Dari Strait – Stan Culture and its Effect on Celebrities and Fans

The concept of a “stan” isn’t new, in fact, it’s been around since before the term was officially coined by Eminem in his year 2000 song, “Stan”. Back then, the term had more negative connotations such as “stalker” and “obsessive” due to the music video of the song where a fan becomes obsessed with him. As the term became more popularized this generation due to communities being formed on social media and the rise of more relatable stars, the term became a much more positive version of its old definition. The term “stan” had officially become another word for a super fan on social media. The crossover between stan culture and social media birthed many different communities of fanbases where fans from all over formed friendships with other fans, and even allowed them to have the chance to connect and interact with their favorite celebrities. However, a deep dive into stan culture and its communities plastered all over social media will show that maybe the term hasn’t lost its negative connotation after all. Although stan culture has paved a way for a small number of fans to bond with other fans and their favorite celebrity, it’s also paved the way for many more fans to turn the community into a place that’s toxic for celebrities and fans.

Sophia Stern, a culture reporter, brings up the point that some stan communities are a safe space for those who may have trouble expressing themselves in real life. Continuing to say, “the most important aspect of stan culture is the community.” A lot of stans in the community do feel this way because the community allows them to express themselves without any judgement, find comfort, and form friendships with other fans who share similar interests. They feel as though many of the negative aspects caused by stan culture shouldn’t be addressed because it’s a safe space for them. And while that may be true for some fans in the community, many other fans don’t get the same feeling. Yes, stan communities offer a source of support and comfort for some fans, however, it can also be the source of serious harassment and bullying for other fans in the same community. A former twitter stan, Margaret Engel, wrote about her experience in the community stating it was “exhausting” and in some cases the only way to noticed in the fandom was to start unnecessary drama with other fandoms. Wanting a community to turn to when you need an escape is understandable, but the bad parts of stan culture shouldn’t be pushed aside because it’s a safe space for some fans. There are serious issues in fandoms/communities caused by toxic stan culture that affects celebrities just as much as fans; acknowledging them could help turn the community from a safe space for some to a safe community for everyone.

One main aspect of stan culture that adds to its toxicity is its creation of parasocial relationships. Parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships where a person extends emotional energy, interest, and time, while the other person involved is unaware of the relationship. These types of relationships are commonly found in communities focused on celebrities such as sports teams, TV stars, and musicians. For most fans, these relationships allow them to feel closer to their favorite celebrity and feel a bond with them that they normally wouldn’t have. The rise of stan culture has allowed parasocial relationships to thrive, letting fans communicate and interact with their favorite celebrities through various forms of social media. While parasocial relationships can have positive or negative effects on a community, the negative parts are more apparent due to the lack of boundaries in stan culture. Having contact with fans who’ve given them a platform, it can lead to fans having unrealistic expectations for celebrities. The one-sided attachment can cause fans to feel as though they’re not being heard or acknowledged can ultimately be mentally draining for fans and celebrities. Looking forward to everything a celebrity does and becoming obsessed. Fans not being acknowledged by someone they feel they’ve been constantly loyal to, and celebrities being punished for not being able to interact with all their fans.

Parasocial relationships tend to lead to fans becoming entitled to everything in a celebrity’s life. Almost to the point where a celebrity no longer has any type of privacy anymore. There have been many instances where fans have shown that they lack any sort of boundaries when it comes to their favorite celebrity. One instance includes youtuber/influencer David Dobrik going to Instagram to ask his fans to respect his privacy by not showing up and taking pictures of the inside of his home (Zaidi). Many of the things stans do for a celebrity’s attention can become extremely dangerous to a celebrity, while also placing themselves in danger. Not only is it dangerous for fans to continuously show up to a celebrity’s home, but many celebrities have stated how weirded out they’ve been by fans appearing at their homes randomly. Making celebrities more reluctant to include their fans in other parts of their life because most of their fans don’t understand that they deserve privacy.

While this isn’t close to the same level as the others, fans refusing to hold the favorite celebrities accountable is a big issue in stan culture. A lot of fans in the stan community can be too harsh on a celebrity, especially when they’re doing something that doesn’t benefit their fanbase or something that their fans don’t like. However, many fans don’t like to hold them accountable at all. Teen Vogue writer, Stich, brings up a good example of this. Nicki Minaj and her fanbase, The Barbz. The Barbz are incredibly infamous in the stan community for blindly supporting everything Nicki Minaj does, however, this situation was much more serious. While Nicki Minaj has been under fire for her stance on vaccines and other situations, she has recently been gathering attention for harassing and trying to silence her husband’s assault victim, Jennifer Hough. After fans found out Jennifer Hough spoke out about Nicki Minaj and her husband threatening and harassing her, they quickly began to verbally attack her in support of Nicki. Usually, fans do this to protect and save their favorite’s image, not realizing it does more harm than good, especially in a situation as serious as this. And Nicki Minaj and the Barbz are a clear example of this. Not many other people were in support of Nicki Minaj after this, her reputation began to decline even more after seeing the Barbz unwavering support for her coming after an assault victim.

