Larger Than Life: Gen Z and Stan Culture

“The typical stereotype of a ‘crazy fan’ is a screaming teenage girl, but, when you actually look into it, fandoms span across many different demographics.”

For her Hallmark Humanities Seminar project, Cailyn ’22 conducted her independent research study on fandom, or “stan” culture, and how social media affects young communities. Her in-depth research culminated in the creation of an insightful documentary, which allows viewers to reflect on varying perspectives and personal experiences when it comes to internet fandom. We asked Cailyn about her process and to share other thoughts about this project.

Why did you choose to do this project?

I had been wanting to study fandom/stan culture for a while, so when the opportunity arose, I was really excited. Teenage fandom is such a “rite of passage” in our global society, but I feel like it has not received the credit it deserves for being the foundation of a lot of young people’s early interactions on the internet. I don’t think a lot of the people who are currently studying fandom do it in a particularly empathetic or delicate way. There is a lot of journalistic eye-rolling and hand wringing over the sorry state of the youth. The typical stereotype of a “crazy fan” is a screaming teenage girl, but when you actually look into it, fandoms span across many different demographics. The wide reach of fandom and my personal experiences were the driving factors behind my project.

What was the process like?

I spent term one and the beginning of term four doing research. I read a lot of articles and studies, but I didn’t end up using a lot of them. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to make a documentary of some sort, but I didn’t really know where to go with it. I figured that doing interviews would be the best place to start, so I picked three people from my life that would have different perspectives and experiences, and I got to work. I wanted to interview someone from Gen Z who I knew had the same experience as I did with fandom, someone from Gen Z who was on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, and someone from outside of my generation to see what it looks like from the outside looking in. I ended up getting about an hour of content from each person I interviewed, and that took a while to edit, but overall it was a labor of love, and I am really proud of how it turned out.

Were you met with any challenges? How did you overcome them?

To be honest, I am really bad at writing thesis statements. I wrote like five drafts of my thesis statement before coming to the final version, and the first two were, frankly, not good at all. I kept working on it and relied on feedback from my teachers and my research partner, to make each version better. As I mentioned before, the stereotype of a screaming teenage girl was so prevalent that it made it difficult to find hard facts. There are a lot of opinion/think pieces about how silly K-pop fans are or how stupid teenage girls are for liking basically anything. There were very strange undertones in a lot of the articles I was looking through for information. After a while it started to affect me; I didn’t really want to say anything personal in my video or my presentation because I didn’t want people to see me the way that fans were being described in those articles. In the time that had elapsed between getting involved in fandom and doing this project, I had started to look down on fans in the same way the writers of my sources had. I struggled with that for a while, and I came to the conclusion after talking to my teachers and my family, and a bit of introspection, that there really isn’t anything wrong with being a fan of something. There is literally nothing wrong or embarrassing about liking music, or any other form of media. The whole point of art is to make things that speak to you and your audience. But, as I was coming to that conclusion, I was able to use some of my inner turmoil to make something that I think is more honest than it was before.