The Dangers of Parasocial Relationships | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 03, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:05 AM, September 03, 2020

The Dangers of Parasocial Relationships

If you're reading this, you're probably a fan of at least one individual in the public eye. If it's an athlete, you watch all of their games. If it's a musician, you listen to their songs on repeat. If it's a social media influencer, you like and comment on all of their Instagram posts.

These activities fall under parasocial interactions, a term coined by sociologists Donald Horton and Richard Whorl in 1956 to describe the one-sided relationship between the audience and celebrities with mass media exposure. For example, when famous guests recount anecdotes in a talk show, they're unaware of the millions of viewers watching them. On the other hand, the viewers learn details of their private lives.

When you admire someone, you devote time and interest in doing so because you can relate to their work on a personal level. It's a natural response. In dull and dark moments, these interactions can provide relief. However, if you become too emotionally dependent on someone who isn't even aware of your existence, there's a problem. You have entered the territory of a parasocial relationship.

In these relationships, some fans may suffer from the delusion that their favourite celebrities are their friends. As social media has made parasocial interactions more accessible, the gap between the two parties has been reduced. Public figures are able to share intimate details of their lives, and fans can easily interact with them through comments and private messages. Therefore, it has become easy for some fans to cultivate parasocial relationships.

What these fans forget is that they are a largely unknown entity to the figures of their admiration. They also fail to notice that the celebrity image is carefully crafted in order to seem authentic, which can never represent one's entire personality. As a result, delusional fans may feel entitled over their favourite icon's personal lives. If this behaviour deteriorates further, fans might become obsessive and make unreasonable demands that intrude upon their favourite icon's privacy, not limited to stalking. Some fans might put themselves at great risk in order to draw the attention of the person they venerate.

This extreme emotional dependency not only takes a toll on the fan affected, it can also put a strain on their interpersonal relationships. When an obsessive fan gives all of their attention to hero worship, there's hardly anything left for family and friends – relationships that are comparatively more balanced and fulfilling. It might give way to resentment and finally abandonment, leading the fan to become more dependent on the idolised human they obsess over.

Therefore, it's wise to keep in mind in your future parasocial interactions that you don't know your favourite public figure personally, and vice versa – no matter how much you think you connect with them. Save some of that emotional energy for your loved ones; they need it more than your favourite celebrity does. It will do you good in the long run.

References

1. The Verge (September 17, 2018). YouTubers are not your friends.

2. Medium.com (May 26, 2017). YouTube Celebrities Are Killing Our Ability To Make Friends.

Adhora Ahmed daydreams too much. Send her reality checks at adhora.ahmed@gmail.com

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