Ever since I started getting engaged with new media like books and movies on my own, I’ve been engaged with fan culture. I found it fun to see how one piece of art could inspire and connect people from all over the world purely due to shared love and appreciation for it. I made friends who liked the Harry Potter books just as much as me at school and found a community through being a fan of the media I consumed.

Although my experience was overwhelmingly positive, the idea that the characters I loved were not real was comforting to me. At the end of the day, nothing people did would be seen as particularly harmful to someone’s real life.

This aspect of fan culture, however, disappears when the media being consumed is no longer fictional- but rather a real person.

When looking at celebrities from actors like Florence Pugh and Jenna Ortega to musicians like Harry Styles, Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo, fan culture is never far behind them. And while this could mimic the same inspiration and engagement fictional media portrays, obsessions with these people are anything but innocent.

Following the release of Rodrigo’s debut album, Sour, controversy flooded social media under the impression there was a toxic love triangle between Rodrigo, her ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ costar Joshua Bassett and fellow ex-Disney actress Sabrina Carpenter.

People across the world sent threats of varying magnitude to Carpenter and Bassett for “hurting Rodrigo,” and the innocence of fan culture was no longer a conversation open for discussion.

Carpenter released a song over a year later, entitled “because i liked a boy,” widely assumed to be about the backlash she faced from the “love triangle” containing lyrics like “Now I’m a homewrecker, I’m a slut/I got death threats filling up semi trucks/Tell me who I am, guess I don’t have a choice.”

While I was not active in understanding the drama surrounding the triangle during it was trending, I cannot help but feel ashamed on behalf of the Rodrigo fans who caused this distress for Carpenter. Although fan culture and fandoms as a whole can be unifying centers to find community, when left unchecked they can lead to real-life negative impacts for the celebrities involved.

Another example of this is in the origin story of the popular “After” movie series. Prior to its critical acclaim on Netflix, “After” originated from a series of books written on fanfiction website “Wattpad” by author Anna Todd based on members of the boyband One Direction. Although Todd claimed the band members were simply “muses” for the story, the original versions of all seven books in the series had characters named after the members, with Styles playing the lead male role.

The controversy came when Todd depicted Styles as an abusive and manipulative boyfriend, spiraling beliefs that Styles placed a restraining order against Todd while the story’s popularity was in its peak. Even after its release and Todd changing character names to variants (ex: Harry to Hardin), former members of the band, such as Liam Payne, commented about the movie being “based off of Mr. Styles, of course,” showing the direct influence the work of fiction had on their lives.

While celebrities may feel untouchable, they deserve just as much respect and human decency as the person sitting next to you at school or at work. Whether or not invasive fan accounts, controversial trends or fanfictions-turned-movies are truly harmful to celebrities, engaging in toxic fan culture is far too common and far too normalized.

It can be really fun to enjoy a celebrity and want to learn more about them, but creating boundaries for your engagement and respecting the basic boundaries of public figures is important.

Fan culture will never die, and frankly due to its unequivocal ability to bring people together and make people happy, it shouldn’t, but changes need to be made to popular fan culture to stop this blatant disrespect.

Personally, I’ll stick to watching concert clips on TikTok and keep reporting harassment of public figures I see, and I strongly advise others to do the same.