With social media giving us unfettered access to the stars, fandom has become manic for the ability to "own" a piece of their favorite celebrities.
“I feel like I’m friends with her,” the lady next to me on the subway laughs to her friend as they scroll through a celebrity’s Instagram feed. Another swipe. “She was at Lucien last week? That’s so funny, I was just there!”
Social media has offered us the space to connect with our favorite celebrities with the tap of a “Follow.” Suddenly, what they had for breakfast and what music they’re listening to becomes a part of our morning conversations just like any other newsworthy event in our personal lives. An artist’s work already allows us to connect to them, but with the advent of The Digital Age allowing us a peek into their personal lives via the internet, we can develop a heightened sense of connection that can teleport us from a mere fan to “stan” status.
In his 2000 single “Stan,” Eminem popularized the concept of being a stan, a fan whose support has become so overzealous that it becomes nearly manic. In 2018, The Odyssey Online even provided a guide to classify where one may fall on the stan spectrum. According to them, there are eight kinds of stans ranging from “The Hardcore Stan,” who is a staunch supporter of their favorite, to “Know-it-All Stans,” who are so self-deceived that they act as if they actually have a personal relationship with them.
Recently, an old signed notebook belonging to prominent rapper Drake was found in a dumpster. It is now being sold online by the auction company Moments in Time for a hefty $32,500. The book, filled with lyrics and general musings, is believed to be dated between 2002 and 2005, long before the rapper’s music career took off. The notebook is surely a collector’s item that will likely sell to a wealthy buyer, but what about the less than glamorous collectibles? The locks of hair, the lipstick-stained handkerchiefs, the chewed pieces of gum? Very personal items of these sorts have also made their way around the auction circuit. In 2002, Justin Timberlake’s half-eaten French toast was sold on Ebay to an N’Sync fan for over $1,000. Britney Spears pregnancy test sold for $5001 in 2005. Lady Gaga’s faux fingernail sold for a reported $12,000 in 2013, and a year prior, Elvis Presley’s dirty underwear went up for auction for up to $15,000, proving to be no match, however, for Michael Jackson’s stained underwear which auctioned for a staggering $1 million.
The label of “celebrity” places an imaginary barrier between those who fall under it and those who don’t. Being able to connect with these celebrities online minimizes that gap, propelling us to become awe-stricken whenever we discover that our favorite artists are “just like us”—their acrylics fall off, sometimes they prefer French Toast to pancakes, and if you can believe it, they poop. The creation of fandoms and fan accounts on Twitter and Instagram are evidence of the growing, false idea that we really know the artists we wake up with on social media. Whether or not there’s a certain set of ways in which a fan should express their love for their favorite artists is a topic of ongoing discussion, but it undoubtedly raises the question: can it go too far?
This obsession and profit-based exchange is all occurring online, underscoring the overwhelming desire stan’s experience for a tangible connection with their idols. An Instagram follow or shoutout only satiates the stan’s thirst for a bond for so long until they’re craving their next fix, something they can touch and feel offline. Thus ensues a rabid search for anything tangible—be it a lock of hair, a chewed piece of gum, or, in this case, an old notebook retrieved from a dumpster dive—to the point that one becomes willing to offer up thousands of dollars. Auction houses as well as independent sellers are starting to realize this, exploit it, and profit off of it. The Digital Age has left many feeling not only in search of but entitled to relationships without boundaries, a position that, when gone unchecked, can enter into the disillusioned, dumpster-diving territory of becoming a level 8 stan.