“Stan” Twitter is Dangerous for Fandoms

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I hate “stan” twitter.

According to urban dictionary, stan means that “you look up to that person, you watch them, or you truly love their content. It’s another word for saying you idolize someone or something.” The core of it is described very well in Eminem’s song Stan which highlights toxic obsession. Stan twitter builds on that definition by being a place that unapologetically praises – or idolizes – people and content, no matter their problematic natures, to the point of harassing individuals who they do not agree.

The idea of idolizing anyone or anything is dangerous. Humans have flaws and so does the content created by them. Characters, actors, directors, movies, and tv shows. Stan twitter often ignores valid criticism of these or people because they idolize them including ignoring the abusive pasts of certain individuals or on the other end of the spectrum, calling fair criticism of the subject abusive. But, having an opinion and looking at a piece of media through a critical lens as opposed to loving everything unconditionally should never be frowned upon.

Recently, I expressed the concerns I have with the upcoming DC Universe show, Titans. I have seen the show already and I am lucky to have been able to view the first three episodes in advance. While some reviewers loved the way Starfire is portrayed in the show, I did not. Since the debut of the leaked photos and marketing following, I have not been a fan of her look. That being said, I am a fan of Anna Diop’s casting and condemned the racist and sexist attacks toward her on social media. Additionally, I have argued in the past that Starfire throughout comic book history has been drawn with features that are similar to Black women so a Black actress made sense.

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However, none of that should matter in regards to critical and academic responses to media. While I would not consider myself a professional journalist or an academic, I do have a BA in Mass Communications with a concentration in Public Relations. I have also studied media literacy and media history in-depth throughout my career. That being said, we live in an age where anyone can be a journalist and have a critical opinion.

Within the past Teen Titans iterations, I know what I enjoy in the character of Starfire in regards to look and story arc. I grew up watching the original Teen Titans cartoon and later began to read comics with her including various runs on Teen Titans, Red Hood and the Outlaws, and Starfire.

As vain as it may seem, I also want a superhero I know and love to look a certain way, in regards to costuming. Amanda Conner drew a fantastic Starfire during the character’s solo series and the designs currently featured in DC Animation movies and the video game Injustice 2 are extremely well done and closer to what I was hoping for in Titans. Similarly, during Scott Lobdell’s run on New 52’s Red Hood and the Outlaws, I heavily criticized Starfire’s blatant over-sexualization, skimpy outfit, and downright anorexic design. While I do not think Anna’s Diop’s rendition of the character is nearly as bad as Lobdell’s portrayal in the comics, I can say the coat, dress, boots and really bad wig ensemble is, in my opinion, awful. I understand people have said that it isn’t her final outfit or costume but that is all that has been shown.

Various iterations of Starfire in different forms of media

Stan twitter often likes to argue that we can’t judge a product by its promotional photos or trailers and will even go so far as to attack and harass people who disagree with that point. Stan twitter also conflates fair criticism with harassment. I think that mindset is completely without merit, and I would say on the internet, garbage. As someone with a background in PR and marketing, I understand what messages trailers and photos are trying to convey and to what audience. If a trailer or photo fails to build effective hype then there is a very good chance the product will also fail.

Fair criticism is important. It is important to delve into why something didn’t work or why it did. It is also important for the sake of understanding the media’s impact on humanity as a whole.

That being said, It is also ok to disregard that criticism if you enjoy something but expecting other people to do the same is ridiculous. Furthermore, the idea that all fair criticism of a product is driven by racism, sexism or any other “ism” is vastly untrue. Discounting criticism of something you love and calling it racist is a dangerous precedent to take. Yes, Kelly Marie Tran and Anna Diop faced horrible harassment but we have to be careful not to conflate those toxic comments with valid criticism of the characters.

It is absolutely possible for people can not like how characters are written or costumed without holding toxic views. If we begin to conflate every criticism with toxicity we lose the power behind the term. In a forum like Twitter where an echo chamber can be easily curated, to take other’s words and twist them to fit a narrative that disqualifies all critique is dangerous to discourse within fandoms. Unlike Stan twitter, we must hold what we love accountable in order to keep it thriving. If we let problems in fandoms go, we would never see better-written characters or studios who righted wrong decisions. While not every “stan” starts harassment campaigns over a single tweet, many do and effectively shut down discourse.