Don’t Stan Serial Killers

I wrote you but you still ain’t callin’…

There are few things in this world, on a socially linguistic level, I hate more than the word “stan”. My problem with it primarily stems from its origins and the fact that I’m not fully convinced everyone who uses it is fully aware of its background. I don’t necessarily think, in the social climate we currently inhabit, knowing where “stan” comes from would stop too many people from using it, but I think it’s worth remembering anyway.

In 2000, Eminem released a song about a fan so obsessive that being ignored by his favorite artist ultimately led to a double murder-suicide. It was popular on release, and is widely regarded to be one of Eminem’s best songs. Despite this it seemed to go mostly under the radar after a while, as most pop culture does. People weren’t talking about it as frequently after a few years, although it has maintained its reputation. It stuck with me long after it seemed to fade from public consciousness. I had never heard anything like it before. Songs about obsession were nothing new, but celebrity obsession from the fan POV was new territory to me, and a little shocking.

Imagine my surprise when, years after its release and apparent fade, “Stan” emerged again not as some kind of cautionary tale, but as hyperbolic description of fandom. Despite the fact that it sticks in my craw probably more than it should on principle, even this in itself doesn’t bother me so much. We live in an age right now where the best way we’ve learned to cope is through hyperbole, and that’s fine. To each their own and all that. I don’t think we’re suddenly going to devolve from using it to mean “being a fan of something” all the way down to murder-suicide.

It is perhaps beside the point that Dahmer was gay…

The worst use of “stan” I have ever seen, though, is when it gets applied to serial killers. Now, listen. I like true crime as much as the next girl. Not as big a fan of unsolved, personally, but I find true crime and the process of solving cases absolutely fascinating. Forensic psychology and behavioral profiling in particular are my favorite aspects. Figuring out why someone does something and what makes them tick is endlessly absorbing for me. I have whole sections of my library, podcasts, and streaming platform recommendations dedicated to true crime. Despite this level of dedication (or maybe because of it) not once in all my reading/watching/listening have I ever thought, “you know who’s really cool? Charles Manson,” or anything like that. I was, in fact, relieved on deeply emotional levels when that particular societal monster descended into hell.

Color me shocked, then, to come across a Twitter battle the other day the likes of which I’d hoped never to see. Apparently, “stanning” serial killers is enough of a thing that there was an argument between “fans” of Manson and Bundy about who was better. More to the point, one side argued “Manson started a social revolution”. I could give a million different reasons why this is one of the worst things I’ve ever laid my eyes on, but just now I’ll leave it at some basic facts:

  1. He did not “start a social revolution” — he wanted to start a race war.
  2. When the race war he wanted didn’t happen, he killed (yes, he did) and got others to kill for him and make it look — as far as he was concerned — like the murders had been committed by the Black Panthers so he wouldn’t look stupid to his followers.
  3. He preyed on the socially unwanted and got them to call him things like “Jesus Christ”.
  4. He did, in fact, kill at least one person by his own hand.
  5. He did not start a social revolution.
(source)

Both Manson and Bundy were a lot of things. Listen to documentaries and footage from the court case and you’ll hear about how handsome and intelligent Bundy was (he wasn’t either of those things, but they will tell you he was). Manson was a small, vindictive racist upset he couldn’t get a record deal. Both killed relatively indiscriminately — and neither deserves admiration — yet they are the first two examples to come up in a Google search of why people admire serial killers. I know, because I checked.

It is a phenomenon that’s been happening since around the time of Bonnie and Clyde, when women wanted to emulate her style and fans who had tracked their progress and been cheering them on swarmed the car after they had been shot down, trying to grab any piece of them as a token. Thousands upon thousands attended their respective funerals (although there were more at Bonnie’s).

Similarly, Bundy’s was the first televised court case of its kind, and was frequently attended by masses of admiring women, despite the fact they knew that outside of that room he would not have hesitated to make them his next victim. Fast forward to today where, apparently, people still have strong (positive?) feelings about the ideologies of people like Charles Manson and we see the “serial killer fandom”, such as it is, has progressed grossly far. While I am certain these people exist in minority — most of us know these were poisonous human beings who were dangerous and terrible — the fact they exist at all is strange and somewhat troubling.

Being a fan of true crime is nothing to be ashamed of. Following cases is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s fascinating to try and assemble the pieces of human nature into some cohesive picture. Be a fan of whomever and whatever you want. “Stan” whomever and whatever you want. Just do it safely, and make sure what you’re defending isn’t a serial killer.

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Katelyn Nelson

Katelyn Nelson

80 Followers

Katelyn Nelson’s writing interests lean mostly toward pop culture analysis and representation. She tweets @24th_Doctor, mostly about horror.