The psychology of “stan” culture

Lauren Miller

What is a “stan” and why do they have a culture?

On the internet, a sub-group of people have created what the internet refers to as “stans” or highly obsessive fans. Phrases like ‘We stan’ and ‘slay sis’ stans can be found everywhere online. If you have a social media account, you have definitely seen stans at work.

Where does the phrase come from? Why does it exist? In the 2000’s, popular rapper Eminem released a song called “Stan.” The story of the song follows the character Stan, an over-obsessive fan who writes Slim Shady (Eminem’s alter ego). At first, Stan is optimistic and friendly towards Slim, but he gets more and more upset whenever Slim doesn’t write back. The writer becomes a violent stalker towards Slim and does violent actions to himself and the people around him.

What do “stans” do? They comment on pages, they post threads on Twitter, they scream in the middle of the road and they don’t take kindly to criticism. One of the most popular reasons why “stans” are so prominent is their unwillingness to accept others criticism. They are right and you are wrong. If you don’t like that opinion or person, then you’re just not seeing it right.

Dr. Daniel Faltesek, a New Media Communications professor at Oregon State University, says that stans do the things they do because of a key idea called “parasocial interaction.” According to “Parasocial Relationships: The Nature of Celebrity Fascinations,” parasocial interaction is a hypothesis that focuses on one-sided relationships, usually a fan towards a celebrity, where the former party exerts lots of energy, time and feelings into one person and the latter not knowing of their existence. Parasocial interaction has happened for centuries, a complicated relationship between idol and fan and in the Modern Age, the internet allows people to feel like they truly interacted with that person.

Do celebrities encourage this type of disruptive behavior from fans? The short answer is “yes.” Faltesek believes that there isn’t a celebrity who doesn’t try to cultivate loyal fans. Their livelihood depends on having a loyal, fierce fan base. The internet cultivates groups of fans into believing that they are close to the celebrity, that they are friends with one another. Since they are friends, it’s only right to defend them, respect them and praise their efforts. Dr. Faltesek derives this part of the “stan” culture from parasocial interaction.

“[It] has become a very important part of who they are,” Faltesek said. Fans have committed so much time and effort into this fandom that it has become a part of their being. They can’t live without them, their fandom, or that celebrity because they have put lots of energy into being an active supporter.

Are “stans” harmful to the internet? Not really. However, “stans” represent a type of group polarization, reducing critical thinking. Group polarization describes the extremity that certain groups have making decisions than they initially would otherwise. According to the article “On Stan Culture,” if your opinion is different from theirs, then you’re wrong. There isn’t anything you can do to argue, compliment or negotiate your side. Your side is wrong, and their side is right. The internet allows these people to be together in isolated spots and they feed off each other.  The original opinion has mutated into a force to be reckoned with. “Stans” don’t mean to do this, but it has become a part of their being and a part of their culture.

“We assume good faith and good reasons,” Faltesek stated. “And we probably shouldn’t.”

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