Parasocial Relationships: The Good and the Bad

In the age of social media, when everybody can broadcast every thought they have or thing they do, a new form of entertainment has risen: monitoring the lives of celebrities in real-time. Fame has always been associated with publicity, whether it is wanted or not, but with social media, fans can now track where their idols are or what they are up to as often as they want. This can work well in certain cases and extremely poorly in others. To look at how these mass parasocial relationships function, I offer two case studies: the #FreeBritney movement and the Kanye West/Kim Kardashian divorce. 

The #FreeBritney Movement

Starting at the end of 2020 and carrying on throughout most of 2021, Britney Spears’s battle to end her abusive conservatorship became a public affair. The decade-long conservatorship has always been a private matter in the public eye, coming after Spears struggled with her mental health—which was also very public. However, as Spears became more outspoken on social media in recent years, her fans begin to widely circulate the hashtag #FreeBritney. 

It catches: the #FreeBritney movement extended past the star’s fanbase spread across social media like wildfire. Soon, she not only had the public’s unwavering support but also their activism. It was impossible to ignore in the media and in the courtroom. The release of the documentary about Spears, Framing Britney, only added fuel to the flames. And finally, after a very long and public legal battle, Britney Spears’s conservatorship ended on November 12th, 2021, effective immediately. It was a victory for the star shared by her supporters. This is an excellent example of how a very open relationship between a celebrity and the public can be a force of good. Spears and her close friends and family garnered more support through social media to help their cause and use public outcry against her conservatorship as a tool and ultimately, they were successful. 

The Fall of Kimye

Not all stories, however, can be ones of success. In recent weeks, Kanye West has become extremely outspoken on Instagram about his family, particularly now ex-wife Kim Kardashian, who was declared legally single on March 3rd and dropped “West” from her last name. Kim has not been the target of Kanye’s social media rampage, but rather her current boyfriend, SNL star Pete Davidson. In the past few weeks, Kanye has made personal matters extremely public, posting texts between himself and Kim, himself and Pete, and details about their relationship to his 15+ million Instagram followers. In addition, Kayne has posted threats against Pete Davidson, calling on fans to harass him if they see him in public. This culminated with a music video for Kanye’s song, “Eazy,” which depicts him seriously harming and killing a fake Davidson. 

While Kanye’s fans have egged him on throughout this series of erratic posts, the general public has become increasingly disturbed and concerned for the personal safety of Kim and Pete. Many have called the behavior abusive and unstable, especially as Kanye has done everything possible to prevent legal proceedings in Kim Kardashian’s divorce from him. Rather than garner support from the general public like Britney Spears, he has either turned them entirely against him or become somewhat of a laughingstock on social media; some of his posts have already become memes circulating Twitter. 

Conclusions

It seems like cases similar to the #FreeBritney movement, in which something good comes from a celebrity’s interaction with the public, are more rare. Most of the time, the rise and fall of a celebrity becomes simply another form of entertainment that we can watch from our phones, like periodically checking Kayne’s Instagram to see what crazy thing he has posted now. Perhaps the dissolution of a marriage is not something that needs to be posted on Instagram in a play-by-play. The result of situations like this is the public becoming more and more comfortable involving themselves in the private matters of the famous, which can realistically only do more harm than good. 

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