Larry Stylinson & The Fourth Wall
|See also:||The Fourth Wall, Tinhats and the Fourth Wall, Larry Stylinson, Larry Is Real, One Direction Fandom Wars|
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The prominence of the the Larry Is Real theory in One Direction fandom, has led to many of the most notable and hotly discussed fourth wall breaches between fans and members of One Direction have been related to Larry Stylinson. Fans who believe that Larry is real, often called Larries, frequently transgress the fourth wall and bring RPF out of fannish spaces and into the mainstream which is often seen as breaking a cardinal rule of RPF fandoms.
Public awareness of hardcore shippers, often called tinhats, has been a contentious point in many fandoms and Larry Stylinson has had unprecedented levels of public visibility since the beginning of the band that have shoved both the Larry Stylinson and "tinhatting" into public awareness in a way few fandom before it have done.
Most of the fourth wall breaches occur either on social media or at concerts, but interviewers have also brought up the topic with the band members and it is frequently referenced in mainstream news articles.
The band members have aware of the Larry phenomenon since early on. In November 2010, while they were still on The X Factor, Harry tweeted:
Harry Styles (@harry_styles):
And, in April 2012, he said, "The fans call me and Louis 'Larry Stylinson' cause we get on really well."
Some believe that the band members and/or their teams monitor fan Twitter trends, as well as what is what is often regarded as fandom-only space on Tumblr.
Because the Fourth Wall is easily broken by both sides in the age of social media, band members are aware of the Larry is Real theory. Some fans believe that band members know when their actions are perceived as supporting the theory, and thus interpret their actions as an implied endorsement of their interpretation. The blue bandana and the dagger tattoo may be the most notable instances of this.
Tweets from the boys and their families appeared to encourage it and Harry and his sister were possibly even the ones who brought the term "Larry Stylinson" into widespread use. According to Helena Louise Dare-Edwards, a fan studies scholar:
Larry fandom was partly ignited by the many openly flirtatious tweets exchanged between Harry and Louis at the beginning of their careers, which also seemed to endorse Twitter as a space for such a fandom to operate. The candid nature of these tweets indicated a sense of authenticity, and the public display of their relationship/friendship was a central feature of the popstars’ formative personas, offering an illusion of intimate access to backstage behaviour that was then forced frontstage by Larry fans.
However, after the worldwide release of their first album in 2012, the perceived welcome of Larry fans changed to active discouragement.
This turning point culminated in the tweet known as Bullshit 1.0 and, in the years since then, Harry, Louis, their bandmates, their team, and their friends and family have all issued denials of any romantic relationship having existed. These denials have often had what some interpret as a derisive tone, frequently implying that fans who believe that Larry is real may be delusional and unwelcome as fans.
In November 2013, for example, a print article reported:
"That's a f----ing annoyance," Tomlinson says of the false rumours linking him to Styles.
Can he not appreciate the impressive amount of work that's gone into it at least?
"I wouldn't say it was impressive," Tomlinson fumes. "I'd say it was f---ing annoying."RIP Larry Stylinson[note 1].
Some people have suggested that the abrupt change in attitude toward Larries was due to an intentional rebranding instigated by their band's management. Bullshit 1.0, for example, coincided with the first week of promo of their second album.
Fan Reaction to Denials
In April 2014, Harry's sister posted this since-deleted reply to a Tumblr ask:
It seems people belief that they harry & louis have a romantic relationship has been reduced to a few pics & fanfiction. There are adults, doctors, lawyers, professors who believe & it's not bc of a few pics. We have reasons, but nobody addressing those head on. I just think if people are going to deny something, be straight up about it. Address why everything we have seen is platonic/normal buddy behavior. I'm a little older, so maybe guys act different than they used to.
While sending the involved parties asks like this is met with disapproval in some corners of the Larry fandom who feel either that the fourth wall should be maintained or that they are not entitled to private details of their personal lives, the ask still happened. Given what is often perceived by some as strong evidence to suggest that Larry may be real, the fact that denials have relied on implying that fans are crazy or delusional rather than offering alternate explanations for things such as their seemingly paired tattoos, has been seen as misdirection at best and gaslighting at worst. However some fans argue against using the term "gaslighting" as using it in a fandom context may trivialize abuse:
hey, abuse victim here,,,this is a giant fucking kick in the face to abuse victims lmfao like honestly? a ship and a fucking band aren’t this deep and you’re playing yourselves if you think so so much that you start thinking like this. if we’re gonna talk like this, i could technically say you and other big larries are gaslighting with the way y'all conveniently ignore the ugly things y'all do to people and then play the victim card when people call you out for being shitty human beings. so go fuck yourself and stop trivializing abuse just because you can’t get your head out of your ass and accept that a ship is a ship and a band is a band and nothing more.
