Celebrity “stan culture” must be pushed aside, handled with more discernment

By Piper Sartison

Elm Staff Writer

Throughout recent years, “stan culture” and celebrity idolization has been exponentially rising on social media.

According to NPR, the term “stan” was “first coined in 2000 when Eminem dropped a twisted allegory in a song called ‘Stan,’ about a man who was pushed to the edge when his idol wouldn’t answer his fan mail. The word used to be synonymous with overzealous or obsessed. But nearly 20 years later, it’s become a badge of honor for fans committed enough to show up and go all out for their favorite star on the Internet.”

Fans have become obsessive, idolizing the every move of public figures and turning to online platforms such as Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram to rant and rave about their favorite influencers, actors, and artists. One can argue that stan culture may seem harmless on the surface, but we should still question the impact and effect of these online obsessions.

A harmful component of stan culture is doxxing, an immoral action in which people online will release private information such as the addresses of individuals. According to Essence, “these types of connections that can lead to extreme outcomes of online harassment and doxxing are called parasocial relationships. Parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships that admiring fans have with public figures.”

Fans absorbed in stan culture will often go to great lengths to form connections with their idols. According to USA Today, Shana Redmond, a Professor at Columbia University, states that “it’s important to not hold celebrities to impossible standards because these are fallible humans with inevitable flaws and shortcomings, just like the rest of us…What we see on social media is a small slice of who they are — we can’t substitute that glamour for the whole.”

Today’s examples of this phenomenon include fan bases for celebrities like Taylor Swift,  Nicki Minaj, and BTS, all of whom have amassed significant and die-hard followers willing to go to great lengths to support and stand by their artist of choosing. According to Vulture, fans of Swift have directed death threats to music executives, critics, and ex boyfriends. Minaj’s loyal supporters have not only leaked addresses, but have followed Minaj’s suggestion to “beat” a commentator for criticizing her lyrics. BTS’s “army” have tracked down workplaces to have those who disrespect the group fired.

Parasocial relationships created by online fans can be harmful. According to Lour Drick Valsote for The Stanford Daily, “you have these people who are usually younger and more impressionable developing parasocial relationships with content creators — it isn’t healthy.”

Online fans contributing to stan culture form serious attachments to celebrities. They create false images of their persona and will become emotionally dependent on the figure. Additionally, they will strive to uncover private information on the figure, determined to know every single detail about them. Creating an intimate friendship with someone who does not know you should not be normalized or considered healthy, especially if the fan or the celebrity is younger.

“Many relationships with content creators fill a void left by a lack of in-person interaction.” Valsote said.

According to The Stanford Daily, influencer Stephanie Yeboah stated, “I’ve had people I have never spoken to send me voice messages out of the blue asking me why I haven’t responded to their latest messages…I’ve also had people ask for details on people I have shown on my platform, such as friends or family.” There have been cases in which fans have grown furious over their idols not recognizing them. Ultimately, this mentality is a factor of stalking.

During the pandemic, stan culture grew immensely, as the lack of in-person interaction and events led fans to be absorbed in their screens, obsessing over their idols. One can argue that the level of online obsession has decreased since the restrictions have been lifted. However, stan culture is still very much alive. Social media has contributed immensely to the culture, as fans are given many tools to enhance their obsessions. Overall, these online environments are toxic and concerning, as parasocial relationships can be harmful and detrimental, especially to young children.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo caption: Social media plays an immense role in the persistence of “stan culture” mentalities.

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