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The Stan, Explained | What Does It Meme?

The Stan is the fan who loves too much. If you are a Stan (the noun) or you stan (the verb), you don’t just love a particular show, song or celebrity; that passion is part of your identity. The term (a portmanteau of “stalker” plus “fan”) has been around since Eminem’s 2000’s song about the eponymous superfan who’s destroyed by his obsession. Since then it has evolved from a diss into a source of empowerment and community that many embrace. Here’s our Take on how the Stan embodies the complexities of modern fanship, and why it’s so tempting to escape into one-sided relationships instead of working through the challenges of reciprocity.

TRANSCRIPT

The Stan is the fan who loves too much. If you are a Stan, the noun, or you Stan, the verb, you don’t just love a particular show, song, or celebrity; that passion is part of your identity. The term, a portmanteau of “stalker” plus “fan”, has been around since Eminem’s 2000 song about the eponymous superfan who’s destroyed by his obsession. Since then, it’s evolved from a diss into a source of empowerment and community that many embrace. But predating the word, we can also find an array of onscreen representations that shed light on what it is to be an uber fan. Here’s how you can spot a Stan on screen:

They worship a celebrity to an extent that this becomes their whole sense of self.

Nicky: “Your password to your phone is my sister’s birthday” - Ingrid Goes West (2017)

It can be hard for any of us to remember that famous people are still people, but the Stans turn their idol into a God and might be disappointed when that idol turns out to be a mere mortal, or doesn’t reciprocate and appreciate their love.

An extreme Stan might take their obsession too far into boundary-crossing behavior. Yet their complex motivations and psychology are rarely explored; most on-screen Stans are oversimplified— dismissed as a punch-line, or a villain, representing the sin of fan entitlement.

Annie: “I’ll take good care of you. I’m your number one fan.” - Misery (1990)

The more nuanced reality is that the Stan reflects the lopsidedness of celebrity or influencer culture, which relies on fans to make entertainers wealthy but doesn’t necessarily care about those fans as people.

Today many of us speak of stanning something or someone, while Stan Twitter is home to powerful subcultures, even armies, that have mobilized as forces to be reckoned with. Here’s our take on how the Stan embodies the complexities of modern fanship, and why it’s so tempting to escape into one-sided relationships instead of working through the challenges of reciprocity.

The Origins of “Stanning”

The Stan term originates as a character— Stan is the obsessive fanboy in Eminem’s 2000 hit song about the dangers of celebrity worship. Like any superfan, Stan wants to look like, connect to, and be with his idol. One of Eminem’s initial lyrical inspirations— the phrase “your picture on my wall”, from the Dido song he samples, “Thank You”, —evoked for him a common trope of crazed fans: the celebrity shrine.

Olive: “Hattie’s president of the Prince Char fan club.” - Ella Enchanted (2004)

But what makes Stan so fixated (in other words, what makes him truly a Stan) is the deep emotional attachment he develops— how much he relates to his favorite celebrity. The moral of Eminem’s tragic song is that Stan takes his idol’s act too seriously and expects too much out of the artist-fan relationship. One of the central points is that Stan is overidentifying with the artistic persona the rapper has created. As Eminem explains, it’s “a message to the fans to let them know that everything I say is not meant to be taken literally.”

After Eminem, it was Nas who turned the name Stan into a general diss in 2001’s “Ether.” Yet it wasn’t until around 2008 that Stan surfaced as a verb on Urban Dictionary and Twitter: “I Stan …” As a verb, “Stan” has shifted increasingly away from its originally pejorative connotations. “To Stan” is an active choice you can wear like a badge of honor. You can also un-Stan if a “problematic fave” no longer represents your values And it’s no longer just “I Stan,” but “we Stan”.

Whereas Eminem’s Stan was undone by loneliness, Stan culture now offers the benefits of community. This isn’t totally new; as The Guardian writes, for example, “Gay male culture has always coalesced around female pop stars” like Judy Garland. But via social media, while interactions with the object of one’s obsession are still rare, a Stan can find an unprecedented level of connection with other like-minded Stans.

