Have you ever harassed someone incessantly online when they call your favorite celebrity out for problematic behavior? Are you so blinded by the love you have for an artist that you will defend them tooth and nail? Even if they did something truly heinous like rape?
To many, exhibiting these behaviors might seem a little over the top. After all, celebrities are people we see on our screens. It’s not like they even know we exist.
But to some, this behavior is totally normal and even encouraged by others who hold the same beliefs. They’re more than fans, they’re stans. And stans are terrifying.
There’s nothing wrong with idolizing someone. Everyone has a favorite celebrity who has influenced them in one way or another. But to spew hate and bully people who may not like your fave is not okay. Stans take being fans to a new, unhealthy, and dangerous level.
And we’re their latest victims.
Recently, singer-songwriter Melanie Martinez released her second album. It’s gotten pretty good reviews, but given the sexual assault and rape allegations made against her by former friend Timothy Heller, I found it interesting that people still flocked to Martinez. It was as if the allegations never happened. Why are fans still supporting someone who was accused of something so grotesque?
As someone who makes it a point to always believes the victim until proven otherwise, I wrote about it. What ensued was a backlash we weren’t expecting.
Almost immediately, my social media pages were flooded with negative and disturbing comments from Melanie’s fans — also known as Crybabies — attacking us for calling out Melanie on her behavior and for supporting Timothy, a sexual assault survivor.
“Do your research!” was a frequent comment among the Crybabies, even though fan theories don’t count as evidence and research. Some said that because Timothy never said “no” while Melanie assaulted her, it wasn’t rape. Others claimed that because Melanie was never arrested or convicted, the accusation didn’t count, while others took personal digs and threatened my livelihood.
The comments are disturbing and heinous. But this phenomenon of having unwavering support for your favorite celebrity is nothing new. There are actually psychological reasons behind this kind of celebrity worship.
Psychologist James Houran said in an interview with The Washington Post,
“There are certain levels of celebrity worship, where people start to feel attached to celebrities — they feel so attached that their own personal identities start meshing with that of their favorite celebrity. So what that means is when something good or bad happens to their favorite celebrity they feel as if it happens to them.”
The phenomenon isn’t just popular among teens, adults can exhibit the same behavior.
R. Kelly and Michael Jackson are both two high-profile celebrities who have been accused of sexual assault and rape. Kelly has a history when it comes to taking advantage and abusing underage girls while Michael has been accused of taking advantage of young boys.
In 2019, both singers were thrust into the spotlight when documentaries were made about them. Lifetime released Surviving R. Kelly and HBO released Leaving Neverland. Both documentaries interviewed the stars’ accusers and the details of their stories shocked and horrified the world. But there were still people who refused to believe their stories.
One Michael Jackson fan wrote on Twitter,
“From a storytelling standpoint #LeavingNeverland is a very bad documentary. I’m up to listen the stories of survivors of any abuse. I’m on their side always, but this being about the greatest megastar in the world and a dead person, I expected a lot more of facts and research.”
Despite the evidence and the fact that R. Kelly was indicted in four different states after the documentary came out, fans (some old enough to be the victims’ parents) continued to support Kelly.
An R. Kelly supporter said outside of a Brooklyn courthouse,
“I don’t believe that I think it’s a bunch of nonsense. Why would he need to hold somebody? He’s a good looking man, he’s got sex appeal. I’m pretty sure they all wanted to be with him. If I would have met him when I was a teenager, I would want to be with him.”
So, because R. Kelly is good looking, he can’t be a predator? You would assume that adults would at least have a better understanding of how manipulation works.
“You’re talking to otherwise normal healthy people that for a variety of reasons have been pushed along this continuum and now are at a point where they are absorbed almost to the level of addiction and obsession. The celebrity is helping to make this person’s identity whole.”
Despite the toxicity of stan culture, cult-like fandoms who harass people online are showing no signs of slowing down. Technology is becoming more advanced, who’s to say someone won’t take things a step further and find someone’s personal information to cause even more damage?
It’s great when you find an artist that resonates with you. And I get it, we all have our faves and it sucks when you hear something negative about them, especially when it’s a serious crime. However, there comes a time when people need to realize that celebrities are flawed human beings who are capable of doing bad things.
Supporting someone who exhibits problematic behavior will never erase what they did. It only gives them permission to keep doing it. Because, to them, their die-hard fans will love them no matter what.