America Loves to “Stan” — And That’s a Very Big Problem
We've gone from being fans of celebrities and politicians to creepily obsessing over them
Stans are everywhere these days. I don’t mean people whose birth certificates say Stanley, I mean “stans”: people who are obsessive fans of celebrities, athletes or other cultural figures. Stan is both a noun (“I can’t deal with these Ariana Grande stans”) and a verb (“I stan Daenerys Targaryen for the Iron Throne!”). One can hardly go online today without hearing about stans, stanning and stan culture. Indeed, the term is so popular that Merriam-Webster just officially added “stan” to the dictionary.
Where do all these stans come from? The origin of the now ubiquitous term is an Enimem song from all the way back in 2000 — practically eons ago in internet culture. Eminem’s “Stan” (featuring the English singer Dido) is a narrative rap song about an obsessed Eminem fan whose increasingly creepy behavior leads to him killing himself and his pregnant girlfriend after Eminem doesn’t answer his fan letters. Not exactly an aspirational figure! In the earliest uses, “Stan” was an insult. In 2001, the rapper Nas released the infamous diss track “Ether” that called Jay-Z “a fan, a phony, a fake, a pussy, a Stan.”
Still, it took awhile for the term to become commonplace. An investigation by The Outline found that there wasn’t even an Urban Dictionary entry until 2008. And somewhere along the way “stanning” became as much a badge of honor as an insult. Merriam-Webster defines “stan” neutrally, as “an extremely or excessively enthusiastic and devoted fan.” Merriam-Webster notes that the term is “often disparaging,” but the term is frequently self-applied. People will proudly declare themselves stans of musicians, athletes, food, or really anything at all. A few days ago the popular Astro Poets Twitter account tweeted: “Earth? We stan.”
In 2019, our culture celebrates stanning. Fandoms give themselves cheeky names — Beyonce stans are the “BeyHive” while Lady Gaga has her army of “Little Monsters” — and proudly ride or die for their favorites. Fan bases have existed forever‚ from Beatlemania to Deadheads, but fan culture is different than stan culture. Beatles fans didn’t try to destroy the careers of the Beach Boys or tell Bob Dylan to kill himself. Yet the social-media age has made it much easier for fans to not just get together and share their enjoyment. It’s allowed them to coordinate attacks.
What separates “stans” from simple “fans” seems to be their willingness to not just praise their favorites, but to try and undermine any supposed rivals. When Lady Gaga’s movie A Star Is Born hit theaters, Lady Gaga stans declared war on the movie Venom and flooded online sites with negative reviews of the movie for the sin of opening at the same time. Stan attacks aren’t limited to corporate film franchises, though. When pop star Ariana Grande broke up with SNL’s Pete Davidson, her stans urged him to commit suicide. Musicians like Grande and Cardi B have recently publicly begged fans to stop attacking their exes. “The whole coming at my baby father bullshit, that doesn’t make me feel any better,” Cardi B said when fans attacked the rapper Offset after he interrupted her set to try and win her back.
The greater problem is that stan culture has spilled over into every aspect of life. One no longer simply prefer a politician’s policy proposals, one is a “Bernie Bro” or a “Liz Lad” or a “Trumper.” One doesn’t simply enjoy a movie character; one stans Loki or Black Widow or Iron Man and will insult the director’s creators or vow to quit watching if the character dies. Apple stans insult people with PCs and YA literature stans fill Goodreads with one-star reviews of books they haven’t read. (This year has already seen multiple YA authors cancel their debut books after pre-publication backlash.) Sometimes stans don’t even seem to be fans at all. Some angry (and mostly white and male) Star Wars fans were so upset about The Last Jedi that they launched campaigns against it and harassed actress Kelly Marie Tran off Instragram with racist slurs.
The anonymity of social media has combined with the consumerist and celebrity-obsessed culture to create a toxic mess in which being obsessive, creepy, and even violent behavior is rewarded. In this way, stans really do resemble the Stan of Eminem’s song.
Celebrating the things you love is healthy thing; telling strangers to commit suicide for liking something else is not. Advocating for political policies that you agree with is a vital part of democracy; judging politicians like they’re pop stars can be disastrous. Recommending movies and books you love is a great way to help authors and filmmakers; leaving negative reviews of movies and books you haven’t seen or read to lower their rankings is toxic.
In 2019, it would be good for all of us to try to stan less and be a fan more.