August 20, 2023

Anna Dobbert

Hot Take: Parasocial Relationships Are Getting Out Of Hand

Parasocial relationships

I seriously think the internet is starting to rot our brains. I went on Twitter the other day (I am refusing to call it X), and it left a sour taste in my mouth. This does not feel like the same internet I knew and loved. Everything seems a mess, and everyone is angry about something. Hell; I get it. I am angry about a lot of things too, but many people will just say anything these days! In particular, I’ve noticed people feel a sense of entitlement toward celebrities, internet figures, etc., and I think it is beginning to tip the iceberg. 

In a post-#MeToo world, it is now very normal to utilize mass media as a method of keeping people safe and keeping others accountable. In many cases, I applaud this effort and think that holding people accountable for dangerous and immoral behavior is one of the many benefits of the little computers we keep in our pockets. But the question now is “What are we holding people accountable for?” In the beginning, “cancelization” was for people who spread hateful rhetoric or used their power to physically harm others. But now, I see a celebrity canceled nearly every other day for something that takes ten tweets and a whole YouTube video to explain. And each time I find myself sitting here thinking, I do not know these people.

Maybe I feel this way because I don’t really care about celebrities to begin with. Fascinated by them? Yes. Consumer of their media? Yes. But I don't really consider myself a “fan” of anyone, and it’s a rare day for me to comment on a famous person’s IG post or tweet at them. But I know and am sympathetic to the fact that this isn’t always the norm; many people have grown genuine parasocial relationships with the figures they follow on social media, and I honestly don’t blame them.

Maybe It’s Human Instinct

If we take it back to the hunter-gatherer brain, our minds bond with the faces we see over and over because recognizing the people around us keeps us safe in survival settings. But now we see thousands of faces every day the second we open Instagram, and we can begin to form bonds with people we literally DO NOT KNOW because our hunter-gatherer brains think we do. And despite my disinterest in celebrity culture, I am no exception to this — if I saw Zendaya walking down the street I’d be like, Hey I know you. But let me reiterate, I DO NOT.

I believe the onset of this confusing paradox fueled by social media has led people to hold celebrities to the standards they hold their loved ones to. They want them to share the same values, political beliefs, and even interests. And this is where we start to lose the plot, Let’s look at an example: Doja Cat. 

Doja Cat rose to fame after her song “Moo!” went viral. She later went on to top charts, take home awards, and become one of today’s biggest pop girls. But if one thing has always been clear about her, it’s that she isn’t the biggest fan of fame. She does not present herself as a picture-perfect celebrity like fellow musicians Ariana Grande or Taylor Swift. Doja Cat is known for trolling her own fans, speaking her mind, and honestly just not caring about her public image. Lately, this hasn’t been sitting right with her fans.

In a recent but now deleted tweet, Doja Cat states that she does not like that her fans refer to themselves as “kittens.” (She used much more colorful language than I did, and if you want the whole breakdown this YouTube video does a great job discussing everything.) Her fans then responded that they wish she would appear more grateful — to which Doja Cat expressed confusion about why they should expect that. In her tweet she states “I don’t [love you]…I don’t even know you.” This had people up in ARMS, and she lost over 1 million social media followers. 

Here’s the Hot Take; Doja Cat’s not wrong. Should she probably not have tweeted those things for the sake of her career and image? Yes. Could she have effectively communicated the same sentiment in a way that didn’t upset so many people? Also, probably yes. But I remember seeing this whole thing go down and once again thinking, she’s right…I literally do not know her

The Voice of Reason

While I do understand that the only reason celebrities are famous is because of everyday people like us playing their music, watching their movies, or following them on social media, I don’t think famous people necessarily owe me kindness or even amicability. I think because our hunter-gatherer brains think we are in genuine relationships with certain figures, it has become too easy to feel an emotional reaction when they do something we don’t like rather than just hit “unfollow.” 

So now I hand this Hot Take off to you! What do you think the consequences of parasocial relationships might be? Which celebrities do you engage with? Do you see your interactions with them as positive or negative? Leave a comment!

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