Reflections on Stanning

One of the best concepts I’ve discovered through Twitter is the idea of being a “stan”.

The concept originates with the Eminem song of the same name, about a fan who drives off a bridge when Eminem doesn’t answer his letters. It’s been coopted by the internet to mean a diehard, obnoxious fan.

Here’s an example of a stan in action:

STAN: I am the biggest Patriots fan there is. Tom Brady was set up. He could throw a football a hundred yards through a burning tire into the arms of a sleeping infant.

WAITER: That is truly fascinating, sir. Could I ask you again if you prefer the chicken or fish?

It’s usually applied to devotees of people (as Urban Dictionary points out, it’s also a portmanteau of stalker and fan), but once introduced to the concept I couldn’t help but see it in the way people talk about cities. In cities, too, you see people exhibit unreasonable fandom. We all know somebody who thinks you can’t really understand food until you’ve been part of the New York restaurant scene or who refuses to believe that there is meaningful life beyond the Bay Area.

These people are mostly harmless if a bit obnoxious. It’s not so bad to love your hometown or adopted hometown.

Where it gets interesting is the people who are stans for places that are traditionally hard to love. Like the fans of a beleaguered sports team, stans for an unpopular city have been been embarrassed many times but still never stop “rooting for the laundry”.

Stanhood for a low esteem city manifests itself in different ways. Unless you’re truly delusional you aren’t going to claim that Lubbock has everything Los Angeles does; maybe your obsession just means that you’re willing to make an economic sacrifice by living in your city of choice. I have a lot of respect for the people committed to improving where they are. You’ve earned the obnoxiousness, go ahead and stan if you want to.

But I’ve noticed an interesting divide in hated-upon cities. Some have a healthy, accepting culture of local supporters and others a core of true believers distrustful of outsiders.

In group one, the only ticket to insider status is being willing to give the place a chance. Because so many people are willing to denigrate your city, if you genuinely care for it, you won’t be shut out by the lifers. In my limited experience, cities like Indianapolis, Cleveland and Providence have a fairly robust culture of acceptance for newcomers. If you want to roll up your sleeves and help here, you can be one of us. And sure, you can rag on us a bit too. We’re used to it. Stanhood here is a more humble than defensive; you’ve seen the diamond in the rough and want people to appreciate it with you.

The second kind of city is distrustful of outsiders, and it is difficult to become accepted if you weren’t born and raised there. Do gooders from the outside are seen at best as transient and at worst as exploitative. Efforts to help receive a lot of raised eyebrows instead of pats on the back. A lot of medium sized cities seem to exhibit this mentality, Worcester among them. In this type of city, stans tend to be critical of intentions and highly attentive to credentials, leading to difficulties in coalition building and mutual understanding.

Whether the split comes down to culture, region, or economics, I can’t really say. It could be that neglected towns with at least some outside draw (IE, strong educational or business institutions) have come to expect the churn of people who never really connect with the city itself and grow to resent an exploitative relationship. Maybe there’s some connection to local politics: some cities disdain their distant or meddling state capitals in a way that feels similar.  

I’m interested if you’ve found other cities that fit either of these molds. Is this a generalization that works, or does every city have some of each?

In any event, if you root for an unloved city: stan on.