Consensus Opinion: Parasocial Relationships

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

As Internet access continues to become more and more widespread, individual perception of news, especially surrounding public figures, changes. As parasocial relationships between everyday people and public figures such as music artists, social media influencers and film stars increase, we at the Technique board wish to discuss the circumstances surrounding this phenomenon and what factors lead to the development of such relationships. Additionally, we wish to assess the various impacts of such parasocial relationships and whether the expectations that the public holds for celebrities are realistic. 

One notable cause for parasocial relationships is the desire to cultivate a community and close relationships with the public figure and others who feel similarly towards the figure. This may result from the lack of minority representation in public media. Certain film and musical genres, for example, lack representation of minorities such as people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, disabled individuals and many more. Those developing parasocial relationships may be all the more willing to feel attached to a public figure who reflects their own lives, especially if it is uncommon in the industry. 

Another aspect of the development of parasocial relationships is that certain figures, such as musical artists, create that empathetic relationship between themselves, their emotive music and their fans. These figures are often regarded as powerful and are able to exert great influence on their fans. An example of this is the famous singer, Beyoncé. While her fan base ranges from casual listeners to die-hard fans, her continued success comes, in part, from those fans who see themselves as having a nearly familial connection with the artist. On one hand, she almost takes advantage of those fans willing to spend 2000 dollars on a concert ticket to further her monetary success and perpetuate her popularity. 

On the other hand, this fame and success does come at a price. Numerous celebrities have reported stalking by fans (and paparazzi), determined to overcome the barriers of the parasocial relationship. 

When such behavior comes from self-proclaimed superfans, it is difficult to expect celebrities to be the epitome of kindness and benevolence in all moments. Some public figures, such as singer and rapper Doja Cat, have taken to ranting on social media about their dislike for their fans. While celebrities can function as role models to those impacted positively by their work, the public cannot expect them to be. 

To that end, there are some celebrities who, arguably, should not be held as the epitome of morality and regardless, are seen as such. An example of this is Academy Award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio working as a United Nations (UN) ambassador. His personal life has demonstrated many questionable activities and ideals, and yet he is heralded as the definition of climate activism and good character for the UN. It is important for individuals with large platforms to spread awareness of important topics; however, with figures such as DiCaprio functioning as ambassadors, it spreads the idea that certain public figures are above common people in terms of morality and ability to function as a role model, even though they often possess no skill set in that sphere. 

It is difficult to cast blame on individuals engaging in parasocial relationships, especially because the current media climate fosters their development. It is easier than ever to become a celebrity in the current media climate, and the line between celebrity and average person has become blurred. The perception of what constitutes a celebrity has become warped and certain celebrities even go as far as to entertain and perpetuate the idea of parasocial relationships.

However, being an avid fan or follower of a public figure does not necessarily constitute the development of a parasocial relationship. It is imperative to strike a healthy balance between entertainment and appreciation, and crossing boundaries. Being concerned about a public figure’s daily life or being emotionally or mentally impacted by their activities is not healthy. Thus, as fans continue to follow figures whose work they appreciate, they must keep in mind the impacts of such behavior, both on themselves and the celebrities they love.