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Why Do We Love Celebrities So Much? A Look At Parasocial Relationships

Ah, celebrity drama. Who was spotted with who? What’s going on behind the scenes of hit TV shows? Who’s engaged and how long have they been dating. What names did they give their children? What is their favorite type of vegetable? A lot of us love to know these things, and a lot of us only know them unwillingly. 

But why? Why are people so invested in the lives of celebrities? Especially when those said celebrities don’t know that the majority of their fans exist? 

The reasons are many and complex, but let’s start with the nature of parasocial relationships.

A parasocial relationship, according to Dictionary.com, can be defined as “A relationship that a person imagines having with another person whom they do not actually know, such as a celebrity or fictional character.”  

It’s essentially a relationship where one side (e.g. a fan) possesses an emotional investment and often a sense of involvement in the life of the other side (e.g. a celebrity), who does not return the investment and usually isn’t that aware of the fan at all. Thus, someone could be the world’s biggest Swiftie, and yet Taylor. Swift may not for the life of her have any idea who they are. 

Now that, to be perfectly frank, that concept doesn’t sound all that inviting. Nevertheless, parasocial relationships are incredibly common, for several reasons. One of the main ones is that social media allows people to interact more closely with all their favorite celebrities than ever before. 

So a fan can, say, follow a star’s account on X (Twitter) and see that she loves chicken tenders or that she just ordered a Grande Caramel Nonfat Latte from Starbucks. These are the types of small, normally-private details of life that aren’t restricted to the realm of celebrity; meaning non-celebrities can connect to celebrities closer than ever

That fan might feel like they’re involved in that star’s life, that they’re a friend of sorts. And as it happens, one common theme found in many studies of the factors involved in friendship formation is a thing called ‘‘self-disclosure.’

 Self-disclosure is the sharing of personal information, such as experiences, hopes for the future, strange dreams, opinions on things, taste in food…Sound familiar? Celebrities do it all the time online. They share little, intimate things with us that we would never otherwise know with the internet.  It’s a key part of developing a sense of closeness with another person?

People are social creatures at heart, and we like to feel as if we’re a part of something greater than ourselves. Hence, we have Swifties, the Beyhive, A.R.M.Y, and many other fandoms.

Is this a good thing? Not necessarily, seeing as it can be taken too far. But that’s how it is with all interests. As long as everyone’s sane about it, parasocial relationships with celebrities seem to be just another fun hobby. While you could make a point that a person could get over-involved, resulting in obsessive behaviors, somebody is just as likely to get obsessed with pin collections, or mathematics, or similar things.

While following the lives of celebrities may not be for many, it’s not inherently good or inherently bad. What it is is a fascinating little corner of psychology that deserves plenty of attention, especially in this internet-loving age. 

This article is hardly a comprehensive overview of the full psychology behind such a complex, multi-factored phenomenon, but it nonetheless serves as a window into the odd and wondrous worlds of both psychology, and of fandom.  

 

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