By Snehal Shinh
The term “stan” is used widely, seen on every social media platform, and is familiar amongst a large majority of people. When it comes to the origins of the term, many believe that the term is a combination of “fan” and “stalker”; however, the term originates from Eminem’s song “Stan” which was released in 2000. The song features a twisted allegory about a man who was driven to the edge when his idol ignored his fan mail. The term was, and to some people still is, a substitute for an overzealous or obsessed fan. Now twenty years later, the term “stan” is seen as a badge of honor to those who are committed or just another word for fans to express how much they enjoy the content of their idol. With the label’s definition facing a period of transition, from obsessive to simply dedicated, the perception of stan culture isn’t so clear cut.
Most celebrities seem to encourage stan culture or behavior, giving titles for their fans to refer to themselves as. For example, Lady Gaga refers to her fan base as her “Little Monsters” and Nicki Minaj has the “Barbz”. With enough motivations, fans have a great influence on the growth of a creator’s career, especially through social media, and have the power of a majority to hinder those that disagree with their views. This power dynamic has creators catering to their audience, tailoring their delivery for fans and who gets to hear it.
However, there is a much more dark, toxic side to stan culture. Stan culture has been a part of history since the Roman reign, people used to collect gladiator’s sweat purely out of admiration. During the Victorian era, fans of author Arthur Conan Doyle forced him to revive fan favorite, Sherlock Holmes. On the more extreme side, a superfan of the Beatles plotted the murder of John Lennon. This isn’t exclusive to the west. In Korea, this type of idolization is prevalent within the K-pop industry. Many fans obsess over their idols to the point of stalking, privately taking photos, wiretapping their phones, and even breaking into their homes.
Another issue with stan culture, is the generalization of stans. Social media is the biggest outlet for stans to express their love for creators, yet they may end up facing backlash. This is due to the one percent, the few, stans that cross boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. It’s this same amount of stans that create a bad image for all by hate comments or direct messages towards people that don’t enjoy their idol as much or speak negatively of them. With the old definition clashing with the new, misunderstandings and confusion on the term is common. The old definition ends up supported by the actions of the small amount of toxic fans, and so many approach stan culture in this negative light.
Despite the term’s origins, stan culture isn’t as toxic as it is perceived to be. More often than not, stans of celebrities or content creators use that label as a way to express their abundant joy for the content while being able to make friends that enjoy the creator just as much. Stan culture is beneficial in giving fans a safe place to create meaningful friendships and be able to talk endlessly, and openly, about their idols; it allows for people to feel accepted. And for the most part, many stans understand the boundaries they cannot cross in regards to a creator and their personal life.
Stan culture still has hope for a less toxic association. The definition of a stan is beginning to shift and it’s important to not hold the one percent responsible for the entirety of stan behaviors. In its simplicity, a stan is merely someone that wishes to create friendships with those that will accept them and enjoys their idols just as much.