How Gen Z Created Stan Culture
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
By Lauren Zakari
Image via Pinterest
A combination of three words I never thought I’d ever have to hear again. For some people, they have no clue what I’m talking about. For others, you just got whiplash and perhaps a flashback to when you were thirteen and referred to grown men as “smol beans.” To give some context, “superwholock” stands for Supernatural, Doctor Who, and Sherlock which are three shows that shaped an entire generation.
For some strange reason around 2014, just as Gen Z began middle and high school, there seemed to be a surge in the hyper-fixation on pop culture that essentially shaped modern celebrity culture. Now, this was not just “oh I like this one TV show casually,” it was “I like this TV show/YouTuber/band/video game/movie/book series so much and I know literally everything about it, can quote it, know the actors/people involved on a weirdly personal level, have spent hundreds of dollars on merchandise or cons (special events for the specific fandom like ComicCon), have read fan-fiction, run a fan account, and only think about this one thing.” Tumblr became the amplifier of all the hype around these works of media. It was a place where people could commune, post, chat, repost, and take in so many different voices and ideas.
I can speak from experience—let’s just say that I can never hear the phrase “Twist and Shout” without cringing just a little bit. I was a part of quite a few fandoms in my lifetime from superwholock, to the fandom (Dan and Phil), to Harry Potter, to my most recent stint as a Marvel stan. I am now eighteen-years-old and about to start my freshman year of college and look back on these times feeling conflicted. I can’t deny that all these things I was once obsessed with brought me copious amounts of joy when I was an early teen. Yet there were so many problematic things I read and experienced that I didn’t realize were issues at the time.
And that’s the core of this whole thing.
So why were we all obsessed to this degree? Our obsessions brought us joy, comfort, and community. I don’t think there is anything that can bring people together as quickly as a fandom can. I even had a few online friends back in the day who I’d occasionally talk to over Instagram DM. Even though we were constantly bombarded with the idea that there could be catfishing on the internet, we all seemingly threw that threat out the window and began to find connections through this new social media platform. Most of all we could escape. For some people, these fandoms were what got them through the toughest emotional times, with many claiming that the fandoms “saved” them. I, myself, was so deep into these fictional worlds that my grades started to suffer. I didn’t want to do homework, I wanted to watch one more episode. I didn’t want to study for my test, I wanted to read one more chapter. I didn’t want to deal with the petty drama of being thirteen, I wanted to watch the brand new DanandPhilGames video.
Another important thing that drew people in was the fact that you could be creative. I was never an artist, but I will admit that I may or may not have dabbled in fan-fiction at one point or another. I myself ran a fan account, not once, but twice for two different fandoms. I would edit pictures, make video edits, make AUs (alternate universes), play games, and interact with complete strangers (I don’t want to brag but one of them had 3,500 followers when I gave it away to someone else). I felt like I was doing something and it was a way for me to further my love of something which I know many people can relate to.
Once we all moved on to high school and college, we suddenly realized it was no longer cool to paint cat whiskers on our faces or solely wear fandom merchandise to school and realized that something had to give. This is when our obsession shifted from the Tumblr model to the current, “cooler” of still secretly being a big nerd about certain things without reaching the middle school level. We learned from our past mistakes taking extra care not to romanticize mental illness or fetishize certain members of the LGBTQ+ community while also realizing that “shipping” two real people can often just be plain creepy. No, modern stans are not perfect. People still fetishize, people still harass, and don’t even get me started on Disney adults, but overall we have seen a significant change in the way that we interact within fan bases.
In my opinion, no other generation has gone to the absolute lengths that Gen Z goes when it comes to liking certain media. No other generation has dedicated more brain capacity to loving video games and book characters rather than actually succeeding in school. We are the reason that celebrities are still relevant and that small indie bands suddenly can charge $200 a ticket at concerts. We pour so much of ourselves into what we love. It has simply just changed from Sam and Dean to Chloe x Halle.
Written by writer Lauren Zakari