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Stop Stanning Stans

STAN a portmanteau of the words “Stalker” and “fan” refers to someone who is overly obsessed with a celebrity. It’s based on the central character in the Eminem song of the same name, “STAN” of his award-winning album The Marshall Mathers LP. Pretty straightforward, right?

The song, about an obsessive fan named Stan who kills his pregnant girlfriend and then himself after Eminem refuses to answer his letters, topped the charts in Australia and the UK; it didn’t do too badly in the U.S., either. It has been called one of Eminem’s best songs and is considered one of his signature songs. It is one of Eminem’s most critically acclaimed songs and has been called a “cultural milestone”.

Soon after the song’s success, “Stan” began being used to describe people who go above and beyond the average loyalty of a fan. I think my favourite online definition this far is, “Basically it describes someone who is all up on their favourite artist’s business, and can’t take criticism or the slightest negative about said artist.”

I mean, it’s okay to admire someone’s work and be their fan, but it’s not okay to dedicate your entire lives into running fan accounts of that person and worrying about them 24/7. That’s not normal. To summarise, their entire personality is comprised of just really liking an artist.

But what unites these Stans is a similarity in their methods for responding to criticism, in their uncomplicated adoration for their Idol(s) in question, and an acute understanding of their own power. That latter fact is also what sets them apart from prior teenage subcultures. There have been pre-adolescent and adolescent fans of pop culture for as long as there has been pop culture. The Beatles had their own stans; so did Jimi Hendrix.

But, historically, such groups have been scattered and often too far away to reach each other. To connect with other Paul McCartney obsessives (because the word Stan hadn’t been invented so far) in the 1960s required sending a self-stamped envelope to an address you found in the back of a music magazine, and joining an expensive fan group.

The Internet completely changed all that. These days, not only can these stans meet and talk, they can also organise. And more than that, they can see the immediate, real-world reaction to their organisation. Which in a way, is INTOXICATING, with many Stan cultures being intoxicated by it.

Stans are obsessed(and this is an understatement) with their own ability to get songs onto charts, by flooding competitions that rely on a popular vote and, when necessary, to ruin the lives of literally anyone who writes a single wrong word about their idols. Dismissing any group that you disagree with as a “mob” has become a bit cliché these days, since it is a lazy argumentation tactic designed to denigrate your intellectual enemies.

But STANS are self-referentially mob-like. They adore their own ability to massively change the culture around them in their own favour. Narcissistic much?

Too frequently we have observed that stans have perpetuated the worst of cancel culture. They have made systemic issues into personal ones, attempted to solve complex problems by bullying individuals off Twitter, and tried to ruin people’s lives. They rarely demonstrate any understanding of forgiveness or personal transformation. They have been thin-skinned by shouting down anyone who has tried to attack their idols, and have more than often spread rumours and falsehoods.

In order to make real change to the toxic nature of stan culture, we should all try harder, Stans, artists, the media and the onlookers. We should praise them when they do make important systemic changes: When they donate money, and when they boost useful information. That’s a trend towards the positive that needs to be acknowledged.

So too must we acknowledge that in the past, the behaviour of stans has been cruel, destructive, and inconsistently applied. It’s also the responsibility of the artists themselves to direct the behaviour of their fans too. Actors, Musicians and All Stan-Worthy Famous Personalities need to be aware of the massive power that they wield, and to model positive behaviour amongst their fanbases.

That means being nuanced in how they talk about journalists (or any person who poses a question to them) and how they take criticism. And it means, wherever possible, rewarding good behaviour and decrying bad. Only then can real change take place.