Passionate Or Parasocial? The Weird Dilemma of Online Followings

Social media. Two words I’m sure at least 99% of you are familiar with because all of us are on it in some form or another. It’s prevalent for a good reason — you’re able to share your life and let your interests flourish with your friends, family, and any other person online. With the […]

Social media.

Two words I’m sure at least 99% of you are familiar with because all of us are on it in some form or another. It’s prevalent for a good reason — you’re able to share your life and let your interests flourish with your friends, family, and any other person online. With the world always looking for something new online to follow, I decided to look into my following habits. It splits into three categories: actors, musicians, and creators I watch online. I don’t really follow many celebrities or creators, but the ones I do follow I really enjoy. I really really enjoy them, maybe even to the point some might call an obsession. 

I enjoy their presence and presentation so much that I can’t help but support and keep up with what they do. Though I wouldn’t call my following of these people an obsession. I know to draw a line somewhere and that these people aren’t my friends. I don’t expect them to be perfect or do things for me, so I would consider my habits more of a passion for their work. I know for a fact that I don’t speak for the majority, so how do people follow their favorites online? Why did these people speak to them? Do people categorize their habits as an obsession or a passion? 

YouTube and Instagram’s algorithm operate based on what you like and follow. TikTok seems a bit more random, and I feel less encouraged to check the following tab because of how TikTok was built. It can be hard to pinpoint where some people are active the most though because certain platforms favor different kinds of content. Musicians seemed more suited for TikTok and Instagram with the short form content and the way sounds trend. Introspective creators that deep dive into games, books, and movies are better suited for YouTube. My interests span across these platforms, and each category kind of exists on each of these platforms in some form, but obviously they have a main platform that reaches the masses the most.

My lifetime listening numbers for all those I listed. Laufey is the most recent find so that explains the lower numbers.

I can note some musicians whose work I follow very closely on Instagram because the posting and stories allow fans to see what these people are up to and get announcements about tours and new music. People I follow are indie singer beabadoobee, rock band Paramore, jazz singer songwriter Laufey, japanese pop duo YOASOBI, and experimental artist Quadeca, among more that I could list. Their work is intriguing and so different from each other that I get a different kind of enjoyment out of their work that leaves me wanting more outside their existing catalog. Although they don’t always stay active, I actively await to see what comes from them and their musical process.

Creators are an easier category to pinpoint because YouTube has a great variety of content that will always cover any niche corner of the internet. I like to dive deep into the rabbit hole of my favorite games and media, and there are always people willing to take the time to join me on that descent and express their opinions with a certain level of charm. That includes game reviewer uhyeah, speedrunning analyst Summoning Salt, the introspective dive into horror by Dead Meat, video essayist oliSUNvia, and the many Theorist channels run by Matthew Patrick and company. Content can’t be boiled down to one sub-category though. Sometimes I watch more loose and fun gaming creators in the vein of variety streamer AstralSpiff, Mario Kart aficionado TWD98, horror gaming icon Dawko, and the guy who gets mad at Wii games, Poofesure. I also watch a lot of competitive VALORANT, so the pros who play and the analysts who watch and break down these teams are also something I keep up with. Growing up with these channels and discovering them recently not only informs me on various topics but has been something to lean on in hard times, so I’d say the hours spent watching and finding these people is worth it.

Actors become an easy category to follow people in because if you liked a performance in one movie, chances are you’ll like them in another. A few stand out to me, probably because they all starred in my favorite movie of last year — Five Nights at Freddy’s — but Matthew Lillard, Elizabeth Lail, and Josh Hutcherson as actors and actresses stand out to me recently. A while ago, I probably would have listed people like Jennifer Lawrence because of the Hunger Games or Mary Elizabeth Winstead for movies like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Final Destination 3. Voice actors are also someone to note, as someone who watches a lot of animated TV can tell you. Actors tend to come and go for me in phases based on the kinds of movies I watch or genre I dive into, but those performances that captivate me never leave my mind.

I spent a long time talking about my passions in various fields of media, but I think it’s important to explore and talk about your interests with others. Growing up liking horror and various “out there” topics made it a bit hard to relate with people, so it’s nice for me to hear about people’s niche passions.

Erin with her signed print from Julian Kostov. She looks very excited about it.

Erin Diga (’24) provided an insightful look into her passions and was willing to guide my down her list of favorites online. Julian Kostov was the first on her list, a name I was familiar with from talking with her before, but I never really knew what he did. He’s an actor in various movies, but Erin found him through the video game Call of Duty, which he was apart of recently.

Her passion went beyond just the tap of a follow button, though. “I got his signed print, I made him fan art, and I always like his posts,” she says. “I’m not gonna lie, I have reposted some stuff on my story as if it matters.” I think it matters Erin — keep sharing your interests with the world.

It’s not just Julian though, Emma Stone ranks highly with Erin, mostly due to La La Land, which she makes her appreciate this year’s prom theme even more. I can get behind the hype too because we discussed her recent Oscar win and other movies we love her in like Cruella and The Amazing Spider-Man.