Blindly supporting everything a celebrity does ties into another thing that’s completely normalized in stan culture and that’s celebrity worshipping. Like stans themselves, celebrity worshipping has been around for a while, but has become more apparent due to the rise of social media. Social media and stan culture together have raised celebrity worship to new heights. While before social media, many people relied on the slim chance of meeting their favorite celebrity in person, the popularization of social media has allowed fans to interact and connect with celebrities any chance they get. Leading to fans addictively checking in on their favorite celebrities, that can be seen to some as unhealthy expectations or behavior. A source from USA Today states, “Stan Culture has a different intensity when celebrities can be virtually accessed any time of day, and any day of the year.” comparing the celebrity worship from today, to celebrity worship years ago. Adding how even though fans back then would send letters or messages the communication was one-sided, but now celebrities are more accessible to the average fan.

The constant bullying and harassment from fans are some of the most common issues throughout any stan community. The harassment is mainly towards anyone who has the slightest bit of criticism towards their favorite celebrity, usually towards journalists, other celebrities, and even other fans. Stans quickly become mob-like when they see their favorite celebrity being criticized, even when the criticism is deserved. An example being, Barbz again, this time coming for journalist Joy Reid for criticizing her take on vaccines. Teen Vogue quotes a music critic who explains why this could be scary for anyone to experience, considering she has one of the biggest, ruthless fanbases worldwide. While her fans are notorious for this, Nicki Minaj isn’t the only celebrity who has viciously come after people who’ve criticized their favorite celebrity. After releasing her Folklore album, Taylor Swift fans were quick to attack a music critic after reviewing the album, going as far as doxing them afterwards. Years ago, Roslyn Talusan, a blogger who called out Ariana Grande for her tweets about bloggers and writers, was aggressively harassed with racist comments, death threats, and was even doxed by Ariana’s fans (Krishnan). Having your addressed leaked by celebrities with big fanbases can be a scary experience, especially when some celebrities can’t do anything about it without being retaliated against by their own fans.

There’s a way stans can have a community where they can interact and communicate with a celebrity. Additionally, there are better ways to show appreciation for celebrities for giving fans entertainment. The way many fans go about it in stan communities are not healthy and can sometimes be a bit dangerous. Their toxic behavior is not only off-putting to the people outside of their community, but also to the celebrities they’ve built the community for.

Benyamin, Chaya. “Should Celebrities Expect Privacy?” The Perspective, 2021, https://www.theperspective.com/debates/entertainment/celebrities-expect-privacy/

Engel, Margaret. “Confessions of A Former Twitter Stan.” Her Campus, 20 January 2020, https://www.hercampus.com/school/hofstra/confessions-former-twitter-stan/

Krishnan, Manisha. “This Writer Challenged Ariana Grande. Then Her Stans Attacked.” Vice, Vice Media Group, 29 April 2019, https://www.vice.com/en/article/3k3bdy/this-writer-challenged-ariana-grande-then-her-stans-attacked

Nelson, Maya. “The dark side of stan culture.” The Stanford Daily, The Stanford Daily
Publishing Corporation, 23 August 2021, https://www.stanforddaily.com/2021/08/23/the-dark-side-of-stan-culture/

Oliver, David. “’Stan’ culture needs to stop – or at least radically change. Here’s why.” USA Today, 7 September 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2021/09/07/stan-culture-fans-need-reconsider-how-they-worship-celebrities/5666108001/

Stern, Sophia. “Stan culture helps foster friendships.” The Oracle, 5 March 2020, https://gunnoracle.com/18934/centerfold/stan-culture-helps-foster-friendships/

Stitch. “On Nicki Minaj, Barbz, and When Stans Prepare for Battle.” Teen Vogue, Condé Nast,
12 May 2021, https://www.teenvogue.com/story/on-nicki-minaj-the-barbz-when-stans-prepare-for-battle-stitch-fan-service#intcid=_teen-vogue-bottom-recirc_cbf2406b-8a9e-4877-8468-9e8d83bc0438_text2vec1

Windley, Alexzandria. “Stan Culture Creates Toxic Consumption Trends.” The Reporter,
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Zaidi, Fatima. “Stan Culture is a New Way to Obsess.” The DePaulia, 8 March 2020, https://depauliaonline.com/47112/opinions/opinion-stan-culture-is-a-new-way-to-obsess/