When it comes to the lives of celebrities, everyone seems to have an opinion. One of the more recent celebrity dramas involves comedian John Mulaney’s recent divorce from Anna Marie Tendler and has been the subject of much online attention. A hashtag named after this divorce has 359.5 thousand views on TikTok. Compared to the whopping 859.4 million views on the hashtag about John Mulaney himself, it is not much, but some users have expressed apprehension over this event. “Olivia Munn went after him at a wedding. They are both dead to me. #teamannamarietendler,” commented @beckytate1. Others find the amount of interest concerning. “A lot of y’all need to log off and touch grass if you care THIS much about a man divorcing his wife,” wrote user @cyberstormx2. Another, @bangtheheartwork, noted, “People need to stop forming unhealthy parasocial relationships. He didn’t change. Y’all just never knew him and still don’t.” While there is some truth to these comments, are parasocial relationships really that bad?
At a glance, the term ‘parasocial relationship’ looks a bit creepy. The prefix ‘para’ is often associated with the word parasite, thus giving ‘parasocial relationship’ a negative connotation. However, parasocial interactions are not inherently bad or unhealthy. In fact, it is a completely natural experience. When you have a parasocial interaction, you, the audience, are forming a psychological relationship with the person you see in the media. You subconsciously view this person as a friend and treat them as such when you interact through comments and other online mediums. This phenomenon is not limited to real people, either, as parasocial interactions are also common with characters from television shows and movies. “A parasocial relationship is safe,” says Jaye L. Derrick, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Houston. “Your favorite celebrity cannot reach out of a magazine article to reject you. This has changed somewhat as social media has developed, but that’s still rare.”
For many productions, these relationships are appreciated and even encouraged. Having people become attached to characters does not negatively affect the show’s reputation. However, the boundaries of parasocial relationships start to become unclear when they are applied to real people. Over the years, celebrities have become more open to creating distance from their fans. In October of 2008, musician Ringo Starr made a video in frustration with the sales of fan mail he autographed, saying “I’m warning you with peace and love. I have too much to do, so no more fan mail! And no objects to be signed. Nothing!” Twelve years later, actress Millie Bobby Brown created a video of her own after an incident involving a fan filming her without consent. “I’m still trying to navigate this all and it’s still overwhelming. Where are my rights to say no?” she asked.
Millie’s question, and others like it, have been the subject of much debate for a long time. To what extent is a celebrity allowed to set boundaries with their fans? Some argue that the stars themselves bring the issue upon themselves. When a celebrity frequently uses social media and gives the public special insight into their lives, it provides the illusion of familiarity. A simple photo of the salad they are eating or the new lover they are with reminds us they are real human beings with semi-regular lives. Perplexingly, the same thing that gives celebrities their humanity also deprives them of it. Some people become too comfortable and go too far. For example, supermodel Gigi Hadid was grabbed and lifted by Vitalii Sediuk outside Max Mara’s spring runway show in 2016. In response, she elbowed him to escape his hold. “The ACTUAL fans that were there can tell you what happened. I’m a HUMAN BEING and had EVERY RIGHT to defend myself. How dare that idiot think he has the right to manhandle a complete stranger,” she later tweeted about Sediuk, a self-identified “prankster” with a history of disrupting and sexually assaulting various celebrities.
So, in cases such as John Mulaney’s divorce, posting a video or two seems to pale in comparison to the extreme acts of people like Sediuk. Seeing as these videos have a slim chance of reaching the feeds of the celebrity in question, this is most likely true. It does, however, raise some questions about the general mindset regarding these figures. There is a general sense of entitlement surrounding celebrities. They get to live lavishly because of the public’s attention, so it is considered rude to set boundaries, and the public is allowed to interact with the celebrity as they please. While it is true that fame grants special privileges, it also has harsh consequences. It is important to remember that for most famous people, their entire existence is a brand. Everything they say and do is under the watchful eye of millions. And yes, this allows them to have millions, too, but at the end of the day, they are human beings, and everybody deserves the right to privacy.
With all things considered, is it wrong to enjoy and interact with your favorite celebrities? The answer is no. It is OK to be friendly with your favorite stars and appreciate their work. However, the key element here is mutual respect. Just like a celebrity is expected to show respect to their audience, you should match that respect in your interactions. The harsh truth is these people don’t know you and likely never will. Be mindful about what you post and comment, and take a moment to recollect your thoughts if you find yourself getting too involved and crossing a boundary. After all, celebrities may dislike internet trolls, but they dislike creeps even more!