Disclaimer: The following article contains sensitive issues such as violence, sexual violence and stalking.
What does a Parasocial Relationship mean?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is defined as a “psychological relationship experienced by members of an audience in their mediated encounters with certain performers in the mass media, particularly on television”. To put it in simpler terms, parasocial relationships are commonly experienced by many. That cute male lead in a rom-com, that pop singer who feels like a friend or that influencer on TikTok who just seems so relatable. The idea is fans or viewers feel a sense of familiarity with these celebrities, as though they’re a part of their lives. In reality, it is mainly one-sided, seeing that it is impossible for celebrities to really know all of their hundreds and thousands of fans individually.
Having a celebrity crush or drawing comfort and inspiration from their songs, the fictional characters they play or the celebrities themselves is mostly harmless. But, when do the lines of hero-worshipping and complete obsession over an individual blur? Idolising one’s favourite boy group member may be fun and exciting until it all gets blown out of proportion. Thus, in this article, Echo will dive into a few of the most prominent parasocial relationships that may have gone too overboard.
Taylor Swift’s ‘Very Loyal’ Fans
There’s no doubt that one of the most loyal and headstrong pop star fan bases is Taylor Swift’s fans, or more commonly known as the Swifties. The Swifties are quite protective of the singer, sometimes a tad bit too much (applying to a particular number of Swifties only). Folks generally have to be extremely cautious when mentioning anything about Taylor Swift, especially other celebrities; seeing that they could face severe backlash if anything incriminating is said. Even music critics are not safe from their honest criticism.
The Pennsylvania native has also had several horrifying stalking cases because of crazily obsessed fans, one of which was Eric Swarbick, a man that claimed to have fallen in love with her and sent numerous ‘love letters’ to her former agency. His letters were creepy and horrifying; the man wanted to rape and kill her, saying that he had to claim her. Following that, was Roger Alvarado who had managed to break into Taylor’s apartment twice and was even found lying on her bed — supposedly waiting for the singer.
Taking on a milder tone, there are hardcore fans who overanalyse each word, clothing, lyric, and even food eaten by Taylor Swift. Being completely enamoured of her is one thing, but revolving one’s whole life around a celebrity-that’s just unhealthy. Naturally, this doesn’t only apply to the pop singer’s fans but the fandoms as well. Caught in an ongoing break-up, fans have been like hawks even more so now, attempting to deduce the cause of Joe Alwyn and Taylor Swift’s breakup.
As it happens, on a recent podcast, Professor Kate Kurtin of Cal State Los Angeles mentions Swifties grieving over Taylor Swift’s breakup, expressing her amazement on how fans seem personally affected by it. The psychologist carries on to interpret that parasocial relationships are built on the same context of personal relationships; illustrating the three layers of attraction: social attraction, physical attraction and task attraction respectively.
A humorous example of the steadfastness of the fans is how some Swifties refer to Taylor Swift as the ‘mom’, Harry Styles as the ‘dad’, and how they are now ‘children of divorce’. Deep down, some of us have to come to the realisation that these are normal human beings as well. Truth to be told, invading their personal lives can be uncomfortable for them and impact them negatively.
NCT and their long line of ‘sasaengs’
The noxious effect of parasocial relationships is even more rampant in the K-pop industry due to their ever-surging popularity. Not to mention, K-pop artists tend to interact with their fans more on platforms such as Weverse, V Live, LYSN and many more. Artists get to have live streams where they reply to the constant torrent of comments from fans and fans even get to chat with the celebrities, heightening the fan-service experience.
Needless to say, some fans are inclined to go off to the deep end; under the illusion that their bias(a favourite) are friends or their significant other and resort to stalkerish behaviour, better known as sasaengs. Loosely translated from Korean, it’s a term used to describe obsessive fans who invade the privacy of celebrities. As of late, fans of NCT(a boy band), NCTzens, have several sasaeng fans among themselves who’ve distressed the members with their creepy ‘exploits’.
Among the myriad of cases that have occurred, the most alarming one would probably be a sasaeng breaking into NCT’s Haechan’s home and invading his privacy by even going to the lengths of sending messages to his family members. On top of that, there have also been instances where the members received phone calls from random numbers, those being sasaengs during their lives on V Live or Instagram-interrupting and hounding them continuously.
These so-called ‘fans’ have stalked them in airports (invading their personal space), followed them up to their hotel rooms and even appeared on their Youtube videos due to their constant lurking around. The members of the boy band and their management company have addressed this issue multiple times, with the company, SM Entertainment releasing a statement about taking action in future occasions.
Likewise, the members themselves have called out the sasaengs during their live streams, requesting fans to respect their privacy and treat them as mutual human beings as well. Experiences such as these can prove to be emotionally traumatic in the long run.
Extreme Parasocial Relationship Within the Livestreamers Bubble
Besides celebrities, another group of people who are subjected to parasocial relationships are livestreamers. Whether it is a livestreamer who shows their face online, or a Vtuber (Virtual Youtuber) who uses a character as their model, once they get famous enough, it is very likely for them to experience the extreme side of parasocial relationships.
Valkyrae’s Stalker “Visited” Her at the 100 Thieves Office
Rachell “Valkyrae” Hofstetter, a famous female Youtube live streamer with over 3.8 million subscribers, has experienced one of the horrors of the result of a parasocial relationship. Besides being a live streamer, Valkyrae is also one of the co-owners and content creators of a lifestyle and esports organisation known as “100 Thieves”. In an interview with Anthony Padilla, Valkyrae, more commonly called Rae, shared an experience where one of the stalker fans flew over from another state to Culver City, California, where the 100 Thieves office was located.
