Parasocial Relationships (Draft)

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This is an unfinished draft from December of 2019

Celebrities are the closest thing we have to royalty in America. Millions of individuals follow celebrities closely and feel like they truly know them. However, the truth is we only really know their media personas.

In 1956, Donald Horton and R. Richard Wohl coined the term “parasocial relationships” to describe this phenomenon.

A parasocial relationship is a one-sided relationship that media users form as a result of exposure to media personas. Viewers or listeners begin to consider media personalities as friends, despite having limited interactions with them. Parasocial relationships [psychologically] resemble those of face-to-face interaction, but they are obviously mediated and one-sided.

Despite the fact that the original paper was written over 50 years ago, it feels more applicable than ever before. The biggest social platforms of today have only exaggerated parasocial relationships. In many ways, the internet collectively chooses who (and what) they want to be popular. We all have a “front-row seat” to the journey of a modern celebrity.

Imaginary Friends

As children, it’s not uncommon to have imaginary friends. Imaginary friends, by definition, are a psychological and social phenomenon where friendship takes place in the imagination rather than physical reality.

However, I would argue that this isn’t a phenomenon only experienced by children. Parasocial relationships are the natural evolution of imaginary friends. Creators and influencers are filling the gap where ‘friends’ used(?) to live in society. If you are anti-social or have very few friends, these creators are able to easily fill that void. Most creators have hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of content readily available.

These relationships are imaginary because viewers are building a connection with an on-camera personality. They have no idea whether the person “on-camera” is the same “off-camera.” Viewers are developing relationships with a presentation of that person, not a ‘real’ person.


‘Dear Slim, I wrote you but you still ain’t calling…’

What originally started as a hit song from Eminem has quickly become a noun and a verb. A “Stan” is an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity.

I saw this comment on Reddit a few years ago, and it’s always resonated with me…

Dear streamer, I wrote you but you still ain’t callin’

I left a donation, some bits and my twitch name at the bottom

I gifted two subs back in autumn, you must not’ve got ‘em

There probably was a problem with the overlay or somethin’

Sometimes I scribble credit card info too sloppy when I jot ‘em