With the rise of social media, stan culture has grown exponentially. Sure, there have always been fanatics, but social media gives us something we never had before: a connection to celebrities. Or, more accurately, the illusion of one. We communicate directly with celebrities via Twitter, Tumblr, and more and have easier access to interviews, behind-the-scenes videos, and fan-filmed videos. This easier and more frequent interaction often leads us to believe we know these celebrities better than we do. We devote entire social media accounts to them and use their words as proof that they are “unproblematic.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with stanning celebrities. The issue is in believing we know them better than we do and vouching for the fact that they can do no wrong. This, as we have seen in many, many cases (including, but not limited to Chris Evans, Lili Reinhart, Cole Sprouse, and Herizen Guardiola) leads to nothing but disappointment. And when this happens, who, precisely, is to blame?
I’m not suggesting that these people are exempt from their failings or ignorance because they are celebrities; they can and should be held accountable. I am speaking of our sense of disappointment when they let us down. Why do we feel the need to insist these people we do not know personally are “unproblematic”? Of course, no person is truly unproblematic, but that is again not quite to what I was referring. I’m referring to the traits we place on these celebrities based on the persona they give us. And, make no mistake, they are only personas.
One thing social media and these faux connections make us forget is that we don’t really know these people. We only know what they show us. And they will invariably show us their best self. Sure, some may let us in to see some goofs or a little bit of the ugliness beneath, but we will never get the full picture. We can’t declare these people innocent when we have no idea the skeletons they have in their closet. They may have certain beliefs they don’t share, certain ignorance that we don’t know. We can’t say we know a celebrity to be unproblematic when we only know the image and not the person. As much as we think they let us in, there is still so much we don’t know. If you’re going to stan a celebrity, always bear this in mind.
The influence and prevalence of social media does give us one good thing, however. We will inevitably discover whatever dark secrets these people are hiding. If they are ignorant or bigoted, they will inevitably “show their ass,” so to speak. If they’ve done something bad, that information will inevitably leak. But we can’t be too surprised when it does; after all, these are still strangers. We stan a persona, not a person.
What can be done about this? Well, we can rethink how we idolize celebrities. It’s okay to support them, follow the message they share, and like who they purport to be. We just need to keep in mind that this is only a part of who they are (if it’s real at all). We need to stop forcing labels like “unproblematic” on them, as this will ultimately only lead to a greater let down when their darker side is exposed. Celebrities are not infallible; they are people just like us, with pasts and beliefs. We can remain grateful for this little window into their lives and this stronger connection, while still remembering we don’t have the whole of them. We can also be a little more understanding and, depending on the offense, allow them an opportunity to apologize and learn from their mistakes. But, ultimately, we need to remember that our lives as stans are about us and understand that celebrities can’t be held accountable for the perfection we project onto them. If we remember we only get the persona and not the person, the betrayal when we are let down will be far less great.
Stan culture is a perfectly valid one, a way to connect not only with the object of your allegiance but with others who enjoy the same thing. That sense of community is wonderful and larger than life. We just need to protect ourselves and remember that celebrities are never unproblematic and that our allegiance only goes as far as that persona remains agreeable to us. Being a stan is a conditional state and it is healthy to go into it keeping that in mind. We stan only parts, not the whole. And never, ever trust implicitly. Take everything these celebrities supposedly are with a grain of salt and always be prepared for the other shoe to drop.