Today we have Stan armies collecting around a single figure or pop-culture property, whether that’s Arianators, Swifties, Beliebers, the BeyHive, JLovers, A.R.M.Y., Idiots, Fandroids, Potterheads, Dunderheads, Twihards, Nolanites, Chalamaniacs, Streepers, or the original Eminem fans, Stans. Artists are truly only as good as their Stans, who stream new releases to make sure they top the charts; defend their artist in the face of controversies or beefs; start “stanwars” with other fandoms; and create a shared language of memes, names or hashtags around their artist

Jimmy Kimmel: “Which is really the ultimate compliment for a celebrity when your fans organize and give themselves a name.”

Ariana Grande: “Arianators. They kind of- they gave themselves that.” - Jimmy Kimmel Live (2016)

At their worst, these fandoms can be intimidating or toxic, but they can also organize around charitable causes or political movements. At last, the Stan is getting the attention he always craved. For better and worse, as a collective, Stans today have true power to affect change and to get the world to take notice.

Dissing the Fan: Stans Before the Stan Had a Name

Beyond naming the trope, Eminem’s Stan established the uber-fan as an object of criticism,

Eminem: “I’m glad I inspire you but Stan, why are you so mad?” - “Stan” (2001)

but he was far from the first to be harsh on this figure. Even the Stan’s tamer counterpart ‘fan’ is actually short for ‘fanatic,’ a word originally describing religious zealots who seemed to ‘go mad’ with their enthusiasm. While super fans of some form have been around forever, Stan culture has intensified as inventions like radio, TV, and the Internet have made it easier for large groups to obsess over the same thing.

In real life, fans are a totally normal and even valuable piece of the creative process— but on-screen, they get a pretty bad rap. Plenty of movies before Stan Twitter or Eminem’s commentary deal with the character of the disturbing stalker-fan.

Dave: “Not tonight, I’ve got to get to the station.”

Evelyn: “No you don’t. Hey! You’re talking to your number one fan. You don’t work tonight.” - Play Misty For Me (1971)

This entitled Stan feels that their emotional investment means they deserve control over their favorite creator or artwork. In the Stephen King adaptation Misery, Annie Wilkes is so sure she knows best for her most beloved character, that she’s willing to force the author to comply. Annie and plenty of other Stan characters are villains because they refuse to be ignored. Instead of remaining in the shadows, gratefully consuming the content that creators bestow on them, these villainous fans claim the fictions they love as theirs.

Unlike the vast majority of real fans, many of these onscreen fans are obviously dealing with mental health issues. TV and movies seem to love making fans look out of touch with reality or willing to become dangerous to get the attention they feel that they’re owed.

Syndrome: “See? Now you respect me because I’m a threat. That’s the way it works!” - The Incredibles (2004)

But if we look closer we can see how, in reality, it can be a slippery slope from healthy appreciation into inappropriate obsession.

The Psychology of a Stan

So what is it that makes some fans more invested than the rest? At its core, the Stan-celebrity relationship is a one-sided attachment. As TV Tropes terms it, loving a shadow can feel easier than a two-way relationship— because it isn’t complicated by two unique sets of needs and emotions.

Catherine: “You’ve always wanted to have a wife without the challenges of actually dealing with anything real.” - Her (2013)

Sometimes it’s simply that the idea of a person we nurture in our imaginations can be so appealing that it surpasses anything real life can offer. As The Great Gatsby describes Gatsby’s image of his one-who-got-away, Daisy, “It had gone beyond her, beyond everything… No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

But sometimes, for the Stan, a parasocial relationship is an outlet for love they don’t feel they’re able to obtain in their life. The central fantasy of the Stan is that somehow the white-hot intensity and purity of their love will make the impossible possible and make a totally unattainable figure love them back. But when that inevitably doesn’t happen, the stan’s disillusionment can be intense.

Stan: “I hope you know I ripped all of your pictures off the wall.” - “Stan” (2000)

While sometimes the Stan is chasing a ‘love interest’ they dream of being with, other times they’re more interested in being like their hero. Celebrities’ lives look so much better than ours, with their power, style, and glamour— so the Stan emulates their idol in hopes that their life might get better, too. In the case of The King of Comedy or its contemporary descendant, Joker, the Stan dreams of being famous himself and becomes unhinged after he realizes that playing by the supposed rules of the game won’t get him anywhere.

