We all have a multitude of parasocial relationships but few of us actually understand what they are let alone the actual name for them. They actually aren’t bad things unless of course, your entire life is dominated by them which could explain a lot about abusive cultures on social media and multiple types of fandom from comics through to just about anything.
First of all, what is a parasocial relationship?
Parasocial relationships refer to one-sided relationships with celebrity, a prominent person in the community or a fictional character, when a fan knows everything about the subject of their adoration and feels very close to them, but there is no chance of reciprocity.
Every single one of us at some point in our lives has had a parasocial relationship. It could have been a pop star, or a footballer or a film actor but at some point we’ve all had a one-sided relationship that will never, ever be reciprocated. You see it now being used with politicians as diverse as Nicola Sturgeon, Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage so it doesn’t take a genius to work out how potentially harmful this potentially could be.
There’s three levels of relationship; entertain, intense and borderline pathological. There’s a load of academic videos out there but this set of videos from StrucciMovies is excellent and breaks it down for non-academics.
By now you should all be concerned about people who form their strongest relationships with people they’ll never meet who are pushing a hardline view at them, be that political, lifestyle or anything else that can draw someone in on an emotional level.Again, we’ve all at some point held a parasocial relationship but most of us have it as part of a series of real-world relationships that’s real, often physical and involves often dealing with flawed people who often don’t agree with everything you say which is fine. That’s how life should be as we’re supposed to encounter people, ideas and things we don’t 100% agree with or even like.
The danger comes when parasocial relationships are used not just to control people to buy shit, (I spoke about this the other day) but to shape their lives as well as removing the ability to critically think. As has been said by others, unless you’ve met someone and seen their flaws you don’t 100% know them. Just because some YouTuber with dead, dead eyes is telling you that you’re their friend doesn’t mean they are, or they even care about you beyond giving a like or hitting that bell.
Fandoms have always been slightly toxic. H. P Lovecraft for example was a troll but he was also a talent who created things but fandoms now are riddled with toxicity through so many people creating false personas in order to gain followers so there’s not this level of creativity. ”But what about <insert social media platform here>’ you may say and you’d be right. There’s tons of wonderful creative stuff out there, but there’s also mountains of shite created in the name of gaining followers and grifting money from them. I see it within the world of comics. There’s a lot of people who turn up at shows to sell their work who are awful, but because they’ve tapped into ”geek culture” which brings me again to mention late capitalism as what we’re seeing is human lives being repackaged to people to buy into and I mean, buy into.
I’ve met a number of my heroes. Some have been nothing like I imagined them. Some have been twats. Some have been wonderful people. I’ve spent lots of money over the decades on their work but I’ve moved on from the one-way relationship phase and the influence of these people but it doesn’t preclude me from having parasocial relationships at stage one. I know how to ensure it doesn’t become pathological but for many it does because they don’t have the tools to ensure it doesn’t so the young and vulnerable are especially weak at resisting what’s being sold to them be it product or lifestyle.
And here’s the point. We’re being sold to all the time. but newer generations don’t have the tools or experience to get through life so find their answers anywhere they can. Sometimes that works out but some times things don’t and that can lead down dangerous paths as people fall behind the more famous without any thought of what these people are really like or what damage is being done to people in the name of a relationship that will never be real.