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Parasocial Relationships: The Internet’s Glass Cannon

Updated: Jan 19

Contributed by Alexia Rosario


When typing the name of a popular public figure, several search results will pop up. The most common is a blurb from Wikipedia about the person themself, and the next few rows will usually contain something relating to their work. Harry Styles will bear fill-in results such as “As It Was lyrics” or “Don’t Worry Darling”. Leonardo DiCaprio will reap “movies,” “girlfriend,” and “net-worth.” Enter these same names into a website like Tumblr, Wattpad, or Twitter, and you’ll find a multitude of different results — including full social media pages dedicated to the celebrities in question.


The parasocial relationship is a relationship that a person imagines having with another person who does not know them, be it a fictional person, or a real life celebrity. In the 21st century, these relationships are best exemplified through internet culture; “fanfiction”, memes, going as far as “self-insert” stories often referred to as “x reader fics.”

There have been many studies showing how parasocial relationships can be beneficiary, particularly to the viewer, but have we stopped to consider how this could affect the very real artists we project these feelings onto? Enter Mitski Miyawaki, better known simply as Mitski. With six studio albums to her name, the Japanese-American singer is widely known for the topics discussed in her songs such as womanhood, mental health, loneliness, and racial identity. In 2020, as the world began to shut down, many young people began to listen to and resonate with the artist’s music — resonating with the harrowing lyrics that struck the core of her listeners. But while many celebrities turned to social media during this time of isolation, Mitski turned away. Mitski’s candidness in a Vulture interview is indicative of one thing — the stress and anxiety which comes with being on the opposite end of a parasocial relationship. “Seeing my name just reminds me of the world. It’s just not mine anymore. I am a foreigner to myself now.” she declares, and Mitski is not the only one who struggles with these feelings of alienation in the industry> Others include: ● Millie Alcock, the leading lady in House of the Dragon, who expressed feelings of alienation and anxiety during a Nylon interview when discussing how she feels about being thrust into stardom. ● Taylor Swift, who consistently deals with fans conspiring about her sexuality and encouraging her to “come out” — to the point of referring to her as “Gaylor.” ● Kit Connor, one of the leads of the Netflix series Heartstopper, who was forced to come out as bisexual after being accused of “queerbaiting” online. Parasocial relationships have become a much more intimate affair, leading to many consumers acting as though they truly do know these artists, with minimal care for how their actions actually affect the very people they claim to adore. In the age of social media, fans have an opportunity to be closer to their favorite celebrities than ever before. However, with this, feelings of entitlement from outside sources also become apparent. Upon release of her sixth studio album, Laurel Hell, a frequent criticism transpiring on the app TikTok was that the album “wasn’t sad enough.” Suffering for art is something consistently romanticized in media, to the point where complaining about art not being “sad enough” also implies having a problem with the fact that the musician did not suffer enough. Artists do not owe their fans suffering, nor do they owe their fans anything about their social lives. As twitter user “nelsonsprjng” aptly put it: “you are not entitled to personal information about them to gratify yourself. you aren't entitled to anything about their life. Nothing.” Mitski is not the only artist to turn away from the public amidst fans of her work prying deep into her private life — Kit Connor has since deleted twitter after being accused of “queerbaiting”, Taylor Swift has kept all details about her relationship private, and Millie Alcock has expressed a desire to do more indie, intimate work rather than large scale projects. Consumers are able to resonate and believe they’re connecting with their favorite celebrities, but the effect this can have on the other person in this relationship can be extremely harmful to one or both parties. In 2015, after Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction, fans of his work began the trend #cut4Zayn on Twitter. Teenagers would commit acts of self-harm, posting it on social media as a means to show their support for the pop star. Parasocial relationships can be harmful not only to the celebrity, but also to the fans interacting with the celebrity — and it is crucial to exercise caution when navigating spaces with people who we ultimately do not know, and do not know us in the slightest.


Sources:

https://www.vulture.com/article/mitski-profile-laurel-hell.html https://variety.com/2022/tv/news/heartstopper-kit-connor-lgbtq-bisexual-forced-1235419131/ https://www.nylon.com/entertainment/milly-alcock-house-of-the-dragon-fandom-interview?utm_ campaign=nylon&utm_content=1663185532&utm_medium=owned&utm_source=twitter https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/gaylor-taylor-swift-gay-rumor-midnights-123 4585574/

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