Whether or not the denial of Larry Stylinson can be considered gaslighting, many fans have expressed frustration with the band for first teasing the possibility of a relationship between Harry and Louis when it appeared to be to their advantage, but then turning around and implying they were crazy conspiracy theorists for believing what they were marketed. The perceived aggressiveness with which Larries were rejected as fans may have endorsed them as acceptable targets for public humiliation and bullying within the fandom.
A small number of Larries may have channeled this frustration into harassing the people who'd issued denials. However, many others may have behaved in accordance with what may have been the band's intention. One Tumblr user wrote that:
The effect of all this on the fans was to frighten them into passivity, self-censorship, and great aggression against other fans to force censorship on them too. Fans became frightened to say what they really thought, for fear that the boys would hate them–print quotes from Louis said that he found larry fans 'fucking annoyance’ and they were ruining his life and relationships–other fans would hate them and they would become the target of a mass bullying campaign, and they would be personally responsible for 1D breaking up as a band. Fans were afraid that if they acknowledged what they were seeing, or if they acted happy about what they were seeing, then they would be responsible for the boys being punished and for the fans being punished. I had a very odd moment last year when an anon told me that they had grown up under a dictatorship in South America and the atmosphere of fear and passivity in the 1D fandom reminded them of that. And another person started screaming at that person that they were being disrespectful to those who grew up under a dictatorship. There was a major disconnection there. It was very odd. post on Tumblr, 22 Feb 2015 (Accessed 5 Sep 2019)
This has resulted in a number of Larries becoming ex-Larries, Houies or simply leaving the fandom. However, denials (and even the announcement of that Louis was expecting a baby) that have been covered by the mainstream media have also led curious outsiders to investigate Larry Stylinson and become Larries. Some have expressed that this was due to what they saw as puzzling inconsistencies in the way they were handled.
One Tumblr user who identified as working in public relations said:
What I don’t understand, though, is the aggressiveness that surrounds it. There’s no reason that they should be coaching young teenage girls into bullying others for having differing opinions, and they shouldn’t be so insistent that there’s nothing going on. It’s like shining a giant torch on the fact that there actually is something going on. Their continued severe denial of the relationship just makes it look like they’re hiding something, and the longer they keep it up, the more people are going to notice. posted on Tumblr in 2014
Larry Ruined Their Friendship
After Louis and Harry's public interactions tapered off during the promo of their first album, there was concern that it was due to Larry Stylinson. This was seemingly confirmed in 2012 and again in 2017:
"I'm so protective over things like that, about the people I love. So it created this atmosphere between the two of us where everyone was looking into everything we did. It took away the vibe you get off anyone," Louis said. "It made everything a little bit more unapproachable. I think [what's happened since] shows that it was never anything 'real' if I can use that word."
A number of Larries believed management was behind this idea and that they had been coerced to play this part. Mocking the idea of Harry and Louis being mortal enemies is a popular Larry meme. One Tumblr user suggested, however, that some Larries use this concept as a "straw man fallacy":
You still don’t get it. There was no “Larries broke their friendship” push. It was “Larries make Harry and I second guess every single interaction” and it was said by Louis in 2012. The photo OP here is talking about is from the Fabulous shoot in 2013. At that point, they still talked to each other and sat next to each other and WOW even smiled around each other 
Usually tinhatters comprise just a small portion of an otherwise diverse fandom. But the belief that Larry Stylinson is real has become such a popular and dominating theory among One Direction fans that it often dwarfs other branches of the One Direction community. For more than four years — that's at least as long as people have been quantifying Tumblr's tag usage and noting Twitter's frequently Larry-centric worldwide hashtag trends — the ship has been one of the largest elements of the One Direction fandom, which itself is one of the largest fandoms on the internet. "Larry Stylinson, the One Direction conspiracy theory that rules the internet, explained" (Vox, 16 Apr 2016. Accessed 4 Sep 2019.)
