In this essay, I will be discussing the use of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) and drag slang within stan communities on the microblogging service Twitter. I will be focusing on how members of these communities construct their identities within Participatory Culture through the use of language in order to interact, engage, feel included and form affiliation to those communities.
Twitter based online fandom communities, also known as stan communities, are what we know as Participatory Culture. Participatory Culture, the opposite of Consumer Culture, is a ‘culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices’ (Jenkins, 2007, p. 3). Jenkins states that there are four forms of participatory culture: fan affiliations, expressions of fandoms, collaborative problem-solving and circulations. According to Halverson et al. (2016, p. 3), ‘Affiliations express the interest-driven aspect of participatory cultures.’ When members produce, share and represent ideas, it is called expressions of fandoms. In this form of participatory culture, as members become more familiar with the culture, they begin to mimic the language of other members. (p. 4)
A study conducted by Malik & Haidar (2020, p. 1) refers to stan communities as a Community of Practice (CoP) and shows, ‘that members of K-pop Stan Twitter form interpersonal bonds, communicate regularly and create a close-knit community where everyone contributes in their own capacity.’ This study also states that these communities have their own humour and language (p. 3).
Research conducted by Carter (2018) based on Lady Gaga stans, that call themselves ‘Little Monsters’, shows that a decent amount of their language originated from language used by black gay men and drag queens. This is not surprising as Lady Gaga is an LGBTQ rights advocate and is considered to be a gay icon. According to Barrett (2017, p. 9), ‘Gay male and lesbian language use largely involves the appropriation of language associated with other groups, and the way in which appropriated forms are combined can enlighten local LGBT ideologies of gender and sexuality.’ Study by Grieve et al. (2018, p. 313) shows that ‘three of our five common patterns of lexical innovation appear to be primarily associated with African American English, showing the inordinate influence of African American English on Twitter.’
The following collection of data consists of 10 screenshots of tweets dating from May 2015 to April 2021. All of these tweets include stan language that is frequently seen in communities on stan Twitter and is associated with African-American Vernacular English and drag slang. These tweets showcase how a decent amount of language that originated from AAVE and drag slang has been used and modified in stan Twitter communities. This data collection also showcases some of the positive and negative sides of stan Twitter culture.
Analysis and discussion
The term ‘spill the tea’ has its origins in drag culture, more specifically in black drag culture. It is used as an encouragement to gossip and the use is very popular in media, especially the show RuPaul’s Drag Race (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 2021). Although this term has been associated mostly with telling secrets and gossip (screenshot 1.8), in the screenshots 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.7 it is not the case. In these tweets the term has been modified and used either as an agreement or disagreement with the use of elements. The term ‘spilled sewage water’ in the screenshot 1.1 signifies disagreement with their previous statement that says ‘I spilled’, which without addition of a word means agreement. In the screenshot 1.2, the term ‘spilled expired milk’ is also a form of a disagreement and in the screenshots 1.3 and 1.9, ‘spilled liquid gold’ is used as an agreement. Screenshot 1.4, the phrase ‘spill the tea’ is used in a context of telling someone that they agree with what they are saying.
The tweet above in the screenshot 1.4 is making fun of an artist, which is very common on Twitter. Very often, certain communities collectively hate the same celebrities. In the screenshot 1.5, a person called ‘Cyn’ jokes about the celebrity Cardi B by calling her ‘Cardio’. Nicki Minaj stans that call themselves ‘Barbz’ and Cardi B stans, ‘Bardigang’, often get into Twitter altercations due to the fact that both women haven’t always been on good terms in the past. This is a toxic example of Participatory Culture, of the function expressions of fandoms. Stans unite in a common hate for a person in order to produce mean spirited comments.
In the screenshot 1.6 we can observe the positive side of participation of fandoms. Very often, stans unite to support one of their own when they are going through a difficult time and write positive and encouraging comments. As Bermudez et al. (2020) state, ‘Stan culture has its good nature wherein the fandoms band together to support each other, as well as respecting one another […], but it also has a toxic environment – mainly from those who instill negativity towards others.’ (p. 1)
One phenomenon within the stan communities is the use of terms that are usually outside of these communities and drag slang meant towards women. One of these examples is the word ‘sis’, which originally comes from AAVE. In gay culture, this term is often used with no regards to gender, for example in the screenshots 1.8 and 1.10. Although the use of female pronouns in the gay community has been perceived to be misogynistic by some, Kulick (2000) disagrees with this, proposing that the use of female pronouns within gay culture makes fun of the concept of gender (p. 254). ‘What would appear to be a trivialization of the world, because social Gayspeak is often frivolous, comic, precious, or fleeting, amounts to a trivialization through parody of the dominant culture’ (Hayes, 1981, p. 49)
In conclusion, this essay has shown that a large amount of language used on stan Twitter originates from AAVE and drag slang. The modification of these forms of English has caused a creation of a new form of English in these communities. Members share similar language and humour and they often unify towards a common goal, which causes stan communities to have both positive aspects, like members uplifting and supporting each other, and negative aspects, for example spreading hate about an artist they dislike.
Barrett, R. (2017). From Drag Queens to Leathermen: Language, Gender, and Gay Male Subcultures. New York City: Oxford University Press
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Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Clinton, K., Weigel, M., & Robison, A. (2007). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning White Paper Series. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://www.macfound.org/media/article_pdfs/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF
Kulick, D. (2000). Gay and Lesbian Language. Annual Review of Anthropology, 29, 243-285. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/223422
Let’s Talk ‘Tea’. (2021). In Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/tea-slang-meaning-originMalik, Z. & Haidar S. (2020). Online community development through social interaction — K-Pop stan twitter as a community of practice, Interactive Learning Environments. Available at: 10.1080/10494820.2020.1805773