It’s not often that life throws an existential curveball your way like debating the alleged “mother” energy served by Gypsy-Rose Blanchard, but 2024 is a year that’s already proving different. You’re likely to have seen the Louisiana native on your screen over the past two weeks, chatting with Joy Behar on The View, confessing her favourite Taylor Swift bops to The Hollywood Reporter (that’s ‘Karma’ and ‘Eyes Open’ if you’re asking), even speeding into Nicki Minaj’s artificially generated Gag City.
Why, you ask? In late December, Blanchard was released early from a decade-long prison sentence for second-degree murder after conspiring to kill her mother Claudine “Dee Dee” Blanchard, with her ex-boyfriend Nicholas Godejohn (who is currently serving a life sentence for the crime). Dee Dee suffered from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, a rare behavioural disorder where a primary caregiver feigns the illnesses of their dependent for attention and special treatment, and as a result, subjected Blanchard to years of horrific physical and emotional abuse, as well as unnecessary medical procedures until her death in 2015.
It’s a story positively dripping with the juice of tabloid spectacle, and enough malevolent twists and turns to warrant several documentaries and a largely popular TV adaptation – which it naturally already has. The Act, starring Joey King, aired in 2019 on Hulu, and has been followed by this January’s The Prison Confessions of Gypsy Rose Blanchard on the Lifetime TV Network. Now, mere days after her release, Blanchard is a bonafide celebrity with a follower count of eight million on Instagram.
And while we might have surmised that the 32-year-old would be able to live a normal life with her return to civilian life, Twitter seems to have other plans. Through no fault of her own, Blanchard has become a darling of Stan Twitter/X, her likeness mined into a slew of inescapably zeitgeisty memes compiled by the gays and the girls. She’s even been awarded the title of “mother” – the reserve of anyone donning a nice red carpet look, releasing a killer pop song with choreography a tad more intricate than the Macarena and the highest commendation one can give in the fandom-obsessed world of Stan Twitter/X.
So, what’s behind the pop diva treatment of Gypsy-Rose Blanchard? If we can engage in the language of fan culture, it seems that her stannability lies in the moral ambiguity of her story. She’s a figure who has split public opinion, enduring a very public and very taboo stint in prison that, in the language of pop standom, would be dubbed her “flop era”. Gays love an underdog after all, and like many mothers before her, Blanchard is now piecing together her new life while adjusting to a level of fame many only dream of, her every move gobbled up and spat back out as reaction video fodder.
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For fan culture expert Dr Rebecca Williams, Blanchard’s overnight stardom is – obviously enough – linked to a wider fascination with true crime, where impassioned social media discourse surrounding the genre can lead to the boundaries between celebrity and infamy becoming blurred. “I think this is part of a wider interest in the true crime genre, where victims and perpetrators become famous though activity like online sleuthing,” says Williams.
However, there’s also the argument that Blanchard’s appeal lies in the fact that she remains so candid – like the girl you knew from high school who still airs her grievances on Facebook. Take the video of her reminding the host of The View that conspiring to murder her mother despite the abuse she faced did warrant some sort of punishment, or the viral Instagram comment displaying unabashed sex-positivity when it comes to her marriage (“yeah I said it, the D is fire”). Blanchard is a rootable problematic fave if there ever was one, and far more unfiltered than your regular A-lister. “The more unassuming people who capture our attention or affection seem closer to us, as though we might be like them or have similar experiences, in a way that bigger celebrities might not,” adds Williams.
Undeniably, engaging in the fascination around Blanchard and her tumultuous life may seem pretty exploitative to those on the periphery of stan culture. But those conjuring up hit tweets from inside the growing Gypsy-Rose Blanchard fandom may well find the comfort to do so from the safety of a parasocial relationship. Coined in 1956 by sociologists Donald Horton and Richard Wohl, the term describes a one-sided relationship where one party invests wholly into an unassuming other. In recent years, the proliferation of online stan culture has pulled the term into the public consciousness, where it’s used to describe the more overzealous strands of fan loyalty – such as what we can see with Blanchard.
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But media use researcher Michelle Moeri notes that these relationships aren’t always as unhealthy as they’re made out to be. “If people watch the documentary, start liking her, and develop a parasocial relationship that increases interest in Gypsy-Rose’s future, this does not need to be problematic,” she says. Studies show that the relationships often help foster personal development, self-confidence and feelings of community. Problems can arise, however, when these relationships become all-consuming, exacerbating unnecessary conflicts and anxiety.
Blanchard’s embrace by the online world still undoubtedly raises questions on the ethics of stanning, posing questions that we as a community may not have the answers for just yet. Transfixed by her overnight pivot to social media star, Williams believes that the attention courted by her press tour and online presence is a way in which Blanchard seems to have at least gained a semblance of control over her public perception, which in time may wain once her story becomes less new.
Perhaps the churn of the internet will leave Blanchard behind once the next True Crime it-girl emerges, but who’s to say Blanchard won’t be able to pivot into a longer-lasting career? For the first time in her life, she has the agency to do, and say, whatever she pleases. So, provided fans don’t start arriving at her front door, or incessantly taunting her about her trauma, partaking in her life seems harmless enough. We’ve already brought the tell-all memoir, so bring on the headline-making Taylor Swift meet-and-greet shot, and an unforgettable Drag Race cameo where she’ll “slayyyy” and “yasss queen” until the cows come home.
The point is, the gays are ready for you, Gypsy-Rose.