Idol Influences

We should not be encouraged to obsess over people

Isaac Hudson, Publication Editor

You wake up with plenty of time to get to school. You turn on your phone and check social media. Your favorite influencer saw your story about them and commented: “Love this!”

This interaction makes you feel great — your emotional investment in this influencer’s life has paid off, they finally “noticed” you.

This is what is known as a parasocial relationship. The term, first used by sociologists Donald Horton and Richard Wohl in 1956 basically refers to when someone, usually a fan of a famous person, puts time and emotional investment into the life of said famous person.

They are, by definition, one-sided — and they are harmful. The worst part is that we as a society have not only normalized this kind of relationship, but we actively encourage it.

The original Horton and Wohl essay focused mainly on the bonds people at the time felt with TV personalities and politicians. Today, the concept of a parasocial relationship revolves more around people trying to garner the attention of their favorite celebrities. It’s an easy trap to fall into, too.

This August, I made my first Instagram account. Immediately after setting it up, I was bombarded with various recommended profiles to follow: Kim Kardashian, Olivia Rodrigo, Kylie Jenner, Lil Nas X, Justin Bieber and so on. All of them are celebrities who are at the center of the public eye.

Instagram, rather than promoting their own official account, recommended these famous people. They actively encouraged me to follow these people and engage in their “personal” lives.

I have already fallen into this trap several times. I follow someone who I like or admire who has a significant amount of followers. I watch all their stories for several days, and I feel like I really know them — as if I am their closest friend. It makes me feel happy to see them post something.

If we’re not careful, this is a very unhealthy situation to be in. We shouldn’t be getting so emotionally attached to aspects of people who we don’t really know.

It’s not that we shouldn’t be allowed to see a little behind the curtain of a celebrity’s life — it’s just that we shouldn’t be allowing ourselves and encouraging each other to feel like we really know these public figures, like they are our friends. For the most part, these famous people aren’t even aware that we, as individuals, exist.

What we should be doing instead is learning from the people we follow on social media. It is more important we gain some empathy by seeing the experiences of others rather than obsessing over their lives. The next time we click on someone’s Instagram story we should be thinking about what we can learn from their perspective instead of trying to glean as much information about someone’s life as possible.

This isn’t to say that celebrities shouldn’t be allowed to interact with their fans at all or that they shouldn’t read the things their audience says about them. Celebrities should still be friendly and personable toward their fans, but we shouldn’t expect them to reciprocate the intimate relationships we wish we had with them.