There is nothing wrong with being a hardcore fan of your favorite celebrity, aka a ‘stan’. After all, artists are who they are because of the support of their fans. Although stanning provides a sense of community for stans alike, the culture has become problematic over time.
What is it?
The word “stan” was first coined by Eminem in 2000 through his hit song titled “Stan” (a combination of the word stalker and fan), which was about his biggest fan, Stan. Stan writes Eminem multiple letters over a period of six months, trying to capture his attention, but Eminem doesn’t write back. Stan, derailed and frustrated, drowns both himself and his pregnant girlfriend by driving off a cliff.
According to the website, Yonder, Stan culture describes “an online phenomenon in which communities of stalker fans, or stans, engage in overly enthusiastic support of a favourite celebrity online (called “stanning”), including at times vehement, coordinated attacks against detractors and critics”. The culture comprises a shared vernacular comprising of terms like ‘shade’, ‘tea’ and ‘OOMF’. Stans of an artist often have a collective name for themselves and their community, i.e., stans of Nicky Minaj call themselves Barbz, stans of Beyonce call themselves the BeyHive and so on.
Through observation, Stan culture seems to be biggest among music artists and their established fanbases.
The Different Levels of Fandom
In 2002, psychoanalysts established the three-tiered Celebrity Worship Scale, which effectively categorized fans into three levels. The scale has since evolved and is now called the Celebrity Attitude Scale. In the modified scale:
- Low-worship becomes ‘entertainment social’ – people in this category see celebrities as commodifiable and consumable products for their own entertainment.
- Intermediate worship becomes ‘intense-personal’ – in this category, the fans take social cues from celebrities and use them as a source of self-esteem or personality. They wear outfits like their favorite celebs, adopt their slang and purchase products they endorse.
- High celebrity worship becomes ‘borderline-pathological’ – this category involves fans with violent or unrealistic fantasies involving celebrities that could lead to dangerous behaviour like stalking, or fans likely to do an illegal favor if asked. These fans have excessive empathy with their faves’ success and failures, over-identify with them and are emotionally invested in their lives. This category also comprises fans who get plastic surgery to look exactly like their favorite celebrity. A notorious and dangerous example of a stan in this category would be John Hinckley, who became so obsessed with Jodie Foster after seeing her in Taxi Driver that he attempted to assassinate Reagan to “impress her”. He had erotomania, a psychiatric syndrome characterized by the delusional belief that one is loved by another person, generally of a higher social status.
The problem with stan culture is when fans lean towards or fall in the third category.
Technology blurring reality
Innovations in media technology have provided us with the illusions of intimacy with celebrities, and thus a higher chance of accentuating erotomania in some stans. One can tune into a celebrity’s live, get to see them reply to you in real time on Twitter, and interact with their posts. For stans in the intense-personal category, its easy to see why stan culture is growing exponentially. Furthermore, being a stan has become normalized, especially for the growing number of teens and young adults reared on in-your-face celebrity culture.
The “We” syndrome
Fans like to share in the success of their faves but hardly want any responsibility in their failures. Stan-wars makes examples of common phrases one might come across within stan communities- it’s always “we got a #1 hit or we got another sold-out tour”. Although its natural for stans to share in the success of their faves, some don’t understand the difference between being a consumer and being an investor. Consumers (fans and stans) are not obligated to contribute anything more than free streams, risk nothing (besides likes and retweets) and don’t see any financial returns, whereas the investor (celebrity) puts large amounts of money into ventures with the hopes of large returns. Stans take the victory during successes but play the blame game during flops, while the artist risks it all for the sake of their creative work.
The obsession with sales
Most stans of music artists are obsessed with chart statistics. This is due to the prominence of the digital music market, where virtually every platform on which a stan consumes music (i.e. Spotify, iTunes, etc.) is attached to a metric, and stans are constantly aware of the current popularity of the music they consume. It’s not enough to get a TOP 10 hit anymore. The song needs to debut #1 and stay there for a while. This obsession can quickly turn into restlessness which, in turn, can turn to resentment towards the artist if the record’s performance falls short of their expectations or outright flops. However, this obsession is unnecessary and completely avoidable if people could simply understand that all music, as a form of art, is subjective.
Lack of rationality towards critique
You cannot say anything bad to a stan about their fave- they will come for you! Stan culture seems to have clouded the ability to rationalize opposing views and constructive criticism towards celebrities. Criticism seems to leave a bitter taste in most stans’ mouths and are often taken out of context. When the fave is criticized, for either good or bad, the stans mobilize and attack the person giving the criticism, instead of paying attention to what exactly the criticism is and whether it’s true and could be helpful to their fave’s work. Instead, they’ll resort to insults and even death threats, as was the case in 2018 when the Barbz threatened pop culture writer, Wanna Thompson, with death after she tweeted a critique of Nicky Minaj’s controversial antics in the lead-up to her then-delayed album Queen. Group polarization adds onto the lack of rationalisation because of extreme views formed within stan communities.
Anonymity drives the violence
Most stans hide their identity behind anonymous social media accounts usually with a profile photo of their fave. Because of this, most stans are confident enough to defend their fave against critics, throw insults and even make threats to those with opposing or different views on their fave, and get away with it, leaving their fave to clean up their mess.
But wait, there’s more…
Studies have linked obsessive celebrity worship to poor body image in adolescents, an increased chance of obtaining plastic surgery, and a personality style characterized by sensation-seeking, cognitive rigidity, identity diffusion, and poor interpersonal boundaries. Furthermore, poor mental health, depression, anxiety, and social dysfunction have also been linked to high levels of celebrity worship.
Although stan communities and stan culture may be fun and supportive, perhaps it’s time to rethink it and form healthier relationships with the admiration we have for our faves. We should direct the same energy we give our faves to ourselves and realise that we are all consumers with different views that we are all entitled to. Art is, after all, subjective.