Arthur Fleck: “When I was a little boy and told people I wanted to be a comedian, everyone laughed at me. Well, no one’s laughing now!” - Joker (2019)

As much as the Stan professes to love their chosen celebrity, underneath this there can be an anger or resentment directed at their idol. Stans feel they’ve been overlooked in their own lives while celebrities shined. The Stan ends up exposing that— underneath their obsession— can be a deep insecurity, a feeling of being unwanted.

A moral of the Stan story is often that they’re misguided to search for love through the artist-fan relationship, or in the artificial world of fame and entertainment at all. 1950’s All About Eve is the story of a Stan who actually manages the impossible and replaces her idol as Broadway’s It girl. But her success is empty. More recently, 2017’s Ingrid Goes West applies that same story to today’s world of social media influencers. Obsessed with the allure of an “Insta-worthy” life, Ingrid Thorburn stalks her favorite influencer, making it her mission to become the pseudo-celebrity’s best friend.

Ingrid: “Look I’m not a psychopath or anything. I just wanna be her friend.” - Ingrid Goes West (2017)

After her plan unravels, with nothing left to lose, Ingrid shares her rock bottom point on the Internet, which, ironically, finally makes her go viral. Director Matt Spicer explained, though, that, quote: “The fact that she gets what she wants is ultimately a hollow victory. It will never bring her the happiness that a real relationship will, with someone who really sees her and cares about her.” Ingrid overlooks the most important lesson of her own story: the people we put on pedestals are just that— people.

Stanning turns a mortal into a God; after all, the word “idol” alludes to biblical “false idols.” But while an omnipresent God is supposed to be able to love every one of his or her children, a celebrity definitely can’t make time to pay attention to every one of their fans. The truth is, celebrities might not care as much as the fans want them to, even about their own creations. And if you got to know your heroes in real life, you might not even like them as people.

Mary: “It’s just too bad I’ll never be able to discuss your poetry with you.”

Stu: “Why?”

Mary: “Because Mr. Wolf, you’re a drunk” - Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004)

The Stan character can push us to examine how we interact with celebrity culture ourselves— it highlights that giving endless energy to people we don’t really know can end up hurting our real relationships. Extreme Stans do themselves a disservice: they’re giving out love where it’s pretty unlikely to be returned.

In Defense of Stans

Our negative view of Stans comes in part because those who get the brunt of fan madness are the same people who portray or write them on screen. Fan stalking, hypercriticism, and general entitlement are aimed at creators, whose bad experiences might leave them with an unfavorable view of fans.

Understandably, writers and actors focus on how stanning affects them. That leaves less room for trope examples that empathize with fans— while some really strange situations get glossed over for a laugh.

Fans who don’t have problems with boundaries get made fun of too. Fanboys are belittled, while fangirls are depicted as obsessed to the point of stupidity,

Hattie: “Show us where Char showers.”

Olive: “I bet he showers naked!” - Ella Enchanted (2004)

their interests deemed silly because young women care about them.

It’s striking that so many stories express a good deal of resentment and contempt from powerful creative people toward the fans who adore them and make them rich. People in positions of influence may feel shocked when confronted by a Stan, but they also create the Stan, perpetuating and profiting off of the Stan’s obsession. Celebrities and influencers might profess at every turn to love their fans and owe everything to their fans without really wanting to know those fans or offer them true respect. Often, the celebrity is happy with the one-sided relationship as long as the Stan doesn’t get too close.

Gina: “Celebrities despise their fans. You get into entertainment to be removed from general society.” - Brooklyn Nine-Nine 6x04

Without fans, stories and artists wouldn’t have the support they need to keep going— and fan labor from the most dedicated Stans keep casual enjoyers engaged in the content. With their specific expertise and endless passion, no one truly knows a story or a song inside and out like the Stan— so in a way, it really does belong to them most of all. In the end, we all have somebody we put on a pedestal to a degree that might make us lose our minds around them a little. Inside every one of us is a Stan who just wants to connect.

Penny: “If you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” - Almost Famous (2000)


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