By Skylar Teddington
Throughout the decades we have all seen many examples of parasocial relationships. These relationships can vary in intensity, from seeking out content about a beloved fictional character to intensely following a celebrity around.
Parasocial relationships tend to get a bad reputation for being toxic and eerie, but are they truly as bad as people think they are?
The answer is quite complicated.
By definition, a parasocial relationship is simply a one-sided relationship (Scherer et al., 2023), typically with a celebrity or a fictional character. This is a very broad definition, so a parasocial relationship could really be defined by anything that matches that description.
Fantasizing about a celebrity crush, going out of your way to buy an album for your favorite artist to sign, or even following a celebrity online and consistently engaging with their posts could be considered parasocial.
With this in mind, developing a parasocial relationship is actually quite normal since nearly everyone has become attached to a celebrity or fictional character at some point.
This is especially true of people who form attachments easily.
In “‘Leave Britney Alone!’: Parasocial Relationships and Empathy,” Hailey Scherer illustrates the link between empathy and parasocial relationships: “…higher levels of perceived empathy, or feeling understood by your partner, led to higher levels of relationship satisfaction… Thus, we expect that the effects of trait empathy seen in personal relationships will also be seen in [parasocial relationships].”
Empathetic individuals are more prone to parasocial relationships since they can easily maintain close relationships.
This is why videos like the iconic “Leave Britney Alone!” exist, though this is an example of an unhealthy parasocial relationship.
Celebrity worship is an epidemic in the modern world.
Celebrities use social media for publicity and fan interaction, but this is a double edged sword.
In the article “Celebrity Abuse on Twitter: The Impact of Tweet Valence, Volume of Abuse, and Dark Triad Personality Factors on Victim Blaming and Perceptions of Severity,” Graham Scott said social media is a great way for celebrities to connect with fans, but it also opens the gate for people to publicly spew hate toward celebrities.
There have even been cases of celebrities being harmed in person because of hate they received online – such as the multiple celebrities who had dangerous objects like phones, books and even babies thrown at them.
Can a parasocial relationship ever be healthy? It absolutely can be. In fact, some celebrities have parasocial relationships with their fans! Giving fans a fandom name or making “point of view” videos for fans to enjoy are prime examples of a parasocial relationship that goes both ways.
In addition to that, some fans even have a positive reputation for their parasocial tendencies, such as Girl’s Generation’s “pterodactyl fangirl” who received positive attention for enthusiastically screaming like a pterodactyl every time Sooyoung took the center stage.
Parasocial interactions are normal and can be healthy as long as obsession does not consume the relationship.