We have got to do something about the stans.
At their most benign, they’re annoying. Their hyper-devotion can make them insufferable little disciples to whatever or whomever it is they fawn over, be it their favorite recording artist or a film franchise they’ve been immersed in since they were old enough to zip up their Yoda pajamas. But the worst kind of stans wield their fandom like a sword, ready to cut down anyone that crosses their fave. It doesn’t matter if an external infidel has besmirched the name of their chosen deity or if some unworthy dreg is corrupting their beloved institution from the inside—the stans will swarm and sting, and you will feel every bit of their ire.
Of course, none of this is news. Much has been written about internet harassment, stan culture and how they affirm a certain toxic socialization that’s occurred online. It’s a heinous mix of wish-fulfillment and mob mentality that has become normalized after years of watching it devolve into the kind of digital blood sport that leads to celebs or those who have transgressed against a celeb having to leave social media altogether. The ultra-devoted fanbase has been around for decades, but in the age of social media it’s mobilized into something much more aggressive and abusive than a teen idol fanclub of yesteryear. The most obvious recent example came courtesy of Nicki Minaj, her cadre of superfans (“The Barbz”) and a Toronto freelance journalist who dared express an opinion about a popular artist.
Pop culture writer Wanna Thompson became unintentionally famous in July when she tweeted out a critique of Nicki Minaj’s controversial antics in the lead-up to the superstar’s again-delayed album Queen.
“You know how dope it would be if Nicki put out mature content?” read the tweet from Thompson. “No silly shit. Just reflecting on past relationships, being a boss, hardships, etc. She’s touching 40 soon, a new direction is needed.”
Nicki apparently saw the tweet, took special exception to being referred to as “touching 40,” and launched into an acidic tirade over what was fairly innocuous criticism. Thompson would subsequently screenshot a direct message she received from an incensed Nicki Minaj.
“When ya ugly ass was 24 u were pushing 30? I’m 34. I’m touching 40 ? Lol. And what does that have to do with my music? Eat a dick u hating ass hoe,” Minaj DM’d Thompson on Twitter. “Got the nerve to have a trini flag on ur page. You must not have heard the Pinkprint. Or pills n potions, Bed of lies, save me, my recent feature with Alicia keys, Tasha cobbs. Just say u jealous I’m rich, famous intelligent, pretty and go! But wait! Leave my balls! Tired of u sucking them.”
Once Thompson posted the screenshotted message, Nicki’s swarm pounced. They harassed Thompson across every social media platform, and even texted her cellphone. They found Instagram pictures of her daughter. Thompson lost an internship for a music blog and many pointed the finger at Minaj. Meanwhile, her superfans attacked the 26-year old in every digital platform they could occupy.
“Hello, unemployed dark skin black guttersnipe bitch,” read one e-mail from a fan identified as willam daish sent to Thompson. “Why is it that it’s always the dark bitches that are so jealous and full of bitterness. I think the only solution for you is to kill yourself. You are too toxic for the world and for your baby.”
In a recent Rolling Stone story about The Barbz, a Nicki superfan identfied as “Ayan” acknowledges that this kind of over-the-top devotion can go too far—but seemed fuzzy on just where the line is:
“Where do I draw the line? I mean, death is definitely a little bit too far. I feel like that is a little bit too far. However, I also have that devil’s advocates mindset where the line is never too far for the person that is coming at the celebrity. Why is it that when the fan of that celebrity is responding that the line becomes too far? I tend not to touch on family either, death and all that kinda stuff, but I can definitely see where people are coming from when they do touch on those things, because everyone has their different boiling point and is it OK? No. Do I understand where the hatred is coming from? Most definitely.”
This kind of hyper-defensiveness isn’t limited to pop stars. There is a similar allegiance shown to popular entertainment brands of all kinds. Granted, the spirit behind the antagonism of those movie/comic book/video game fanbases is less about defending the beloved institution from detractors, and more about harassing anyone allowed to join the hallowed franchise’s family tree—especially if the newcomer is non-white and/or female.
In June, it was reported that Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, deleted her social media accounts following months of online harassment from the franchise’s more obsessive and abusive devotees. The backlash prompted Nerds of Color to rally for Tran at Comic Con in San Diego. When the new trailer for the upcoming Teen Titans movie debuted at Comic-Con in late July, actress Anna Diop was the target of an ugly racist backlash online from a horde of Teen Titans fans. Diop was subjected to hateful comments on Instagram and ongoing harassment on Twitter. She addressed the comments via a now-deleted Instagram post:
“Too often social media is abused by some who find refuge in the anonymity and detachment it provides: misused as a tool to harass, abuse, and spew hatred at others. This is weak, sad, and a direct reflection of the abuser. Racist, derogatory, and/or cruel comments have nothing to do with the person on the receiving end of that abuse.”
It’s become increasingly disgusting to witness as it grows more pervasive by the day. The teen stars of a live-action Kim Possible reboot were harassed for not matching the cartoon characters’ physical attributes to some fans’ liking. Future’s “FutureHive” once was believed to have hacked the domain to onetime rival rapper OG Maco’s site. And every week a new “stanbase” is going to great lengths on social media (and beyond) to obliterate some perceived “threat” online.
So what do we do about the stans? Your guess is as good as mine. “Stanbases” have become the worst kind of internet subculture over the years. Kudos to those co-stars, producers and purveyors who won’t allow their colleagues to be targeted by the hateful and anonymous online. In the case of stars like Nicki, loudly and consistently denouncing online harassment would go a long way toward at least drawing a line for those who fall at your uber-famous feet. Recognizing that not every critic is your mortal enemy and no longer fanning the flames with hypersensitive overreactions wouldn’t hurt, either. But ultimately, this is about people taking some stock of themselves and their behavior. We all love what we love. But going to war over it with strangers—especially with the force of an unrelenting online harassment campaign carried out en masse—makes you an obsessive abuser who probably should be slapped with a restraining order. You’re a digital stalker in the name of celebrity. And that’s a pretty fucking lame thing to be.