Support for Harry and Louis's perceived relationship has sometimes resulted in social media harassment of the people believed to be involuntarily closeting them. Since one theme of some corners of the Larry fandom is that they are supporting Harry and Louis and helping them fight the Big Gay War against the contract thought to be keeping them in the closet, fans may be justifying abusive comments on the social media accounts of supposed Modest! employees (including friends and family) as a way of showing Modest! that closeting is unnecessary and counterproductive. According to an anon confession on 7 Feb 2016 at confessionsofexlarries: "I used to send awful things to Eleanor because I thought that she would quit and Louis would be able to come out if she did that."
Because of the public nature of this, the fans who engage in harassment have often been Larries' main representation, even if they may represent only a minority of fans who believe that Larry is real.
There is a wide range of opinions in the Larry side of the fandom regarding what constitute appropriate social media or public interactions in a real person fandom and many Larries have spoken out against social media harassment. A number of fans keep all their fandom activity on Tumblr, avoiding services such as Twitter and Instagram where the band members and their families are present. (As an exception to this, Harry's sister Gemma has been on Tumblr and has responded to asks about Larry Stylinson). Some avoid having fandom Twitter accounts entirely as the band members themselves are on there and sometimes tracking. Many will intentionally avoid commonly tracked tags on Tumblr, such as One Direction, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson, Larry Stylinson, though this may be more due to attempting to avoid attention from anti-Larries and sometimes with the knowledge that many non-Larries prefer not to be exposed to Larry content.
Do I support fans sending messages to Briana or Louis family? Of course not. But like they say 'there is no smoke without fire'. We can’t all be wrong…louisgirlire, 18 Feb 2016.
Some have suggested that an impetus behind Rainbow Direction, beyond supporting LGBTQ+ Directioners, may have been giving fans who thought that Harry and Louis were being victimized by their management a more productive way of expressing support than social media harassment.
Some people, however, have argued that, even if they are not engaging in it themselves, fans (especially Big Larries) who talk about Harry and Louis being forcibly closeted may be responsible for inciting others to engage in harassment.
A number of anti-Larries have expressed that breaches of the fourth wall social media harassment are some of their main motivations:
It's hurtful to ignore their wishes and continue to ‘attack’ them with your misbeliefs. If you don’t believe them, at least show them the courtesy and respect they deserve for choosing to live their lives however they see fit. If you want to tinhat, do so privately. Leave the boys, and anyone associated with them, out of it. They don’t like it, Louis especially and for good reason. By his own admission, his friendship with Harry, especially in public and maybe in private, has changed and not for the better. Maybe that’s all due to growing up and finding different interests, but I’m certain tinhatting played a part as well.
The part about their changing relationship is probably a reference to a 2012 interview with the Tumblr Storyboard, in which Louis was quoted as saying, "This is a subject that was funny at first but now is actually hard to deal with as I am in relationship. Me and Harry are best friends, people look into our every move, it is actually affecting the way me and Harry are in public, we want to joke around but there seems to be a different rumor every time we do anything." The band members' as well as their friends and families' social media feeds have also frequently been inundated with comments about Larry.[note 2] Sometimes these are composed of just the word "Larry" or blue and green hearts. Louis's Instagram blocked the word "Larry" in 2016.
A number of fans have brought signs related to Larry as well as rainbow flags to One Direction's concerts. (While some rainbow flags may have been intended in support of Larry, many fans have brought them for the sake of supporting LGBTQ+ fans.) This has sometimes been met with criticism from other fans. Some Larries have argued that the Larry posters brought to concerts are not any worse that some of the sexual signs that fans who think they were straight have brought.
Larry signs have been projected onto the big screen at concerts and Liam in particular has read a number of them out loud ("Investigate Wellington", "Always in My Heart", "my first real crush was Louis Tomlinson"), but he was also quoted in a 2015 interview implying the rainbows have not been welcome.
Harry has frequently taken rainbow flags fans have brought and waved them on-stage.
Larry Stylinson in the Media
Larry Stylinson has been brought up in multiple interviews with Harry, Louis and their bandmates. Many fans, both Larries and non-Larries, have considered it rude to put them on the spot and may be uncomfortable by the attention it gives the Larry side of the fandom. It has been speculated within the fandom that the band's management may be have asked interviewers to ask the questions in order to provide the opportunity for public denials of Larry. Some anti-Larries have argued that Larries' opposition to the questions is because they do not want to hear the answers.
