fascination.

By talking about Jake Gyllenhaal with the people who wrote to me or tweeted at me, I could start to figure out, to borrow a phrase, “where my rational mind had gone.” Or, I could decide that my rational mind hadn’t gone anywhere; we all have infatuations and fascinations we can’t explain in a satisfying way, even to ourselves.

When I went to the first Game of Thrones fan convention in Nashville this July, a tall woman in her 50s told me that gathering with groups of fans is “a way of life,” and “not just something an odd person does.” I almost cried! It was true, and I found myself jealously glaring at groups of teenagers who were running sugar-high circles around the various ballrooms, hugging and snapping selfies. How could I ever get my little horde of Jake Gyllenhaal enthusiasts to feel this free with me? I’m still working on the idea. The organizer of that event, Mischief Management’s Melissa Anelli, told me the goal of every fan convention she organizes is to create a space where people can be “as passionate as they want to be,” free from judgment. It sounded like a dream.

At the Jake Gyllenhaal fan convention (currently accepting emails from potential angel investors!), we would have a three-hour seminar on Jake Gyllenhaal’s collection of graphic T-shirts, and we would wear our hair in unflattering, unwashed top-knots. The convention would be hosted in the New York Public Library, the primary setting of The Day After Tomorrow and the primary setting of one Jake Gyllenhaal rumor, the only one I ever printed, because I was so overcome with guilt in the aftermath that I couldn’t bring myself to gossip ever again.

Being an obsessive fan will make you a better person?

The day I started the Jake Gyllenhaal newsletter, I was 22 years old and two months into a life that no longer involved my college boyfriend, who I broke up with by refusing to break up with him and just waiting for his love for me to wither, or for him to blow up — whichever came first and was less awkward for me.

I wanted out of that relationship, but the physical reaction I had to the actual moment of it ending was one I had never experienced before. It felt like a car that had been pinning me to a tree suddenly backed up and the entire middle of my body fell off. I knew this was one of those standard pains that comes in the starter pack for people my age. But in the thick of it, you know — the snot and whiskey and Frank Ocean of it — this feels like irrelevant information.

did being an obsessive jake gyllenhaal fan make me a better person?

The next day, two famous music writers rallied hundreds of Twitter users to tell me that an article I’d written was so bad that not only should I no longer be paid to write, but I should have money taken away from me. I was charged with being glib, which actually made me laugh out loud. How can you be glib when you can’t even talk or hold your abdomen together? Then I cried so hard in the kitchen that I started to scare people.

It’s not such an interesting sob story, particularly the parts that involve Twitter. But it is why I needed Jake Gyllenhaal. Accused of sabotaging love for no reason, I would prove I did love something. Accused of being a vacuous idiot who recklessly dashed off statements about people’s art without thinking, I would think about one person’s art every fucking day. Afraid of what would happen to me now that I was alone, I would gather people around me. Bored, I would uh... blog.

Stronger Red Carpet - 12th Rome Film Fest
Photo by Ernesto S. Ruscio / Getty Images

Jake’s life and work was a filter for other things that I was obsessing over: gender disparities in Hollywood; the horrible political climate; a boy; a song; a longing to make valuable art. Fandoms can be “temporary or permanent,” says Zoe Fraade-Blanar in Superfandom: How Our Obsessions are Changing What We Buy and Who We Are, “but they are always timely.” Jake went to the Women’s March in Washington with me in January (half-literally). In September, shortly after I got my feelings hurt by some dude, Jake talked about how he’s never lonely because he has himself.

Jake Gyllenhaal, was useful to me, Fraade-Blanar would argue, because popular culture — including celebrities — represents “modern mythologies.” They’re “the stories that tell us how we should approach the world right now, at this point in our personal history.” My year of obsessive fandom allowed me to make up stories about someone and insert myself into them. It put me where people who were going to be nice to me could find me. I don’t know if it made me a better person, but it forced me to think much harder about what makes fandom worthwhile and sometimes necessary.

I’m done with the Jake Gyllenhaal newsletter now, because my fandom, while there, is no longer timely; my life is not in such a state of flux. My relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal has been thoroughly explained to me, by me, with the help of a bunch of internet strangers, and so it isn’t so necessary to comment on it week after week. Jake Gyllenhaal helped me flop and sweat through one of the weirdest years of my life. He’s a figment of my imagination. He’s a person, and I made him up. He disappointed me, but I love him.