There’s no such thing as an “unproblematic fave.” People — and the things that we create — are informed by the world around us, and we can be exposed to some pretty problematic environments that are hard to move away from. And if people, especially ones we admire, are going to continue making both positive and negative choices, then what actually matters in fandom isn’t finding some mythical angel celebrity who never does anything wrong. Rather, it’s unpacking our own responses. What do we do with the realization that someone responsible for our fandom happiness in some capacity has been careless, or made a mistake, or been intentionally cruel or predatory?
No one wants to admit they previously or currently stan someone who is under fire for bad behavior — or who’s even committed crimes. I get that. But on the internet, the response is often knee-jerk: clear the searches, pretend they’ve done no wrong, attack anyone who brings it up and position them as the real bad guy, an “anti,” or someone lying for clout.
One recent example of this fandom practice comes with former BIGBANG member Seungri’s sentencing for crimes related to the 2019 Burning Sun nightclub scandal. While the case has been documented across domestic and international media, backlash from many of his non-Korean fans in particular (to say nothing of the group’s fans as a whole) remains fierce and hinges heavily on misinformation and denial. “Immediately after the sentencing, social media was full of posts claiming Seungri was a victim of injustice and seeking to undermine the case against him,” the South China Morning Post noted. “Many supporters, largely non-Korean fans of Seungri, began to use four-leaf clover emojis to wish him good luck, while also sharing posts declaring his innocence and claiming the court proceedings were falsified.”
As a former fan of Seungri, I understand the desire to deny that one of my faves could have committed crimes. However, it’s that public attempt to do image maintenance for Seungri — one that frequently comes along with harassment of journalists covering the case and fandom translation accounts — that takes a defensive feeling and turns it into actual harm. It shouldn’t need to be said, but we’ll say it: take a beat and think through your feelings before you compound bad behavior. And yet, this kind of reaction is part of a larger pattern in different celebrity-focused fandoms for both high-profile musicians and actors with massive PR teams, as well as influencers, TikTokers, YouTubers, and Twitch streamers who have celebrity status and massive audiences… but next to no media training and oversight. (Which is why they have so many scandals.)
There’s a habit that people have of deflecting when a creator or celebrity gets revealed as a creep, or they mess up in some way that’s harmful. One of the main ways that they do this is by uplifting their own celebrity fave through some version of “stan ____ for clear skin” or “see, if you stanned _____, you wouldn’t have this problem because they’re unproblematic.” Sometimes they even drop lists of supposedly “unproblematic” creators in a given fandom or genre as if to say, “I was able to spot the bad person before you guys did… follow these good people instead.”
However, that’s not how any of that works. When people meet valid criticisms of a celebrity — or news that the public figure has committed crimes or harmed others — with a “Follow this unproblematic person instead” response, it glosses over the fact that we don’t actually know who people are online. A public figure who overshares on their YouTube channel might seem like one of your closest friends thanks to the magic of the parasocial relationship, but they’re all functionally strangers. We don’t know what they’re really like because we’re only seeing what they choose to show us.
The YouTuber that you recommend as an “unproblematic” alternative to one accused of harassing women or sexting underaged fans might have their own scandal come out in the coming weeks. The Korean idol group you recommend because they don’t have cultural appropriation issues “like everyone else”? Well, they probably do, because that’s one of the uncomfortable realities of being into Korean idols… lots of cultural appropriation and an unfortunate history of antiblackness that includes blackface.
Celebrities and other public figures are people too. That means that at best, they’ll be imperfect and accidentally say things that distress their fans or make mistakes they have to fix. At worst, they’ll actually and actively hurt other people. So, what do you do when your fandom favorite turns out to be a genuinely bad person or messes up in small or large ways?
Well, for starters: Don’t harass people who have a problem with that person or what they’ve done. Internet of beefs aside, you are not actually a knight defending your lord. You don’t have to bear that burden. Since it’s not your job to jump into battle in their defense, when someone else says they don’t like your fave — especially because that person has messed up in a way that’s unforgivable to them — you can just move on. Don’t tweet. Don’t harass them. Don’t bury the issue beneath misinformation or via “clearing the searches” — a purposeful form of disinformation that ensures a celebrity’s trending topics/searches don’t contain information about what’s actually setting fans off this time.
It’s important to realize that fandoms are better when we grow in fandoms together. That means that when a public figure says something that might be inappropriate or clearly isn’t well thought out, we should want them to do better. We should want them to be themselves… but also for them to do the bare minimum and grow as people aware of the world they’re in and the people they influence. (Also, they shouldn’t assault other people. That should be a given.)
We’re all moving through this life together, saying and doing sh*t we shouldn’t and then (hopefully) trying to make it right or do better next time. That applies to stanning, too, and it’s important to keep in mind the unfortunate reality that we’re always one bad day away from discovering the creator or celebrity we love isn’t that great. But you’re responsible for your own decisions — not theirs.
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Original posted at www.teenvogue.com