Over two years after allegations of sexual abuse from ex-film mogul Harvey Weinstein sparked a wave of change throughout Hollywood, the disgraced producer is going to trial for several charges, including rape and predatory sexual assault. Prosecutors are lining up witnesses, including prominent actresses to testify. Meanwhile, the defense, led by Donna Rotunno, is building the case of Weinstein’s innocence.
Why Do We Form Parasocial Relationships? Here’s What an Expert Has to Say
The direct communication offered by social media has “formed a more intimate kind of parasocial relationship.”
Filling Social Voids
Over the past couple of years, discourse about parasocial relationships has flooded the internet. From criticism to memes to misunderstandings, the phrase has been thrown around Twitter in discussions of fan culture and even celebrity cheating scandals.
But why do we engage in parasocial relationships? What do they do for us? Well, according to Dr. Gayle Stever, a professor of psychology at Empire State College who has studied parasocial theory for decades, our brain is always wired to look for a social connection, whether we are with other people or just seeing them on television.
“There’s a part of your brain that can’t really tell the difference between a person in real life and a person through media,” Stever explained in an interview with Rogue Rocket. “So those images and voices are all being processed as if they are real. So if you see the same face and voice over and over and over, your human tendency is to want to form a relationship with that person.”
Earlier studies on parasocial relationships focused on soap operas, which was the closest thing people had to binge-watching prior to Netflix or YouTube. Older people who spent a lot of time alone were especially glued to soaps every day, and these shows filled a social void for people who were lonely.
Parasocial relationships can fill a number of voids for anyone, be they for role models, entertainment, companionship, or even romance. While conducting her research, Stever met a woman who had recently lost her husband to cancer. That woman thought the romantic part of her life was over until she became a fan of Josh Groban and had a crush on him despite her being old enough to be his mother.
“What did that do for her? Well, what she said, ‘I realized that that part of my emotions was still there, that I could still have a romantic feeling about somebody,’” Stever said. “’And I’m thinking now about dating again.’”
Stever pointed to this as an example of a really healthy parasocial relationship, as it helped her break down the walls of her social life. Without you even realizing it, you may have formed some parasocial relationships to fill gaps in your life, too.
The Influence of COVID and Social Media
During the pandemic, the whole world experienced increased loneliness, so we connected to people we saw on our screens. Stever even joked that during lockdowns, she would call talk show host Steven Colbert her “parasocial therapist.”
“He was helping you as a viewer process the challenges of the pandemic by letting you see how he was coping with it,” Stever said.
“In that particular case, using humor to help sort of defuse some of the tension of what people were experiencing socially,” she added. “So you walk away from the show and you feel like, oh, gosh, there’s somebody else who understands what I’m going through.”
Even prior to the pandemic, social media allowed us to get further into the lives of people we had never met. On Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and more, people invited the world into their lives, even into their homes, while looking directly at the camera to address viewers. This direct communication is more likely to elicit parasocial relationships.
“It’s a very interpersonal feeling to the interaction,” Stever noted.
“I do think that that social media, because of the direct address, has formed a more intimate kind of parasocial relationship.”
Social media also opens the door for celebrities to interact back by responding to Tweets or comments. Because of this, Stever said she has started looking at this as a continuum from social to parasocial because in some cases, celebrities might recognize and know who their fans are based on these interactions.
“Obviously that’s not the norm,” Stever added. “But it’s possible.”
The Internet has also changed the way fans connect with one another. Back when Stever began studying fandoms in the ‘80s, fans had to find each other by putting out ads in magazines looking for people to join pen pal groups. Now you can access a world of people with a device that fits in your back pocket.
“They can go on Facebook or Instagram and find like-minded fans and become part of a network of fans and have that be part of their social life,” Stever noted.
Conflating Fan Mentality and Stalkers
Some might think of fans and immediately jump to extreme and obsessive behavior like stalking and harassment. There are countless stories of major stars like Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, and David Beckham dealing with scary situations and even death threats. Stever, however, does not think this dangerous behavior is as tied to the nature of parasocial relationships as some might think.
“There are people out there who think celebrity worship is a slippery slope to mental illness. I haven’t seen it,” she claimed.
“I’ve done case studies of fans for over 30 years, and I meet a lot of fans face to face,” Stever continued. “Most of the fans I meet who are troubled fans, who are engaging in a way that’s not healthy, have an underlying mental illness.”
In other words, she believes it has far more to do with a mental illness that person likely had before they were a fan of the celebrity than with their interest in the celebrity itself. Based on her observations, the vast majority of fans she has met are grounded in reality and understand they will likely never meet the celebrity they love. She also said she has not noticed that superfans struggle with mental illness at a higher rate than the population at large.
Still, she noted her opinion on the matter could be considered “moderately controversial” because the subject requires more research, so there is room for disagreement among experts.