We swiftly moved onto music talk, with Laufey being our common ground. We complained over the insane ticket prices for her shows, but that aside, her music is what we really tuned in for. Erin tunes in for Laufey more than I do, always ready when things go live. “I would catch, every time for the Bewitched album, everytime she would post a premiere, I would be waiting on it.” I understand the hype though, the quality is always there with Laufey.

The talk of premieres led us to Matthew Patrick’s recent retirement and talk of the game that probably had a hand in that, Five Nights at Freddy’s. We love the games, but the recency of the movie sparked our love for the main cast I spoke about earlier.

But as the conversation about our many shared interests and Erin’s unique passions, the word “obsession” and “parasocial” had come up. I followed up on that, and Erin was quick to answer honestly.

“Lowkey, I’m not even afraid to say it, it’s an obsession,” she says. I appreciate the honesty but talking further uncovered that while she dubs her following as an obsession, she is cognizant of the boundaries.

“I’m very aware that there is a line,” she says. We finished by talking more of parasocial relationships among fans of creators who turn out to be not the best of people and look at that as breach of that wall between the person creating and the person supporting.

Austin Lemieux (‘24) was quick, enthusiastic, and concise when I asked him about his most favorite follow. Two words was all it took to get him ecstatic, and I knew exactly what two words they were, “TV GIRL!” The indie band who started their run back in the early 2010s with various EPs and debuted with their first album French Exit in 2014.

Answering why TV Girl came pretty easy to him as he’s probably the most dedicated listener of them that I know. “They are my favorite because I like their music, it’s something different from most of the stuff out currently and I just enjoy the sounds and aesthetic of the music,” the senior says. It’s true, as someone who went to see them in concert with Austin, there is really no one else doing it like them.

As a TV Girl enthusiast, he found them before they exploded in popularity a few years ago. “I found them just browsing on Spotify during sophomore year before they had blown up on TikTok and everything.” As much of a fan he is, I did find them before he did, so I’m going to take the credit for putting him on.

When I brought up obsession to him, he fully admitted to an obsession with the band with some evidence. “Considering I have about 70,000 minutes listened to them so far, I would say that I am always caught up on everything TV Girl.” His final words really cap off that devotion with wholehearted honesty, “It’s an obsession. I support them, and I have constant interest in them.”

So Erin, Austin, and I might be little obsessed with what we love, but we are aware of what to do and what not to do as the people who support those entertaining us. I felt like there was a key component missing, an answer to why both the healthy and unhealthy spawn, and why it happens that way. I consulted AP Psychology instructor Mr. Vince Leporini to see if there really was a reason behind this obsessive behavior.

It seems that there is a reason — he asserts that our connections with these figures comes from a wish fulfillment, wishing that we could do or be exactly like those we idolize.

“I don’t think random is the word — it could be someone you never thought you’d be interested in,” as the psych teacher says. ”There’s always been celebrity before social media — I think we’re drawn to people that are exceptional.”

Noting politicians, athletes and military leaders as older examples, he explains that newer celebrities have more influence on social aspects. Social interaction is valued highly to us as social mammals, so the rise of influencing makes sense from that perspective. “Seeing someone, in essence, influence people — we are drawn to that,” he says. “It’s not so much what vehicle their using to influence — through baking, pranks, or just talking — but the idea that they can captivate an audience.”

Obsessive behavior was something I was eager to talk about with Mr. Leporini, and his opinion stems from the possibility of gaining the same level of notoriety people see these huge stars have. “You see the people freaking out about the Beatles, or just going to [John] Lennon’s funeral, the idea of the spectacle of it with these larger than life figures. We love the idea of attainability, I think that is where you see it become obsessive.”

Desire to connect with the level of power these figures have has been around for ages. But with the age of social media, that connection seems more plausible. “You have more accessibility than ever before — you can get someone to respond. More than ever before you can access this social power, but at the same time for most of us, it’s a false sense of connection,” Mr. Leporini states. “This is true not just of celebrities, but people that like casually follow acquaintances or friends. You feel connected to them, but don’t actually have an interaction.”

The idea of thinking versus knowing when it comes to celebrities is another dilemma of following. You think you know what someone is like based on their activity, but you never actually know who they are and what they are like. “It’s much more prevalent with young people now and influencers, just the daily accessibility you have, so that lead to sometimes an unhealthy psychosis,” Lep says.

The demand for information and news to analyze these celebrities life has been around before and continues on with social media, but it’s more in the hand of the celebrity and less in the media nowadays. “They’re framing it, at least before this ‘gotcha’ journalism or something like that with third party trying to give you access. Now that person is giving you access but they are highly controlling that access.”

It becomes a game of finding out whether what is posted is a facade or the real deal, and even we tend to do it on our pages. But we hold significantly less power than those who make the headlines.

The healthiest way to follow is to do it your own way. Engaging with what you love and expressing your interests is healthy to do so long as you’re aware that a boundary exists between you and who, or what, you choose to idolize.

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