a look into political fandom
by Neda Karimi
It was 2006 when Eminem released his song “Stan,” where he describes a crazy, over-the-top fan who ended up taking his own life because he couldn’t get the rapper’s attention. The fan’s name was Stan.
Today, the word “stan” is used on social media to refer to relationships among politicians, entertainers, influencers and their fans. It’s used as a noun and as a verb, and is most common on Twitter and Tumblr. The word even made it to the Oxford dictionary, where it is defined as: an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity.
In 1960, Americans watched the first televised presidential debate. According to an old myth, viewers believed that John F. Kennedy won the debate, while those who listened to the debate over the radio believed that Nixon won. Many believe Kennedy won America over with his good looks and charm.
Kennedy was the first president of the television era, which began in the 1940s. He also happened to be the youngest person ever elected to the presidency, a record he holds to this day. He’s looked back on as a glamorous figure and is remembered primarily for his youth, popularity, and tragic death.
2020 presidential election
Nov 2008: Presidency of Obama
2008 – 2016, #44 first pop culture president
The news media went through many changes during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. It wasn’t until Barack Obama became president in 2008, however, that the world saw the birth of the social media and pop culture president.
first pop culture president
Obama made it a goal to use Twitter to communicate White House memos and became the first president in history to have stans. In 2017, he found himself the focus of a viral meme movement illustrating his “bromance” with former Vice-President Joe Biden. American Celebrities would frequently post the Obamas to their social media pages. Obama himself made it a point to focus on soft interviews such as “The Ellen Show” and David Letterman’s “Late Night” show.
As President, Obama made sure to share his pop culture knowledge and racked up plenty of relatability points from the public. Robert Saunders, a professor in the Department of History, Politics and Geography at Farmingdale State College, said Obama was part of the trajectory of the notion of a pop culture “head of state,” which he said began with Tony Blair and the idea of a “cool Brittania.”
“When Obama was talking about India joining the [U.N.] Security Council, he uses the term ‘with great power comes great responsibility,’ which is a quote from Spiderman,” Saunders said. “And he himself is a fan of Spiderman and was featured on the cover of a promotional Spiderman comic book. These elements were what characterized the Obama presidency. These are just examples of the ways in which popular culture was used for governance both on the domestic and international sides. Obama would use inside cultural references in the black and urban community in specific ways to achieve certain outcomes.”
And this isn’t much different from the Democratic candidates in the upcoming Democratic Primary for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Nor is it that different from President Donald Trump’s win in 2016. This idea of relatability really spoke to voters.
“We used to have identity politics where people were fighting for their identity, and whatever identity frame one opted into at the time, you found a politician who spoke to it,” Saunders said. “Now we see people subjugating their personal identities and pouring all that into the vessel of this politician.”
Today, the line between celebrity entertainer’s “stans” and a politician’s supporter-base isn’t as clear as it once was. Instead of saying “I support xyz-politican because of these policies,” it is more common to hear “I am a fan of” or even ‘I stan’ a politician.”
In his book “Understanding Fandom,” popular music and media expert Mark Duffett explores the shift in fan culture over the last few decades.
“Fans used to be seen as an overly obsessed fraction of the audience,” Duffett wrote. “In the last few decades, shifts in media technology and production have instead made fandom a central mode of consumption.”
This shift has also prompted young people to get involved in political discourse through the mode of activism on social media platforms that gave rise to the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements. In the last presidential election, hashtags #MAGA and #ImWithHer dominated political discourse.
Growing up in a generation where social media already dominated a lot of the news landscape, 21-year-old Assatta Mann, who is the president of the Rutgers College Democrats, said she hardly ever gets her news from traditional newspapers. As of July 2019, 54 percent of U.S. adults said they get their news from social media sites.
“I think social media has given a lot of minority voices power,” Mann said. “That might not have been the case in being able to get published in a big reputable paper.”
– Assatta Mann
While there are more than a hundred Warren and Kamala Harris stan accounts, only a handful of users identify with Joe Biden. One is 18-year-old Haidy Perez, who runs a Joe Biden “stan” account.
“‘Stan’ is the deep support for something,” Perez said. “In a funny way, it’s becoming the new label for political views, like if you deeply support a politician, you consider yourself a stan.”
For Perez, it was the 2016 election that sparked her interest in politics.
