“Stan The Squad <3” a user states on Twitter, expressing their love for Democratic Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley. Following Ocasio-Cortez and Omar’s record-breaking Twitch stream of Among Us, garnering more than 5.5 million views, supporters flocked to social media in a manner reminiscent of stan culture. Though seemingly innocent, this treatment of politicians as celebrity entertainers prevents people from viewing them critically and builds a base of blind followers who believe they can do no wrong.
The wave of impulsive loyalty towards politicians mimics similar actions prevalent in celebrity stan culture — where committed fans exhibit unwavering support and even borderline devotion for their favorite star on the Internet. Stan culture is especially prominent in the music industry, with fans of artists even coining names for themselves — Justin Bieber has his Beliebers and Lady Gaga has her Little Monsters.
These avid fan bases maintain a powerful feedback loop; they boost their favorite artist’s success by religiously buying their products, albums, and merchandise, and in return, the celebrity complies with what type of content their fans want, how they receive it, and even who is allowed to experience it. Now, fandoms have the ability to alter the course of an entertainer’s career, influencing their decisions, popularity, and public reputation.
Now more than ever, the concept of “stanning” politicians has become commonplace. For example, in 2017, those who supported the former CA Senator and current Vice President-elect Kamala Harris coined themselves the #KHive. Co-founder of @Mamas4Kamala, a group that is part of the #KHive and dedicated to getting moms to support Harris’s candidacy and policies, Julie Zebrak said, “It’s just kind of code, for we’re in the club, we’re all in for Kamala.”
However, idolizing politicians clouds our perception of them and their policies. Their followers mistakenly start to believe they intimately know their favorite politicians despite never having any personal interaction with them. This misplaced trust leads to the internal idolization of such politicians by their followers, who will be quick to smack down any opposition without considering that there might be truth behind it.
When smaller political candidates and activists see their base increase in size due to an influx of positive support on social media, from their fan base or otherwise, they become more inclined to do what it takes to maintain their following, regardless of the cost. In turn, supporters continue to engage by spreading affirmative messages and information about the politician, often without proper research on the policies that they are lobbying for. Political discourse, which might usually be a key factor in their campaign, suddenly goes unnoticed because transparency is put on the back burner in favor of popularity.
Allowing our emotions to shape our political landscape also results in the loss of political discourse on all sides of the spectrum. When an increasingly large number of politicians gain their own fanbases, it polarizes the political landscape even more and prevents open conversations between people who have opposing ideas or support for different candidates. In addition, this lack of discussion makes it more difficult for voters to create their own opinions, since everything around them is now biased for or against certain candidates.
When taken too far, this practice of stanning politicians becomes incredibly dangerous by creating a cult-like circle of obsessive support among a candidate’s followers, encouraging them to perceive this individual as a God-like messiah.
Steven Hassan, a former “Moonies” cult member and cult expert, remarked on how such cult-like tendencies can be seen in many people who support President Donald J. Trump.
In an interview with Vox, he said, “What really made me think of Trump as a cult was the way the groups who supported him were behaving, especially religious groups who believed that God had chosen Trump or was using Trump… There was this blind-faith aspect to the whole thing and an unwillingness to look at any inconvenient facts. That’s all very cult-like.” Over time, this polarizing behavior, perpetuated by stan culture, turns politicians into God-like figures that can’t be criticized, challenged, or questioned, further damaging the political landscape.
The cost of engaging in idolization is heavy; it impacts the future of our nation’s policy and determines our success. Instead of treating politicians like celebrities or TV personalities, we should view them through a critical lens to maintain the checks and balances between voters and politics. It’s now more important than ever to separate the personal lives of these politicians from our partisan understanding to ensure that we maintain an informed view. Voters should take a deeper look into the political background and campaign policies that politicians argue for, instead of forming incomplete generalizations about them based on one-sided discourse.
Cover graphic by Opinion Editor Aria Lakhmani