Celebrities don’t owe us their lives: On parasocial relationships

By Riley Dauber
Elm Staff Writer

A recent slew of tweets from singer-songwriter Mitski sparked conversation about the relationship between celebrities and their fans.

Currently on her North American tour, the singer addressed her fans through Twitter, stating that she doesn’t like when people film her performance. She began the tweet by recognizing technology and its use in society. The rest of the tweet was her criticism of technology usage at her concert and how it ruins the intimate experience.

“Sometimes when I see people filming entire songs or whole sets, it makes me feel as though we are not here together. This goes for both when I’m on stage, and when I’m an audience member at shows,” Mitski said in the tweet. “I love shows for the feeling of connection, of sharing a dream, and remembering that we have a brief miraculous moment of being alive at the same time, before we part ways. I feel I’m part of something bigger.”

Mitski’s Twitter message to the public has people talking about relationships between celebrities and fans, and whether or not fans go too far in their appreciation for their favorite famous person.

Our current online culture is arguably built on celebrities. Regular consumers are obsessed with A-list actors, actresses, singers, models, and even people who are famous by association, whether they’re married to someone famous or their parents are famous.

People flock to buy trashy tabloids, and they tend to live vicariously through celebrity relationships and the daily lives of famous people.

If a celebrity leaves their house, people will most likely hear about who they were with, what they were doing, and what they were wearing.

Social media and the Internet has helped make this information much more accessible. Fans can follow their favorite celebrities on Instagram and see what they’re doing or what upcoming projects they’re working on. News about celebrities can be shared with just the click of a button.

But when do we cross the line? When do these relationships become damaging?

A new term, “parasocial relationships,” has increased in usage and popularity when defining these fan obsessions with celebrities. According to an article from The Guardian by Otegha Uwagba, the term “describes people forming intense – and crucially, one-sided – attachments to celebrities or public figures.”

The basis of parasocial relationships is when a fan or a group of fans have a one-sided “attachment” to a celebrity, while the celebrity in question does not know they exist. The fans may reach out to the celebrities on social media, either commenting on posts or sending direct messages to them. Thanks to social media, fans have a quick and easy way to interact with their favorite actors or singers.

But these relationships, unsurprisingly, have damaging effects on celebrities, as many fans grow too attached in either a positive or negative way. Plenty of celebrities disappear from the public eye because of social media scrutiny and backlash.

In 2016, following the Kanye West controversy, Taylor Swift seeked seclusion for a year because of how much hate she received social media. She hardly makes public appearances anymore, except at the occasional award show.

Comedian John Mulaney is another example of poor fan-celebrity relationships. Mulaney’s 2021 rehab stint was publicized, even though it should have been kept private for his sake.

When he left rehab, he divorced his wife, Annamarie Tendler, and started a very public relationship with actress Olivia Munn. The two had a son together, but broke up right before he was born.

All of this personal information was in newspapers and tabloids, as well as on social media. People on TikTok discussed what was going on with Mulaney and Munn, and wondered how Tendler was feeling about the new relationship.

Plenty of celebrity addictions have been exploited by the media, such as Lindsay Lohan being asked on David Letterman’s talk show what she was going to rehab for in 2013.

What followed was an awkward interview with Lohan saying, “We didn’t discuss this in the pre-interviews.”

The sharing of celebrities’ personal issues, whether it be relationship troubles or addictions, shows the invasive relationship celebrities have with the public and their fans.

Some fans argue that a celebrity willingly puts themselves in the public eye by starring in movies or releasing music.

So, they should expect praise or scrutiny by anonymous people on the Internet. However, actors or musicians are often dedicated to the craft and want to focus on their projects; they aren’t exactly looking for fame or fans.

At the end of the day, celebrities are people, just as we are, and deserve a reprieve from the constant overreaches into their personal lives.

In Mitski’s case, her love of making music overrides her hatred of fame.

She tends to be a very private person, only interacting with her fans at concerts, which is why she views the concert as such an intimate experience.

By recording it, fans are sharing something sacred with the world.

 Mitski wants the concert and the experience to be special, to give her fans a little glimpse into her life and music. Other celebrities are not as lucky to pick and choose what they can and cannot share.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Featured Photo Caption: While Mitski’s tweet outlining her discomfort with fans filming entire shows is the most recent instance of fans being upset with artists setting boundaries, she is not an anomaly. Indie musician Phoebe Bridgers voiced discomfort with fans finding and sharing old pictures of her that were not publically available via Twitter in January of 2020.

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