“My family is full of immigrants from Mexico, so I felt impacted by the president’s comments on immigrants and Mexicans specifically, as well as his attitudes towards DACA,” Perez said.
Stanship could potentially be positive for young people who want to be more involved in politics but don’t know how to feel like they are part of the discussion. Music and entertainment journalist Tatyana Jenene said that while stanship started as a running joke, it has evolved into one of the most impactful– and sometimes scary– branches of pop culture.
“Stanning for a politician is almost like stanning for your favorite pop artist,” Jenene said, in that it brings awareness to many issues that might have been ignored before.
Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has taken advantage of the popularity of the word stan. There are pages of branded Warren stan accounts that look more like promotional campaigns.
Editor-In-Chief of Informed Electorate Mitchell Campbell, who is an Elizabeth Warren “stan” and a part of @teamwarren on Twitter, said he believes that stan culture will have an impact on the upcoming presidential election.
“Plenty of Bernie’s base are people who ‘stan’ him because of his social clout, not because of his policy positions,” Campbell, who is a student at the University of Texas at Tyler, said. “It’s considered cool to support Bernie, so people flock to him.”
One Harris supporter, 22-year-old Spencey Wencey, who goes by @spenceni on the platform and has “kamala stan account” as his header, said politics has interested him for as long as he can remember.
Like many others in his age cohort, Wencey now turns to Twitter for at least part of his news consumption.
“My mom says when I was 4, I started to watch the news and read articles,” Wensey said.
In 2016, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is a digital native to social media, beat long-time incumbent Joe Crowley using the platform. Unlike her competitor, Ocasio-Cortez understood social media language and the meme-dominated dialect of “stan Twitter.” Every campaign these days has a social media team.
In late October, when pop star Ariana Grande tweeted, “baby how u feelin” to promote her collaboration on “Good as Hell” with Lizzo, Bernie Sanders quote tweeted it and responded with “Ready to fight for Medicare for all.”
The tweet got 662,000 likes, and a quote tweet from Ocasio-Cortez, who had formally endorsed Sanders just a couple of weeks earlier. Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet followed a popular tweet format that lists progressive policies as an Ariana Grande dance party.
Twitter also happens to be President Trump’s primary mode of communication. Although he wasn’t the first United States president to use Twitter for professional communications, he is the first to take his personal Twitter feed and make it the presidential Twitter feed.
“Obama quietly thought that was the worst idea possible,” Saunders said, “because it really muddies the waters between the President of the United States as an office and the person of Donald J. Trump. So he is the condiment popular culture president, the likes that were unimaginable at a time.”
But unlike Obama, for Trump, it’s all about the fan base, Saunders said. Trump’s “stans” are notoriously known for defending the politician through thick and thin, much like the young and tween-dominated fan base of popstars.
At a campaign rally held in Iowa in January 2016, he even claimed that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and he wouldn’t lose voters.
But what does stan-ship in politics mean, especially in the upcoming Presidential election where every candidate is loading up on as many cultural references as they can in order to boost their likability?
In the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Sanders stans couldn’t fathom anyone voting for Hillary Clinton, and many voiced that they would rather stay home than vote for her after many posts circulated on social media.
- biden 27%
- warren 18%
- sanders 13%
- buttigieg 12%
- harris 4%
Although social media and stan culture impacts a candidate’s likability and social media clout, little research has been done on how this shift in fandom actually impacts voter mobilization. A study in 2012 conducted by the journal Nature found that social networks can impact voter turnout by a small percentage.
Social media, however, has a larger impact on Millenials and Generation Z, who will soon become a larger part of the voting pool. The platforms may have an impact on voter turnout rates for young people. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), in the 2018 midterm elections, an estimated 31 percent of young people turned out to vote, compared to 21 percent in 2014.
Circle also reported that their analysis showed that social media platforms were able to reach a large segment of young people, many of whom were potential first-time voters and who benefited from hearing about the election on their social media feeds.
“Beyond the ballot box, our pre-election survey of youth suggests that youth activism is on the rise,” CIRCLE wrote on their website, ITS website “with the percentage of youth who have participated in a protest tripling in just the last two years. Our youth poll also revealed that engaging in activism using social media and other online tools translated to offline activism.”