“It’s the old, it’s already said, chicken and the egg question,” she said. “Which came first, the fixation on the celebrity or the underlying issue that has caused them to become fixated? And, really, we need a whole lot more research to definitively answer that question.”
Some who have experienced stalkers firsthand have agreed with Stever’s observations, though. Alexis Bowater, a TV and news presenter in the U.K. who has been stalked herself, previously told BBC News that she feels superfans and stalkers have little in common.
“Stalkers frighten people and fans don’t,” she told the outlet.
Of course, other experts have noted that in order to prevent a parasocial relationship from becoming unhealthy, it’s important to make sure that they do not replace real relationships with people you know.
But as Stever noted, that doesn’t mean watching something with your favorite celebrity does not feel very personal. That is actually a totally normal part of media consumption today.
“I would venture that these media people we watch over and over, we know more about them than we know about our neighbors,” Stever claimed.
“Emancipation” Producer Apologizes, Hopes He Did Not “Distract” From Film’s Message By Bringing Photo of Enslaved Man to Premiere
He said he plans on donating his collection of historical images to appropriate institutions.
McFarland Brings “Whipped Pete” Photo to Premiere
“Emancipation” producer Joey McFarland apologized on Sunday after facing backlash for bringing the original 1863 photo of the enslaved person the film is based on to the premiere.
“I wholeheartedly apologize to everyone I have offended by bringing a photograph of Peter to the Emancipation premiere,” he wrote in a statement on Instagram. “My intent was to honor this remarkable man and to remind the general public that his image not only brought about change in 1863 but still resonates and promotes change today.”
The photo, frequently dubbed “Whipped Peter,” is one of the most famous images depicting the gruesome realities of slavery in America. He is facing away from the camera, revealing the severe scarring all across his back. According to the Library of Congress, the formerly enslaved man was actually named Gordon. Will Smith plays him in “Emancipation,” which follows his escape from slavery.
While walking the red carpet of the film’s premiere, McFarland carried the photo with him.
“I have the photo. This is the original photograph from 1863,” he told Variety. “I wanted it to be here tonight. I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight.”
While lamenting the fact that so many historical artifacts have not been properly preserved, McFarland told Variety that he “took it upon [him]self to curate and build a collection for future generations.” He said his collection will be donated after he dies.
His remarks were met with swift criticism from those who thought it was inappropriate for McFarland to not just own the picture, but to bring it to a Hollywood event.
“Why do you own the photograph? Why did you bring it to a movie premiere if the intent is to preserve it respectfully?” The Black List founder Franklin Leonard tweeted.
“I don’t know, man, but bringing ‘a piece of Peter’ that you ‘own’ to the red carpet of a movie that’s personally enriching you so that you can collect more slave memorabilia that you’ll keep until your death,” he added along with a giphy of Kenan Thompson saying “yikes.”
McFarland Acknowledges Historical Photos “Belong to the World”
Others argued that the photo should belong to Gordon’s family.
“Being in possession of a symbol that reflects our trauma is exactly what our oppressor would do. He is his ancestor’s child,” another person added.
In his apology, McFarland said that he hopes his actions “don’t distract from the film’s message, Peter’s story and just how much impact he had on the world.”
Throughout the development of “Emancipation,” McFarland said he discovered many photos of overlooked individuals with important historical stories. He said he always planned to donate them and believes “there is no better time to begin that process than now.”
“These photographs, which existed before me, will be around long after I am gone; they belong to the world,” he wrote.
See what others are saying: (Variety) (The Hollywood Reporter) (The Daily Beast)
Joe Rogan Holds Spot As Top Podcaster on Spotify in 2022
Earlier this year, some threatened to boycott the platform over Rogan and the health misinformation he shared on his show.
For the third year in a row, “The Joe Rogan Experience” was the number one podcast on Spotify, the company revealed in its yearly “Wrapped” feature on Wednesday.
“The Joe Rogan Experience” became exclusive to Spotify in 2020 after the host signed a lucrative deal with the audio streaming platform. “Call Her Daddy” by Alex Cooper, also a Spotify exclusive, followed Rogan on the charts. “Anything Goes With Emma Chamberlain,” which will become exclusive to the service next year, came in third.
Rogan’s podcast has made several headlines over the last year as the podcaster faced backlash from medical professionals and major musicians for touting COVID-19 misinformation. Niel Young asked to have his music removed from Spotify in protest of the company’s deal with Rogan, and several other artists soon followed.
Just a few days later, several clips resurfaced of Rogan using a racial slur. Many called to boycott Spotify for platforming Rogan, but his popularity did not seem to fade by the year’s end.
There are over four million podcasts available to stream on Spotify and over the last year, the platform has expanded into new markets.
It also has started launching podcasts from several high-profile figures, including Kim Kardashian’s “The System,” and Meghan Markle’s “Archetypes.” Both of those debuted mid-year and did not crack the annual top-five list.