Another negative example is the way that parasocial relationships can develop for people who aren’t actually celebrities thanks to the increasingly blurred line between creator and consumer. Anyone with a platform is someone who other people may develop a parasocial relationship with. Even I have been the object of other people’s parasocial relationships. I have my own fans (and anti-fans) that think they know me and have developed their own relationships with other people online over their perceived relationships with me or based on the content I have created! It’s incredible… and also occasionally terrifying to realize that people have created connections between you and them that do not actually exist and are reacting to you (sometimes very negatively) because of that.
As someone who’s careened through different celebrity fandoms over a lifetime in fandom, I love talking about parasocial relationships. I feel like I’ve always been in at least one, honestly!
The four people on the cover image for this piece – comedian John Mulaney, BTS leader RM, actress Zendaya, and Japanese rockstar Miyavi – are all people I’ve had some level of parasocial engagement with. In Miyavi’s case, I’ve been parasocial-ly interested in him for 16 years, over half of my life. I follow him and his wife Melody (whose music I did love back in the day) on Instagram and when they announced that they had a son back in February, I think I crowed about that kid like he was one of my friends’ kids.
Parasocial relationships, at their base are pretty neutral. It’s the behavior that fans bring to the table – and, sometimes celebrities actually – that shapes it to be positive or negative.
I chose the quote I did, about how people who aren’t celebrities can be subject to parasocial relationships, because it’s something that affects me to this day. As I showed in my latest WFRLL piece, a lot of strangers on the internet are deeply attached to negative parasocial relationships with me and they do use that (and their racism, obviously) to excuse the frankly horrifying way they talk to and about me, heaping on racist abuse because… they think they know me and that I deserve their (mis) treatment.
But then, as someone primarily in a celebrity-oriented fandom (BTS’ ARMY), I’m seeing positive aspects of the parasocial relationship every time I sign onto my account. Every time one of “our” guys posts a selfie, updates us on Weverse, or does… pretty much anything… we all come together to shout in glee and unpack together. That part is pretty good.