With the rise of social media, it’s becoming more and more common for teenagers to start looking up to celebrities rather than those around them. Social platforms allows us to not only become exposed to new people and their achievements, but also to directly communicate with our favourite actors and singers and get live updates. It’s certainly made the fan/celebrity relationship more personal, but is it always a good thing?
For the most part, probably. A lot of hardcore fans these days identify as ‘stans.’ The term comes from an Eminem song of the same name, about a boy who becomes so obsessed with the rapper that it leads to him committing illegal acts and eventually getting himself killed. Despite the origin, a stan isn’t necessarily an obsessive fan, nor one that crosses any lines. Generally, stan accounts are pretty healthy and know the boundaries of respecting someone’s privacy.
But, that doesn’t apply to everyone. A quick trip to stan Twitter will open a world of obsessive and unhealthy fans who dedicate their entire lives to a certain celebrity. It seems that it’s one thing to follow them and enthuse about them, but something else entirely to invade their privacy and go to great extremes in order to meet and interact with them.
One particular example that sticks out to me happened very recently. Ethan and Grayson Dolan, two social media superstars, ended up having to ask fans not to come to their father’s funeral. Immediately, you’d think that was just common sense - but as it turns out, a small group of fans were using the opportunity to meet the twins. They saw it as being supportive, clearly not realising the lines they were crossing. It makes you wonder if it was their dedication, perhaps bordering on obsession, that lead them to believe it was okay.
Another instance of crossing lines can be seen in the replies of some of the celebrities’ tweets. Buzzfeed actually had a series where actors read out ‘thirst tweets.’ Essentially, it was a two minute long video of them reading out jokingly sexual tweets. Obviously, most of them were for jokes and giggles but there were some that stuck out as plain creepy and you could see it in the actors’ responses. There’s a line between admiring someone’s jaw line and going into graphic details, E.L James style - in their tweet replies, no less.
There’s also competition between a lot of the fandoms/stans. Referring back to the Dolan twins situation, there was a small number of K-Pop stans who chose to make a joke of the situation and use their father’s death as a chance to criticise them. This is another example of how toxic it can be, not only for the fans at the centre of their mocking, but also for the celebrity or group that they stan. It can be an extremely damaging culture for both in question. It’s lead to several celebrities quitting social media.
There are also stans who dedicate their time and money to following (physically, not on Twitter) their celebrity around or tweeting their whereabouts. It’s one thing to tweet about seeing them at an airport but a whole other for them to get a hold of where they live. Brendon Urie from Panic! At The Disco was forced to sell his house and move when fans started turning up after discovering his address. The singer said he ‘didn’t feel safe in his own home’ and that he ‘had boundaries for a reason.’
So, while stan culture can be a chance to make friends and find common ground with others online, it can also prove to be an extremely toxic culture. It should be stressed that this does not mean all stans and fans. As aforementioned, a majority of them know their boundaries and the ethics of being a good fan.
The everyday stan culture is miles off of what Eminem described in his song nearly two decades ago, but it makes you wonder if social media is birthing a whole new breed of superfan. The new level of connection and intimacy with our so-called ‘faves’ can make it feel like we’re their friend, like we’re involved in their everyday life. This can be seen as a positive because as I said before, it makes things much more personal, but does it lead fans to thinking their entitled to something?
But, is it this new level of being personal that leads over the top stans to think their behaviour - gatecrashing personal family events and finding addresses - is okay?