The internet is a window that needs some curtains. Or shutters. Or drapes. Anything that creates a semblance of privacy, respect, and boundaries I think would do the internet some good. At the very least, maybe it would end the rampant, unchecked sexualization, fetishization, objectification, and dehumanization of celebrities by fans.
The internet and social media have made it possible for just about anybody to see anything. For those of us who are fans of celebrities (reminder: real-life people), this means that thirst tweet, smutty fic, or fan edit we just posted could very well be seen by the people we stan. And if that doesn’t embarrass us, then we need to have a conversation about fan culture.
In 2021, Twitter and TikTok users are both the poster-children for and the spokespeople against toxic fan culture. I regularly see tweets and videos that explain why people are so judgmental of fans in the first place. For a brief moment a few months ago, there was a trend where people admitted which celebrities they think they could pull on their best day. Now, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this trend, mostly because it’s not that serious and it does help humanize celebrities. But there were some people who made it obvious they were not joking. For these fans, this trend was a microcosm of how normal it is to sexualize celebrities.
A few years ago, back in One Direction’s heyday, Larry Stylinson was the pinnacle of toxic fan culture. While shipping real-life people is hotly debated in fandoms, Larry Stylinson shippers are considered radicals in the shipping community.
For most Directioners, even if we thought it would be cute for Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson to date in real life, we left it at that. It was simply a thought we briefly had before moving on with our lives. We did not show up to concerts, meet and greets, and other public events on a mission to make it clear to the boys that we were obsessed with their sexualities and insistent on fetishizing their (probably non-existent) relationship. To this day, toxic Larries think Harry and Louis are trying to communicate to them through coded messages.
no I hate it because it's invasive, scary, delusional, disrespectful to us both and was never real…Ever.
— Lauren Jauregui (@LaurenJauregui) March 23, 2017
@brujitaf_Spears because you never quite become ok with people sexualizing you and your friendships for their sick pleasure. That's why.
— Lauren Jauregui (@LaurenJauregui) March 23, 2017
In fandoms where fictitious worlds are brought to life through the power of film and television, toxic fans blur the line between fantasy and reality. Star Wars fans’ (and Disney’s) treatment of John Boyega is one example. Shadow and Bone fans’ treatment of Danielle Galligan is another. In both instances, fans attacked the actors online, even going as far as sending death threats.
Basic human respect and decency dictate sending hate and death threats to anyone is horrible. And sending hate and death threats because a Black actor playing a Black character speaks up about how blockbuster series fail to explore the nuances of characters of color or because an actor playing a character isn’t curvy enough is the epitome of toxic fan culture.
Also, toxic fans are almost always involved when celebrities have to take a hiatus for their mental health. Toxic fans are why Little Mix is now a trio, why Chloe Bailey received so much misogynoir-fueled hate online recently, why Natalie Portman left the spotlight for a brief period of time, why Sulli and Hara are no longer with us, and even why Britney Spears experienced such a public breakdown (why do you think paparazzi were following her so closely? Because fans were too interested in her life).
Luckily there are people who are trying to correct this toxic fan behavior.
Lindsay Webster, of Buzzfeed fame, is a well-known Harry Styles superfan. In a recent YouTube video, she admitted she’s never actually wanted to marry Harry. She’s just a really big fan of who he is and what he does. This is very relatable, and it should be the only opinion held by fans. On Twitter and TikTok, I’ve seen fans echo Webster’s opinion with humor, reminding others in their fandoms that they’re probably not going to ever meet their fave, let alone marry them. Other fans have joked about how they cannot believe they stan a human person, while still others have admitted they never want their ult to know they (or their fan page) exist.
No one is saying you can’t stan celebrities. But celebrities should always be treated like people because they are people. Respect their privacy, respect their boundaries, and remember that they don’t owe us anything.
Keep going to concerts, meet and greets, book signings, red carpets, award shows, and more—but if you meet the celebrity you stan, don’t show them your fics, and don’t pull up the webtoon you drew of them in a furry relationship. It’s really not that hard to rein in the hate, creepiness, and judgment in favor of keeping fan culture light, fun, and enjoyable for everyone.
Even if you’re not one of these toxic fans, I still suggest we all get in the habit of logging off of the internet from time to time. There’s more to life than being a fan—and I say this as one. Go out and experience it. Or, at the very least, start small and go outside to touch some grass.
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