Life&Style’s Rosie Finneran-Elms discusses ‘stan culture’ and the problems associated with it
With the rise of social media, a generation of young people are growing up with a constant window into their favourite celebrity’s life. Finding a community of people who are just as enthusiastic about a particular star as you is as easy as clicking a hashtag or searching up the celebrity’s name. Equally, as popular social platforms such as Instagram and Twitter enable 24/7 instantaneous content straight into the hands of their fanbases, celebrities are closer to their fans than ever before. As the digital world continues to develop at a fast pace the question is, is this type of one-sided online relationship in any way dangerous?
It is clear that being part of a fan community offers a host of benefits, many of these appealing especially to a younger audience. A sense of identity, a place to express opinions and a community of others who share your interests, to name a few. However, within these groups of self-professed super fans and pages devoted to daily celebrity content, an arguably dangerous subculture of what are known as ‘stans’ has emerged.
The term ‘stan’ originates from the title of a 2000 Eminem music video depicting the extreme actions taken by one of his fans who was dissatisfied with the artist not replying to his fan mail. A combination of ‘stalker’ and ‘fan,’ the well-established term ‘stan’ refers to an overzealous fan who dedicates a large part of their life and online activity around their favourite celebrity. These people often cluster together to form online communities, or ‘standoms,’ typically adopting names relating to their idols. Some of the largest ones include the ‘BTS army’ and ‘Beyhive,’ as well as the ‘Swifties’ and ‘Arianators.’
One of the biggest problems within these communities is the normalisation of cyber-bullying and targeted harassment. This often takes the shape of aggressive rivalry between ‘standoms,’ or direct harassment of anyone who criticises them. This is demonstrated most strongly amidst celebrity feuds such as that between Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, where fans are always quick to hurl aggressive insults to each other in defence of either woman.
It almost seems expected that once you commit to the so-called ‘stan lifestyle,’ you sign away your right to hold an objective, pragmatic viewpoint of your idol and their actions. It is this elevation of celebrities onto such god-like pedestals which seems to allow social media users to justify abusive and cruel behaviour. Often veiled by anonymity and cushioned behind the security of a keyboard, they are unaware of the real harm they are causing.
A startling example of this, reported by the Independent, was the harsh treatment of comedian and ex-fiancé of Ariana Grande, Pete Davidson. After the two announced their breakup back in 2018, stans flooded Davidson’s social media with insults and threats to the point where Grande had to intervene and tell them to stop. This was not before Davidson published what appeared to be a suicide note to his Instagram account. Luckily he was found safe and alive, but the incident casted much-needed light onto the tangible consequences of stan culture and should serve as a warning to anyone overly caught up in it.
Breaches of privacy stemming from intrusive fan behaviour are also major concerns for celebrities. Whilst fame unavoidably comes with a level of exposure and reduction in privacy, nobody should have to be constantly worried about their own safety. There are various websites floating around the internet that claim to have the phone numbers and addresses of celebrities, and the accessibility of information via social media only further facilitates the act of celebrity stalking.
The problem with stan culture is that because followers dedicate so much time and energy to public figures, many believe that they deserve access to their personal information. This can be explained by the idea of ‘parasocial relationships,’ a term coined in 1956 by psychologists Donald Horton and R. Richard Wohl. Said relationships are defined by the psychological attachment one feels towards another person who is completely oblivious to their existence. It is not uncommon for fans to foster illusions of intimacy and friendship with the celebrity, despite usually never having met or even seen them in real life. It is therefore evident that the culture of ‘stanning’ is harmful on multiple levels as it fuels an unrealistic view of relationships in both the online and offline world.
Furthermore, in the days where virtual relationships did not exist, there was a clearer line between celebrities’ public and private lives. The advent of the internet has not only changed the way fans interact with their favourite celebrities, but has normalised a culture of cyber-bullying in the name of loyalty, ultimately blurring the former reasonably-established boundaries between regular people and public figures.
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