Social Media Editor Nikita Dahiya on the toxicity of stan culture.
The internet world as we know it is one abundant in a lot of things, be it instant fame, instant wealth, or instant “cancellation”. One thing internet discourse does tend to lack in, however, is nuance – particularly when it comes to one’s favourite celebrities. The rise and fall of celebrities is quick and unpredictable and quite often the only thing that can save them from being banished to the deep, dark depths of “cancellation” is fan favour.
Despite popular belief, the emergence of fandoms has little to do with global connectivity. Celebrities have always had large masses of fans clamouring for them, appraising their every move, passing judgements on all choices they make. The only difference the internet has made – and admittedly, a significant one at that – is the intensity of fan accruement and the subsequent celebrity worship that is garnered.
Perhaps it’s the Latin etymology of the word “fan” (fanaticus) that best describes the present-day fan culture as “insanely but divinely inspired”, referring to the idolatry status awarded to these celebrities. It’s this pedestalisation of (and overfamiliarity with) celebrities that originally gave rise to Eminem’s 2000 hit, Stan – a moniker which worryingly enough has now been adopted by millions of young fans on the internet. Now, granted, not every fan is an individual willing to drive into a river with their pregnant girlfriend in the trunk of their car, but the anonymity of the internet does offer them a certain leeway when they bully, or even go as far as to issue death threats, to any critiques of their idols.
Sure, there are a few light-hearted incidents instigated by these stans, the mass-buying of tickets for a Trump rally by K-pop stans and TikTok-ers comes to mind – but what also comes to mind is the unabashed hate comments meted out to any critics of their (worryingly named) “idols”. This toxic adulation isn’t limited only to K-pop stans, however. Instead, it stretches out to occupy a small section within every single fandom.
But what does this unquestioning, idolising obsession stem from?
Preceding the rise of influencer culture, traditional celebrities would generally be viewed upon as “unattainable” and “untouchable”. Any interaction with them via movie or television screens was the most intimacy one could get with them. Innovations in technology, however, have completely changed the game.
With celebrities now being much more accessible to fans through social media, particularly the younger generations, the aura of mystery shrouding them has thinned to a relative degree. Instead of being viewed as unreachable entities, they are now regarded with a much greater level of intimacy, almost like peers or friends. This is heightened even further when we turn to social media influencers – young adults who have shot to fame in the matter of a few months (or a global pandemic).
With celebrities and influencers just a click away, replying to their fans’ tweets, posts, or DMs, there is a sense of faux intimacy nurtured between them and their followers. These fans often give in to the illusion of these “relatable” celebrities, viewing themselves in their idols and defending their actions to other people, regardless of whether those actions align with their personal morals.
This takes a worrying turn when we take a look at how far certain ‘stans’ are willing to go to protect the (media-manufactured) image of their “fave”. Would it be too much of a stretch to imagine that large groups within fandoms often tend to overlook problematic actions (and sometimes, crimes) committed by their idols? I think not, especially since we have seen this very behaviour, time and again, when fans rush to save their favourite celebrities from “cancellation”.
My intention is not to discourage anyone from being a fan of a celebrity – that is not the aim of this piece. My sole reason for writing this is to look at why certain fans (/stans) feel so attached to a commodified image of someone famous because that is what you really see – a media-manufactured image designed to be liked by the masses. The truth remains that while celebrities (and influencers) might choose to share certain areas of their lives with their followers, this does not grant anyone an all-access pass to their life. And most importantly, it does not make you their friend.
Remember, they are the performers and we are the audience. They choose what they put up on the screen – that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to it.