Standoffish: The Media’s Relationship With Stan Culture
Unintentionally prophesied in the early 2000s by the likes of American rapper Eminem in his song “Stan,” stan culture and its growing prolificacy have become immensely widespread in recent years, enough so that Beyoncé’s dedicated fanbase, the Beyhive, were parodied on Saturday Night Live in 2014 and the term “stan” was entered into the lexicon of the Oxford English Dictionary earlier this year.
Despite the subculture’s prevalence online and in burgeoning youth cultures that cannot separate themselves from the internet’s omnipresence, most news media is lacking in its coverage of stan culture, and what limited coverage there is pertaining to it can be disparaging, with articles often noting the extreme extents to which some stans express their devotion to a celebrity they idolize.
The severity of sensationalism pertaining to stans this year alone has ranged from the harmless reporting of stans, sometimes deemed as superfans, waiting hours in line for a Lady Gaga concert in Miami to a celebrity gossip blog reporting on Taylor Swift’s legion of stans, dubbed Swifties, commenting rat and mouse emojis on Kim Kardashian’s Instagram posts to an article reporting on the aggressive nature some stans direct towards their own idols on Twitter.
Nolan Feeney, a music editor for Entertainment Weekly, reported on stans for the entertainment magazine, going so far as to interact with some on the social media platform, Twitter, and the online pop culture forum and stan mecca, ATRL. “I think a lot of articles about stans have been very sensational and focused on how they’re ‘crazy’ or ‘rabid,’” he said, “But I just knew there was more to it than that.”
The coverage of stans is made even worse by how the current definition of the term “stan” has been propagated by the Oxford English Dictionary as “[a]n overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity.”
Such an interpretation of stans and their prevailing culture in the contemporary world seems to bear some form of negative connotation with being a stan; as if to be a stan is to be Eminem’s “Stan,” i.e. someone who repeatedly and violently strives for acknowledgement from their favorite celebrity to a point where the obsessed fan would harm themselves or others for the attention of a celebrity.
Among those who consider themselves stans of a celebrity, there is a sense of a different perspective within stan communities of what it means to be a stan. Anthony Davis, 20, has been stanning Nicki Minaj since sixth grade, and finds the media’s portrayal of stans to be exaggerated yet sees truth in the culture’s obsessive tendencies.
“I feel like a stan is just engrossed in who they [celebrities] are as a person and everything,” Davis says as he scrolls through a seemingly endless Twitter feed on his phone teeming with images of and tweets in reference to the Queens rapper he devoutly follows.
Krista Burton, 20, is a Swiftie who has a different reasoning for what comprises a stan while also distinguishing her feelings as a stan from that of a fan.
“You can be a fan of a specific artist and not really place an emotional development in them,” she says. “But since Taylor Swift has been a huge part of my life and present throughout the journey, I don’t think the word ‘fan’ is strong enough to decide how I feel.”
However, Burton does recognize that there is a detrimental aspect to stans in this subculture of what some may regard as extreme fanaticism. “I think for a lot of people it can be really unhealthy,” she says. “I know Swifties who are always on their phone watching Taylor’s movements.”
“Like, they know when she’s online and they just start reposting their content to get noticed,” Burton continues. “It really gets unhealthy, obsessive, and stalker-ish.”
Regardless of Davis or Burton’s perceptions on what a stan is, it is certain that articles on the topic of stan culture are very few this year despite “stan” entering into the vernaculars of numerous teens and young adults, as well as of Nicki Minaj in her verse on Katy Perry’s song “Swish Swish” and of news outlets like Buzzfeed that tend to market themselves towards younger segments of the population.
A quick search of the term “stan” on Buzzfeed’s website yields more than 40 articles and listicles that relate to the word in some manner. A decent portion of these search results are in reference to comic book writer Stan Lee and actor Sebastian Stan.
Interestingly, however, the website seems to have overhauled its use of the word “stan” in over 25 pieces within the past two months alone. Of these pieces related to the term “stan” in Buzzfeed’s search results, only a few analyze the impact and psychology of the stan, with one analysis focusing on the media’s negative spin of fan and stan culture in pop music throughout time. The rest mostly use the term “stan” as if it were any other verb akin to “love” or “admire,” which provides a positive spin for a currently underrepresented and misrepresented culture in the news.
As much as Buzzfeed has begun overdosing much of its content with themes related to stan culture, even going so far as to have an entire week dedicated to stans this year, it seems to be the only non-specialized news outlet bringing it any form of considerable press coverage.
However, what content Buzzfeed does publish in relation to stans may not be enough to spur a movement like the fervor of groupies in the 60s, but it is comparatively more in quantity and, in some regard, quality; that is, if those other outlets are even publishing anything at all concerning an ever present subculture that has become less underground and more airborne nowadays thanks to the prevalence of the internet and social media making stanning more accessible to those with a Wi-Fi, broadband, or cellular connection.
What little media coverage stans do receive, Davis does not believe it is generally positive. “I think that the media portrayal is kind of skewed negatively, but I’m not sure if it’s always intentional,” he says. “The things that are worth talking about sometimes are the things other people outside of stan culture notice or when it gets extreme.”
Feeney believes the size of stan culture partially contributes its misrepresentation. “Part of [it] is just that stan culture is so big,” he says. “There are all kinds of stans and all kinds of stan communities and all sorts of ways to be a stan.”
Thomas Fortune, 21, stans multi-platinum solo artist, Beyoncé, and agrees that the media seems to represent the most extreme stans that “drag” and “come for” people mostly on the web. “It’s this unfiltered kind of anger and a celebrity as an excuse to come for people slash [sic] insult people,” says Fortune in his formal explanation of the two stan jargons mentioned.
Apart from the sensationalism of stan culture through the reporting on its most extreme proponents, the media representation of stan culture could be the result of a lack of journalists like Feeney who are well versed in contemporary pop and internet culture, or of a lack of being online where stan culture abounds in its natural habitats of social media comment sections and message boards on pop culture forums.
To improve on both the negative and lack of coverage of stan culture, Feeney suggests improving upon the coverage of pop music, which he believes is integral to stan culture considering how musicians tend to have greater and more represented stans in the media.
“I think you can’t really have serious, legit reporting and criticism about stan culture until after you have serious, legit reporting and criticism about pop music,” he says. “So I think as that trend continues or that type of pop coverage becomes more commonplace, coverage about stan culture will grow, too.”
Burton believes stan culture shares a direct relationship with the internet, and that it may receive better reception once both it and internet access mature. “I think stan culture is just beginning,” she says. “The more connected the world gets, the more intense stan culture will get.”
Whatever the trend may be for the coverage of stans, there are signs that it truly is in its beginning stages as Burton suggests, and that it is starting to receive fairer and wider coverage. Just this year, The New York Times culture reporter, Joe Coscarelli, highlighted the relationship between Taylor Swift and her Swifties, and how their strong relationship has emboldened Swifties to prevent leaks and preserve their matriarch’s good image.
Only time will tell whether the media reception of stans improves. All that is known is that these digital upgrades of now outdated groupies will continue subsisting off of Wi-Fi connections to feed their borderline obsessions of the idols they cherish. The internet is their sandbox and social media their pails and buckets which are rapidly forging virtual communities and societies that may soon rival those of the real world.