The fan belief in Harry and Louis's relationship has also been picked up widely in the media. While Larry Stylinson's public visibility may have started in 2012, the airing of Crazy About One Direction pushed it into the spotlight. Crazy About One Direction was a documentary released in 2013 that followed a number of teenage One Direction fans. It was seen as mocking the fans and in particular Larries. Its airing is often considered the event that firmly brought Larry Stylinson into public awareness. It prompted extreme reactions on Twitter, including deletion of Larry fan accounts and (unverified) reports of suicide, and the director and fans that were featured became targets of harassment.
The director later said:
One of the most intriguing arguments made by the YouTubers in my sample is that including Larry meant I had trespassed on their “private” fan spaces. But although the majority of fans use aliases online, they do not prevent outsiders from seeing their productions, which are readily available on Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube. Although all the fan art I included was cleared with individual artists, the fandom assumed they must have been stolen. They consider Tumblr to be an almost sacred space, in which the Larry fandom can be private, and this false sense of obscurity may have prevailed for a few years because outsiders did not know what to look for. As Zubernis and Larsen (2012) write, “The twin cultural biases against overt displays of emotion and (for women) displays of inappropriate sexuality combine to keep fans in the closet” (p. 45). Larry is in the closet
and the closet is Tumblr.So Crazy About One Direction outed the Larry ship.
Fandom influence on the media has is possibly the driver behind articles that read like fan masterposts, such as Yahoo!'s "Styles Hints That He Is Bisexual In New Interview, We Look At ALL* The Larry Evidence".
Negative depictions of Larry Stylinson and Larries in the media has sometimes resulted in harassment of interviewers and members of the press. This is not unique to Larry Stylinson. It has been common in the widespread One Direction fandom for members of the public who criticize band members to become targets of harassment, such as when GQ faced harassment over their One Direction cover story. When slash fan Aja in her capacity as a journalist wrote an article in 2012 describing the tinhat phenomenon, she was attacked in the comments. However, it's important to note that many of Aja's Daily Dot articles are controversial in fandom, and fans have criticized them as (deliberately) provocative, sensationalist, and/or misleading.
Ethics of Outing Celebrities
Fans who believe that Larry Is Real have frequently debated the ethics of outing celebrities with some asserting that closeted people's sexuality shouldn't be publicly discussed.
There’s a problem with how the closet and a potential coming out are viewed and discussed by Larries.
Something that doesn’t endear Larries to the LGBTQIAA+ community is that many of them treat Harry and Louis being in the closet and especially the idea of them coming out, without any respect.
The closet exists because being out can be dangerous. No one should be forced into the closet, but no one should be forced out either. Coming out and the timing of it is a personal decision that Harry and Louis should make if that’s what they want. Coming out is not something the fans are entitled to. posted on Tumblr, Archived version on 5 Apr 2016. (Accessed 15 Sep 2019)
For this reason, a few fans who had started writing articles or blog posts about Larry in more public forums subsequently moved to Tumblr. Some others, however, have suggested that public speculation over a celebrity's sexual orientation should be treated as akin to other celebrity gossip, and that treating it differently implies that there is something wrong with being gay.
There's plenty of reasons to believe (some wof which you will see) that they do not want to be closeted and probably never really did, which is the biggest reason the fandom is allowing ourselves to discuss this to the extent we do.
I don't see how suggesting that Louis and Harry have been in a committed, log term, healthy, happy relationship with each other is any worse than how they are - or for the longest time were - being presented in the public's eye.
Nobody ever says that heterosexuality or het relationships are private (at least not in that sense), so should queer sexulaity and relationship be 'private'? Shouldn't we be past acting like there is something wrong with being LGBTQIA and trying to hide queerness? Love is a beautiful thing in all its forms. Larry Stylinson Analysis - Why I Think Larry Is Real, Archived version, posted on Livejournal on 19 Apr 2015. (Accessed 17 Sep 2019)
In general, I think it’s always okay to question if someone’s perhaps not straight, why not, 10% of the population isn’t. It’s okay to talk about information that already out in the public domain. It’s also okay to use one’s brain in public and put one (mention of Club X on Facebook) and one (knowledge I have because I know Club X) together. Why on earth not? And it’s ridiculous to deliberately interpret gay innuendo as a joke, or ignore it alltogether. Most of all I have this rule:
0. Respecting privacy is not the same as allowing yourself to be cajoled into perpetuating the closet. Respecting privacy , according to Boling, is gently “coaxing from the closet” by “building a strong, vocal, and supportive gay and lesbian community”. I would edit that to “building a strong and supportive fan community” and hell yes, why wouldn’t we be vocal about it? That will strengthen rather than weaken everyone, celebrities and fan communities alike. "Privacy, the (Glass) Closet and the Outing Controversy", Archived version posted on Tumblr on 15 Sep 2013 (Accessed 15 Sep 2019). (Also see related posts)
Harry and Louis using symbols associated with the queer community and acting in ways that have seemed to break the fourth wall in reverse have been interpreted by some fans to mean that they are at minimum comfortable with public discussion about their sexualities, and may even encourage it. Others believe that Louis's statements that he is straight and that he considers speculation disrespectful to his girlfriend and son should outweigh fan interpretations of symbols. Some think they are open about their sexualities and relationship behind the scenes ("everyone knows"). A few fans have speculated in 2019, that while they may not be out celebrities, their use of symbols and coded language may indicate that they consider themselves to be out to the queer community. 