The stalker had an absurd make-believe scenario in his mind where Valkyrae was the one who invited him to the 100 Thieves office to go to Coachella together. However, Valkyrae mentioned that they had never met or spoken to each other before. To make matters worse, after the stalker was denied entry to the 100 Thieves office and asked to leave Culver City,he was still persistent and stayed at the Los Angeles International Airport.
In a delusional manner, he made several videos claiming that Valkyrae invited him to the 100 Thieves office and wouldn’t leave until he met her. In those videos, he said things such as:
“I’m not leaving until Rae picks me up.”
“I know she wants to see me.”
“If she goes to Coachella without me, I’m going to be really disappointed, and I’m just sad that she wanted me to fly out here and she’s not even coming to pick me up.”
In the end, Valkyrae never fully disclosed what happened between her and the stalker, but it is evident that this is one extreme case of a parasocial relationship. The stalker created his own make-believe story where he and Valkyrae are friends, most probably because of the interactions during her live streams. This delusional mindset happens to people when they are too invested in a live streamer and do not know where to set the boundaries for themselves. It is beneficial for a streamer to have a friendly, outgoing, and funny personality during live streams because it makes people want to watch them. However, this personality trait also makes some people feel like they are “friends” with the streamers.
As a result, both sides (viewers and streamers) are negatively impacted in extreme cases. For a streamer, it is perilous and scary when a fan creepily stalks you. For a stalker fan, it usually requires a lot of time and money just to try and meet someone who doesn’t even know you, only to be declined afterwards. Valkyrae is just one example of a popular live-streamer being stalked; multiple other famous live-streamers have also experienced crazy or weird encounters with fans.
Delusional Fans of Vox Akuma from Nijisanji EN After a Boyfriend Roleplay ASMR
No live-streamer can escape the unhealthy parasocial relationship formed by fans. Even if you have a separate online personality that doesn’t reveal your face and use a character as your model (such as a Vtuber), some fans still go to the extreme side of parasocial relationships. Vox Akuma and Reimu Endou, Vtubers from Nijisanji EN, in particular, have experienced what it feels like to be subjected to extreme parasocial fans.
On May 29, 2022, Vox was streaming a boyfriend roleplay ASMR while Reimu was streaming Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 (FNAF 3). In the middle of the ASMR, Reimu called Vox for advice regarding FNAF 3 because she knew that Vox was an expert at it. When Reimu was trying to reach out to Vox, she realised that he was doing an ASMR, and thought it was acceptable to interrupt him to ask about FNAF. As a FNAF enthusiast and friend, Vox eagerly answered Reimu’s request because he also thought that it wouldn’t be a big deal to go on a tangent for a short time to help Reimu. Moreover, Vox played perfectly into the roleplay by pretending that his friend called him during a roleplay date to ask about FNAF. After the FNAF tangent, Vox continued his roleplay ASMR as usual.
During the stream, everything seemed fine, and people were excited to see Reimu in Vox’s stream. However, a massive storm began brewing for Reimu on Twitter once the stream ended. Some overly delusional fans were upset that Reimu had interrupted their “date” with Vox. They even went to the extreme of sending death threats and hate comments on Reimu’s Twitter account. From their tweets, they seem to be too immersed in the roleplay ASMR and believe that they are actually dating Vox. As an example, here is what the parasocial fans are saying on Twitter:
“I just want to say that it’s better not to do this again. When I’m on a date with my boyfriend, you RUIN my mood. I hope you don’t think there’s nothing wrong with what you’ve done this time. This is the last time I say everything in a polite mode.”
“You really wanna be his girlfriend, don’t you? But the sad truth is he treats you just as a good friend. I am so sorry for you, what a pity.”
These are just some passive-aggressive tweets out of the many other tweets directed to Reimu. Thankfully, many people are defending Reimu, including Vox. After the drama blew up on Twitter, Vox made a live stream addressing the situation. He made clear boundaries by saying that he and his fans are not in a relationship. He wanted the fans to know that he is an entertainer to them, not a friend and certainly not involved in any kind of relationship with them, because truthfully, the fans don’t know him personally. In the end, the hate comments simmered down, and Vox and Reimu had a discussion to straighten things out.
In this situation, the streamer and fans are responsible for what happened. On one side, Vox routinely does roleplay ASMR, which might incentivise his fans to form an unhealthy parasocial relationship with him. On the other hand, it is also the fans’ responsibility to draw the line between a streamer and a fan.
Compared to the situation Valkyrae experienced, Vox and Reimu’s experience was all online, but it is still equally frightening and concerning. While there is no stalker or physical danger, receiving death threats and hate comments is as draining as being cautious of the stalker. This shows that an unhealthy parasocial relationship can manifest in many ways, from being entirely online to where the streamer is physically in danger.
Regardless of a person’s background or experience, as long as that person has gained a decent amount of supporters, followers or audience, extreme parasocial relationships are bound to happen. However, keep in mind that parasocial relationships are a spectrum. As long as you do not cross the line and go overboard, it can still be considered a healthy parasocial relationship. Once you start to believe that those “entertainers” are more than just entertainers, such as friends, lovers, or other roles, that is when the boundaries are crossed, which can ultimately hurt the fan and the entertainer.
Written by: Poorani & Daniel
Edited by: Caitlin