“Heroes in fact die with one’s youth. They are pinned like butterflies to the setting board of early memories—the time when skies were always blue, the sun shone and the air was filled with the sounds and scents of grass being cut. I find myself still as desperate to read the Sussex score in the stop-press as ever I was; but I no longer worship heroes, beings for whom the ordinary scales of human values are inadequate. One learns that as one grows up, so do the gods grow down. It is in many ways a pity: for one had thought that heroes had no problems of their own. Now one knows different!”
– Alan Ross
The word “Stan” was derived from an Eminem song about a crazed fan. This has come to represent celebrity worship bordering on idolisation.
Stan culture is modern-day hero worship. Celebrity adulation is at its peak because of the unlimited access the internet gives to otherwise inaccessible people. There are entire fanbases and people whose personalities largely revolve around famous people they’ve come to love – sometimes to the point of obsession.
Robert Thompson, the founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at the Newhouse School of Public Communications Syracuse University describes the word “Stan” as an amalgamation of “stalker” and “fan.”
The fanbases built around certain celebrities are violent, racist, homophobic or aggressively misogynistic even where their central celeb does not espouse those views (worse still where they do). Stans have doxxed people for airing a dissenting opinion about their fave and bullied people into deleting their social media accounts for sharing valid criticism.
Stan culture breeds a sense of entitlement, obsession and unhealthy attachments to celebrities which fuel toxic behaviour. Celebrities like Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift have had to deal with crazed fans turned aggressive stalkers.
This behaviour born of the internet age is detrimental to both stans and celebrities alike.
This trend poses a threat to content creators and celebrities, as fans may cross boundaries as a result of these superficial connections. These relationships often lead to a sense of entitlement felt among fans, leading to an intense backlash against creators when certain expectations aren’t met. Some Stans feel entitled to details surrounding their fave’s personal lives, some going as far as stalking and hacking to obtain them.
There are communities online where stans discuss the object of their affection and attack other celebrities and their fanbases. Sometimes, their entire online presence revolves around the celebrity they stan.
Stan culture is also vehemently opposed to accountability. Celebrities are human and so, fallible. When people do wrong (especially people with a large platform and power), it is our duty as people to acknowledge said wrong and demand better from them. However, it is sometimes impossible to call celebrities out when they mess up because of their horde of loyalists who think the celeb can do no wrong. Criticism is met with coordinated attacks that silence dissenting voices.
When these celebrities inevitably do wrong as humans do, their fans help them shirk accountability by coming together to bully people who call them out into silence. People constantly go against their values when their favourite celebrity does something inconsistent with them. For example, excusing rape or misogynistic song lyrics because the celeb they stan has aligned with these things.
Some fanbases are known for being violent and aggressive and some celebrities have attained god-like status because of their formidable fanbase.
It is the responsibility of the celebrities to shut the idolisation down and address the toxicity within their fanbase as early as possible rather than revelling in their cult following. Stans also need to realise that celebrities are human beings like themselves and not otherworldly entities deserving of unchecked adoration.