Superstar Ariana Grande, who in 2019 became the first artist to hold the No. 1, 2, and 3 positions on the Billboard charts since the Beatles, teamed up with the organization Headcount to set up voter registration stands at her Sweetener World Tour. The show on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn had almost 15,000 people in attendance and broke a voter registration record. The organization has signed up more people to vote on Grande’s tour than any tour it has partnered with since 2008.
video: politicians = celebs ?
cancel culture: a modern internet phenomenon where a person is ejected from influence or fame by questionable actions.
With wokeness, comes cancel culture. It involves boycotting, which eventually led Spotify to remove R. Kelly’s music from all of their playlists. Although cancel culture can reach the news, it’s mainly prevalent on social media platforms. It can be used on all forms of entertainers and, more recently, has been used on politicians.
On Monday, Oct. 14, which is still officially Columbus Day on the federal government’s calendar but recently has become Indigenous People’s Day in scores of states and municipalities, Perez tweeted, “In 1492 Columbus sailed Into Stan Twitter and got CANCELLED #columbusisoverparty.”
Just a few days earlier, Twitter user @daisyevargas tweeted, “Just a reminder that it’s not okay to have a republican boyfriend.” It was retweeted by 25,000, and favorited by 132,000 users.
And it’s also taking a toll on Kamala Harris’s image. Mann said that although she might have voted for Harris before, what she saw on social media about the former -prosecutor changed her mind.
“For me, as a black woman, I would love the opportunity to support a black woman to run for president. That would be historic,” Mann said, “but by way of social media, most of it because that’s where a lot of the really controversial things about her and issues in her career have come about, some of the things that she’s done in her track record have turned me off to her.”
According to the Pew Research Center survey released in August 2018, 14 percent of Americans have changed their mind about an issue because of something they saw on social media.
“Stan”-ship can be damaging to politics, Chase Freeman, a diehard Elizabeth Warren stan and part-time writer with a Twitter following of almost 13,000 people, said.
“Whenever you have people supporting political candidates in the same way that they support musicians and other artists, you tend to find people clinging to the celebrity status of the politician instead of their specific policies and view,” Freeman said. “This can be seen with Trump supporters more than anything. His supporters tend to believe and worship anything the man says, regardless of its value or validity.”
Now more than ever, with the rise of social media and the digital age, there is an inconsistent perception of truth between parties. According to a recent Pew Research survey, 73 percent of Republican and Democrat voters can’t agree on basic facts.
“Going back five to 10 years ago, people were still willing to say, ‘Okay, that might be a fact, but my opinion is’ et cetera,” Saunders said. “But now, increasingly, I hear, ‘Well, you’re entitled to your own facts,’ or ‘That’s not what I believe,’ when it comes to factual content, provable outcomes, provable data and provable history that we know happened.”
Duffett, however, said that in some circumstances, fans can be fickle or even critical of the people they support.
“Stereotypes confuse fandom with blind loyalty,” Duffett said. “If a person has a lot invested in a celebrity, it doesn’t make them blindly loyal, but it does mean they will give that person the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. Fans do have a different approach to non-fans, but that is not the same as endless commitment.”
canceled for being a cop
canceled for being closeted
“Imagine being a closeted LGBT kid of conservative parents who make a combined 150K and will only pay for college if you attend Liberty University or the Cliven Bundy Bible School. 4 years of increased risk of depression and suicide all because @PeteButtigieg won’t tax his donors” – @Asegals on Twitter
canceled for supporting military
what does it take?
While it’s true that it takes a lot to cancel a celebrity, especially to a stan, it’s easy to attack a person because of the person they support. In the same way entertainer fandoms fight over which actor or popstar is better by digging up their past, political fandoms fight over wokeness. When people go to great extents to try to cancel a politician or celebrity, they are often labeled as “fake woke,” meaning they are only trying to garner likes and popularity through their statements.
“You go on Twitter on any given day and it’s like the woke Olympics,” Mann said. “I think we put too much emphasis on the concept of being woke without ever really trying to do the work. Just because you go on social media and you tweet things that make you seem like an ally doesn’t mean that actually translates to how you actually treat people in real life.”
Fake wokeness is also tied to “slactivism,” which is the idea that by sharing, liking, or retweeting something, you are actually making a difference, and according to a Pew Research Center study from May 2018, 71 percent of Americans agree with the assertion that “social media makes people believe they’re making a difference when they really aren’t.”
“I do think social media has really helped me not only keep myself informed but also be more involved,” Ricky Castaneda, vice -president of the Rutgers College Democrats, said, “but I know that’s not the only way to get yourself involved politically.”