The term ‘stan’ is relatively new, with the word being added to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary in 2019, according to an article by Rolling Stone. It is defined as a dedicated fan who is extremely enthusiastic and devoted. This can include fans of artists, actors, influencers, films, television series or fictional characters. The term originated from Eminem’s 2000 single, Stan featuring Dido, The song tells the story of a crazed fan who sends Eminem letters, which over time gets angrier in tone after not receiving a response from him. You do not have to be a detective to identify a stan. This is espec‘Stan’ featuring really easy on social media, where you can come across stan accounts: Social media profiles entirely dedicated to someone or something, Profiles like these share content like photo and video edits, fan art or tributes. They can also show their support by purchasing merchandise, memorabilia or goods endorsed by artists.
These overzealous admirers can have a positive or negative effect on their favourite artists. One way that stans use their power in numbers to benefit the artist is by organising campaigns, streaming parties and trending hashtags to raise awareness on their projects. One example of this happening is the ‘Stan Loona’ campaign, orchestrated by fans of the South Korean girl group ‘Loona.’ The phrase ‘stan Loona’ was used commonly by fans in Twitter posts and replies and gained popularity. It helped get the group’s name out there as they had just debuted at the time. However, social media users who are not interested in K-pop or Loona may have seen this campaign as annoying and as a result, piling up to Loona’s notoriety for having obsessive fans. Another way these stans take advantage of their numbers to do good is by donating or helping out with social and environmental causes that are close to their favourite artist’s heart. Unfortunately, there are toxic stans who choose to show their support maliciously through means such as sending hateful messages or even death threats to anyone who criticises their favourite artist. Even within a specific fandom, toxic fan behaviour exists. One common way in which we see this taking place is with gatekeeping where people who have been fans of something for a long time alienate newer fans just so they can say things like “I was a fan before they got big” or “You’ll never know what it was like when they did that the first time”.
In April 2021, a man attempted to break into Taylor Swift’s Manhattan apartment, as reported by BBC News. This was a recent example amidst multiple incidents in which Swift had to take legal action against stalkers. There are several other examples in which stans go out of their way for someone or something they idolise. This obsession can lead to extreme behaviours that could be harmful to other people, celebrities and even toward the fan themselves. Psychologists describe this obsession as celebrity worship syndrome. Psychology Today describes it as an obsessive-addictive disorder in which someone becomes overly absorbed and obsessed with a public figure’s personal life. At this point, it goes beyond simply supporting a celebrity. The celebrity is now at the centre of the stan’s life.
In a study conducted in 2003 by Lynn McCutcheon, John Maltby and Houran James in which the term celebrity worship syndrome was first coined, they identified three attitudes concerning celebrities. The first is Entertainment-Social, where keeping up with celebrities with friends is entertaining. Secondly, Intense-Personal, where fans may have more intense obsessive feelings towards a celebrity. The last attitude is Borderline-Pathological, in which individuals take it to great extremes by having intense fantasies and impulsive behaviour. According to Psychminds, this obsession can stem from a barrage of messages the mass media conveying unattainable images as well as expectations. When we see these public figures and their lifestyles, the messages ingrained in us by the media result in us looking up to these people who own something we cannot have. One more thing that plays a factor in certain stans reaching dangerous extremes of obsession is the environment they were brought up in. If they were not brought up with any positive role models, these celebrities or characters can take that place as positive role models in the lives of these stans.
There is nothing wrong with showing support to your favourite artists, and neither is to be passionate about. It is just important to be aware of the line between loving something and being obsessed with something. Obsession can lead to unhealthy behaviours and expectations which may harm these stans who go too far. When showing your support for a celebrity, a movie, a show or a fictional character, be careful to make sure that your admiration for these people or things do not assume control of your life.
By Daniel Leo