Every few months, Merriam-Webster promotes a fresh batch of words and phrases to the dictionary. In April 2019 alone, more than 640 new words were added to our ever-growing collection of English words. Ranging from “buzzy” to “bioabsorbable,” these words are slowly shaping the culture we now live in.
One of these words added in April is particularly worth discussing. It is a unique word, used as both a noun and a verb, and it’s one that, today, more and more teens find themselves identifying as — stan.
Merriam-Webster defines “stan” as a noun as “an extremely or excessively enthusiastic and devoted fan,” while as a verb it’s used “to exhibit fandom to an extreme excessive degree.”
From the very definitions alone, the use of this word should raise some red flags. “Extreme” and “excessive” goes far beyond being a casual fan: it enters a dangerous territory bordering on obsession.
The Origins of Stan
Whether it be excessive fandom over the K-pop group BTS, the show “Game of Thrones”, or Justin Bieber, the majority of teens who consider themselves a stan are probably unaware of the term’s dark origin.
In 2000, the rapper Eminem released a harrowing single titled “Stan” featuring the singer Dido that reached number one in 12 different countries. The song is written from the perspective of a fan obsessed with Eminem named Stan who writes fan letters to the rapper that quickly spiral out of control eventually causing Stan to drive his car over a bridge.
The music video (which we don’t recommend anyone watching, in any circumstance) portrays the haunting situation dramatically, with a deranged Stan doing whatever it takes to imitate the rapper.
While it’s been almost two decades since Eminem introduced the term into pop culture, the dangerous repercussions of being a stan still remain.
The Creation of a Stan
The general concept of being a stan isn’t necessarily something new (remember “Beatlemania” in the ‘60’s?). Enthusiastic fans have been a standard for decades, but with the rise of the Internet and popularity of social media, a new level of access to celebrities has been born.
With Instagram and Twitter offering access to the lives of so many actors, actresses, athletes, and musicians, many of their young, impressionable fans may feel like they know these celebrities on a personal, intimate level. This is both unrealistic and one-sided. Social media allows a kind of regular “interaction” that cultivates followers to believe that fervently consuming every piece of content a celebrity posts — whether it be a new music video or the meal they ate for breakfast — will foster a close and personal relationship.
Today, teens are exerting a lot of time, energy, and feelings into people they do not know “in real life”, and while this concept may sound ridiculous, it is a reality. While all the 10-to-18-year-old fans who consider themselves a stan aren’t necessarily at the “bleach my hair and go on a murderous rampage out of my obsession with this person” level, that doesn’t mean there aren’t dangers involved with this sub-culture of fandom.
Celebrities make their living off of having a fierce and loyal fan base, so it’s only natural for “stans” to join forces in their shared obsession. While these so-called communities may have cutesy names like the “Arianators” for fans of the singer Ariana Grande and “Potterheads” for fanatics of the Harry Potter series, the underlying purposes and actions of these groups are cause for concern.
The culture surrounding being a stan is often one of toxicity — focused on targeted harassment or cyber-bullying, in an effort to prove themselves as the most loyal, diehard fan on the planet.
The best way to describe the majority of these groups is a swirling storm of bees who at the slightest sign of conflict or competition to their celebrity focus, unleash their stinging wrath across every form of social media available. If any celebrity decides to start a public feud with their idol, or if another fanbase questions their devotion, they strike. They are organized, dedicated, and often volcanic.
When a Toronto-based writer posted a rather mild criticism of the rapper Nicki Minaj on Twitter in 2018, some members of Minaj’s loyal fanbase, “The Barbz,” proceeded to send her thousands of explicit and derogatory messages that included pictures of her 4-year-old daughter, and messages to her employer encouraging them to fire her.
In 2018, Pete Davidson, the Saturday Night Live cast member, posted what was essentially a suicide note on his Instagram, before deleting his account entirely. While many voiced their support of the actor on social media and expressed concern, among the mostly caring messages, were Ariana Grande stans encouraging him to harm himself. Grande, who was previously engaged to Davidson, has voiced that she has no ill will towards him, yet her fans have continued to attack him online for no apparent reason.
The “mob mentality” often found on social media can quickly escalate a small disagreement to full-on war. The simplicity of “likes” and retweets can quickly support disparaging comments and easily spiral into a toxic mess. This, unfortunately, creates a culture of normalization for this kind of abuse and spillover into a teen’s everyday interactions —both online and in-person.
Whether it’s flooding another musician’s social media with hateful comments, sabotaging a competing movie’s release with fake reviews, or releasing the home address of a vocal critic, stanning a celebrity can result in a ferocious defense of their celebrity, no matter how unwarranted or unnecessary it may be.
The Warning Signs of Stans
If you’re thinking about those Justin Bieber posters in your daughter’s bedroom and fretting about whether or not she is a diehard member of the “Belieber” stan group, fear not — it’s likely to be pretty apparent when someone has crossed the line from fan to fanatic stan.
The sheer amount of time stans devote to social media will be a clear indicator that your child may be encroaching on the dangerous territory of being a stan. Many diehard fans will create entire social media profiles centered around their favorite celebrity, pouring hours into building these up into a dedicated shrine and meet up spot for fellow stans.
These accounts provide stans with a level of anonymity that is often dangerous in the way it promotes irresponsible online behavior — they feel invincible behind the curtain of their celebrity obsession. Checking your children’s social media for any anonymous or additional accounts on Instagram or Twitter is a good way to keep an eye out for an unhealthy focus on a celebrity or topic.
It can be tough to decipher at what point your child goes from being a casual fan to a stan, but if they are following someone on social media to the point that they’re living, eating, and breathing what they post or share, it can be a warning sign that they’re overly involved or invested in the life of a celebrity. Encouraging your children to prioritize their real life, in-person relationships, or only following their close friends on social media, can promote healthy, realistic expectations of interacting online.
While these stan communities can produce friendships from bonding over a shared love of an artist, a 10-to-18-year old that anchors themselves on a celebrity is destined for failure. Even if they’re not participating in targeted online harassment, a teen that is focused on being a stan may fail to think critically about the decisions made by their celebrity focus. Even if what they’re doing is harmful, immoral, unsafe or unhealthy, a stan will still support it blindly, or even worse, desire to mimic it.
Inviting your children to instead root their lives in their relationship with Jesus and their friends in youth group may be a tall task in our celeb-crazed culture, but it’s one that, as they grow, will bear fruit and lead them to true happiness.