Notes and References
- "Larry Stylinson, the One Direction conspiracy theory that rules the internet, explained" (Vox, 16 Apr 2016. Accessed 4 Sep 2019.)
- youtube clip of Harry saying, "The fans call me and Louis 'Larry Stylinson'" and gif set of the same by onedirectiones, archived, posted April 7, 2012. gifset of a video interview, archived, posted by 1dbromance to Tumblr May 31, 2012. MuchMusic interview on youtube
- "@Louis_Tomlinson im sitting on the sofa opposite you....you look sexy." Tweeted by Harry Styles on 23 Jun 2011. (Accessed 16 Sep 2019)
- "@Harry_Styles hahaha I am being slowly seduced by your curls" Tweeted by @Louis_Tomlinson on 23 Jun 2011. (Accessed 16 Sep 2019)
- "@Louis_Tomlinson i know..That was my plan." Tweeted by Harry Styles on 23 Jun 2011. (Accessed 16 Sep 2019)
- Helena Louise Dare-Edwards (2014) ‘Shipping bullshit’: Twitter rumours, fan/celebrity interaction and questions of authenticity, Celebrity Studies, 5:4, 521-524, [https://doi.org/10.1080/19392397.2014.981370 DOI: 10.1080/19392397.2014.981370]
- One Direction's Louis 'annoyed' by bromance link to Harry Styles, Archived version posted 25 Nov 2013. (Accessed 11 Sep 2019)
- "iamnamelessgem: Doctors, lawyers and professors. Holy cow. What a WASTE.". Accessed 31 Aug 2019.
- "i'm sad about what gemma replied about larry not being real". Accessed 31 Aug 2019.
- Tumblr response by richdadmiguel via l1l4c. Accessed 1 Oct 2019. Link now only viewable via dashboard.
- One Direction: The Tumblr Interview. Accessed 30 Sept 2019.
- "Louis Tomlinson Calls 'Larry Stylinson' Theories "Disrespectful", Archived version Teen Vogue, 24 Jul 2017. (Accessed 11 Sep 2019)
- "You still don’t get it. There was no “Larries broke their friendship” push." Accessed 5 Sep 2019.
- Tumblr Post, Archived version on 27 Apr 2013.
- im-on-fire-now. Pay attention, Tumblr post June 14, 2013. (Accessed June 10, 2014)
- youhaveacoolurl's reblog June 9, 2014: a Larrie's post describing being blocked on Instagram and subsequently calling a friend of the band a douchebag. (archived) (Accessed June 10, 2014)
- Tweet from @sapphicangeI. Posted Jun 23, 2015. Accessed November 10, 2019.
- Asquith, D. (2016). Crazy About One Direction: Whose Shame Is It Anyway?. In L. Bennett & P. Booth (Eds.), Seeing Fans: Representations of Fandom in Media and Popular Culture (Ch 7, pp. 79-88). Bloomsbury Academic & Professional.
- One Direction fans respond to GQ covers in horrifying ways. Posted July 30th, 2013. Accessed November 10, 2019.
- One Direction Fans have trouble separating their 'Larry Stylinson' fantasy from reality, The Daily Dot, posted August 22, 2012. See also eleveninches' August 22, 2012 LiveJournal post This is the greatest thing to ever happen to her (me) (archived).
- Tweet by @thingsicandani. Posted on September 16, 2019. Accessed November 10, 2019.
- Tumblr, Archived version posted on Tumblr in Jul 2019. (Accessed 10 Sep 2019)