Publisher’s Note: All content of the opinion sections reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent the position of The Collegian or its editors.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown us into the throes of the inner world, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people are increasingly turning to the internet to connect with others and nurture human relationships.
However, one particular type of relationship—that of the parasocial type—has created a culture that encourages obsession and deception. I’m referring to relationships between influencers or celebrities and their stans.
A parasocial relationship, a term embossed by sociologists Richard Wohl and Donald Horton in 1956, describes an “illusion of a personal relationship with the performer” occurring in the spectators—the fans. Basically, it’s a one-way relationship.
Parasocial relationships are not inherently unhealthy. According to psychology today, parasocial relationships can increase enjoyment of media consumption, at least when it comes to fictional characters. Seeing a character with a person who resembles someone we love or admire adds to the viewing experience.
In the real world, however, idolizing celebrities and entertainers can be a little more shameful. Idealizing real, living people is unhealthy, and the act of attributing and projecting characteristics onto them is downright delusional.
Someone who is obsessed with a celebrity or content creator is commonly referred to as Stan. The word, made up of the words “stalker” and “fan”, actually finds its place origin in rapper Eminem’s playbook. He released a song in 2000 titled “Stan” It describes a fictional obsessive superfan who kills his pregnant girlfriend after Eminem fails to text him back.
Stans are often doting on celebrities and use their time to maintain accounts dedicated to them, obsessively responding to the social media posts of their chosen celebrity or influencer, and taking up arms against the Stans of other celebrities for their object of affection. Check out any of your favorite celebrity’s posts; The comments section is full of admiring Stans.
Celebrities are not our friends. Are they talented, interesting people? Sometimes sure. But they are real people, and like everyone else on this planet, they are deeply flawed in some way and should not be idealized.”
These people usually feel entitled to receive personal knowledge of their idol’s life. Celebrities sharing personal parts of their lives create a sense of intimacy that Stans crave. Stans exonerates and puts these people on pedestals, publicly showing instances where their celebrity or the content creator has interacted with them in some way, whether it’s through a like, reply, or retweet. They genuinely believe they know these people on a personal level.
In fact, a to learn A study conducted by psychologists at Wellesley College found that some teenage female respondents viewed their idols as friends, despite such a staggering age difference that they could be the idol’s child.
2015, a 19-year-old fan broken into Lana Del Rey’s Malibu mansion and stole several of her belongings. Police discovered notes he had left behind and they said he felt he had a “spiritual connection” with the singer.
Cases like this are not uncommon. Obsessed fans create a fantasy of connection in their mind and show up to a celebrity’s private home in hopes of bridging that connection. celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift have all had similarly disturbing experiences with obsessive fans.
However, the truth is that celebrities are complete strangers to all of us. When Bill Cosby, a once-revered and well-loved actor who played the kind, sweater-wearing father on The Cosby Show, was sentenced to prison prison the world let out a collective gasp over sexual assault – but why? Why did we assume we knew this man based on his behavior in interviews, at red carpet events, and most importantly, as the fictional characters he played?
Celebrities are not our friends. Are they talented, interesting people? Sometimes sure. But they are real people, and like everyone else on this planet, they are deeply flawed in some way and should not be idealized.