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In Dr. Fauci we stan

How a 79-year-old scientist became a beloved meme

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Photo by Win McNamee / Getty Images - Illustration by Alex Castro

The Anthony Fauci Fan Club Twitter account wants you to know one thing: “If you don’t have a crush on this man, do you even care about public health?” 

The account, which quickly skyrocketed to over 13,000 followers in just the past few days, was launched by three Maryland-based microbiologists who, at first, created a group chat to “gush over” Fauci in private. “We can’t be the only ones who are feeling this way,” one said of the esteemed immunologist.

“Did I mention he’s easy on the eyes?” said another. 

The microbiologists aren’t alone. Over the last few weeks, Dr. Fauci stans have created Facebook fan clubs, TikTok videos, donuts, browser games and even prayer candles in celebration of the scientist leading the Trump administration’s novel coronavirus response. A 79-year-old career scientist isn’t usually the type of person the internet feverishly stans over. But under these extreme circumstances, Fauci has emerged as the comforting leader the internet, and the US, needs now more than ever.

Fauci’s calm and level-headed demeanor has become a soothing balm for many amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At this moment in time, Fauci is one of the only people we regularly see while glued to screens indoors. He is a figure of constant guidance and reassurance at a time when even the most basic parts of American life, like work, school, and family, have become inconsistent and decentralized over the internet. Mixed together, it’s the perfect fodder for fandom.

“It is the moment to exercise and practice fandom,” Abigail De Kosnik, director of the Berkeley Center for New Media and a fandom specialist, told The Verge. De Kosnik says fandom around Fauci is thriving right now because it’s one of the only ways we can “connect to the outside world” and interact with strangers since we can’t see anyone physically. “Fandom is what remains.”

For years, political figures — like Fauci — who have spoken truth to power in tumultuous times in history have become the ideal breeding ground for fandom. According to Know Your Meme, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s rise to internet celebrity stardom corresponded with the creation of a Tumblr blog entitled Notorious R.B.G., invoking the name of the famous hip-hop artist, The Notorious B.I.G. The blog launched in celebration of Ginsburg’s lauded 2013 dissent in the Shelby County v. Holder case that struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act. That dissent paired with the blog’s memes was just the flint in creating a fire of RBG fan content and merch that continues today. The excitement around Fauci is creating a similar community, focused around bringing hope and joy to one another during this pandemic. 

The fandom has grown rapidly with stans posting a slew of memes and merch all across the internet. Etsy and Amazon are littered with T-shirts that feature the scientist. One asks “What would Fauci do?” Another Etsy seller has made prayer candles featuring Fauci depicted as an angel with a halo around his head. Pastry shops across the country are selling donuts with Fauci’s face surrounded in red, white, and blue buttercream. Fauci’s constant status in American life amid the pandemic has made it even more noticeable when he’s absent. When Fauci did not make an appearance at a White House press briefing last month, the hashtag #WhereisFauci went viral on social media, as though Fauci stood up the internet.

The fandom is cross-generational, too. On Facebook, the Dr. Anthony Fauci Fan Club group touts nearly 40,000 members of all ages. They post news articles to keep each other informed, but they also share memes honoring Fauci. In one, Fauci appears on the front page of People magazine as the “sexiest man alive.” In another, Fauci’s face is photoshopped onto the body of Captain America. One user posted a Trump-like campaign sign, but instead of featuring the president’s own infamous slogan, it reads, “Fauci: Make Science Great Again 2020.” 

“Just saw this, and thought I’d share,” the poster wrote. “Humor helps me endure.”

“Humor helps me endure”

On TikTok, influencers like celebrity blogger Perez Hilton have posted videos featuring Fauci’s viral press briefing facepalm from earlier this month. “This is how I feel right now,” Hilton wrote in the video’s caption. In another, Coldplay’s “The Scientist” plays as images of Fauci dissolve into one another beneath the caption, “BREAKING NEWS: Dr. Fauci has been hospitalized from carrying the entire nation on his back.”

Fauci fandom has also provided comic relief and emotional support for people struggling through this unprecedented crisis. On the Facebook page earlier this week, one member made a plea for reassurance. “Will we ever be able to go back to ‘normal’? My anxiety is telling me this is going to last forever...” The post received over 100 replies, a majority of them offering optimistic statistics or messages of support reassuring the user that they weren’t alone — valuable messages at a time when large swaths of the US’s population are stuck indoors with their lives entirely uprooted from what they were before.

In a moment like this, Fauci has become a comforting figure for those who are struggling. “He’s kind of like this kind, old, wise mentor figure that we’re thirsty for right now,” Scott T. Allison, a professor of psychology who specializes in heroism and leadership at the University of Richmond, told The Verge. “He’s the grandfather who will tell it to you straight and tell it to you lovingly.” And Americans agree. According to Business Insider, Americans trust Fauci more than President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. 

No one knows how long this pandemic will last, as Fauci mentions at nearly every briefing. As it continues, today’s circle of Fauci stans could change the face of fandom in the future, De Kosnik said. “We could see a different fandom arise around this calmer, more rational and more ‘square’ celebrity or performer,” she said. The appeal of a whimsical or “bad boy” type celebrity could taper out if uncertainty in daily life continues to grow. A nerdy pragmatist could become the new focal point for fandom.

Or maybe it’ll just redefine who we see those traits in. “You might say that Dr. Fauci is a badass — a person who does his job, and does it well, and to hell with the consequences and to hell with what the boss might think,” Allison said. “We should all have such courage.”