Letter 71

September 09, 2021

On parasocial relationships

I muted the word “parasocial” on Twitter this week because I’m so tired of hearing about it, yet here I am adding to the conversation, I guess. I’m working on caring less about celebrities and their lives in general. I’m working on not assuming I know anything about someone based on their online presence. I’m working on letting myself enjoy and find comfort in media without letting it become my entire identity—that last one’s a bit harder for me. I think it’s complicated and also so, so important to be able to feel your feelings about stuff that is being packaged up for you as entertainment without letting those very personal feelings bleed into real life, and without expecting things from people you don’t know based on those very personal feelings. It’s okay for you to love someone’s content; it’s less okay for you think that means you know anything about them or what kind of person they are in real life. I still struggle with this, sometimes! That video of Steve from Blue’s Clues made me cry this week, even though I know I’m being pandered to! I have absolutely gotten too attached to celebrities and then been let down when they said or did something I didn’t like! But I think the more I am aware of it, the better I get at separating “content” and “entertainment” with real life—and I’m a lot happier for it.


As a member of the Tumblr diaspora and someone who got their start in Disney Channel RPF YouTube, I am no stranger to the belief that I have a relationship to the person that lives in my screen, they are accountable to me, and they care about my feelings. After Chris Evans was in a Zionist Propaganda film, I realized the depth of how harmful the parasocial was to my psyche—I had been out of active fandom spaces for a few years and wasn’t as hyped about celebrity as a concept anymore, but it hurt? to see someone who I had devoted time to adoring do something personally and structurally harmful to me? What’s more interesting is the way that parasocial relationships alter who we stick up for: what do we tolerate, and from who? I’m definitely guilty of hyper intellectualizing my interests, trying to find meaning for what I love outside of the fact that it’s “fun” (because we’re not allowed to have fun or experience pleasure for the sake of it, of course) and parasocial relationships are instrumental in that intellectualizing—to theorize about the politics of celebrity or pseudo-public figures like content creators means to believe you have access to their interiority, something we really don’t! Do we even have access to the interiority of all of the people we call friends? Sometimes no! I’ve had a lot less “your fave is problematic” heartbreaks over the years. I quite simply felt nothing upon the cancellation of Lea Michele, something that would have devastated me at fourteen—instead, it’s information I absorb, I move on, I listen to another Broadway-adjacent woman in my free time and stop pretending any of her albums post-Glee were good. Detachment! It’s good. Never meet your heroes nor defend them on the internet.


We recommend

📖 You Are Not Dead by Wendy Xu

My friend dropped off a stack of books for me to read during the Sealey Challenge that I did not, in fact, read, but my September has been off to a great start in terms of finishing books. My favorite thus far has been You Are Not Dead by Wendy Xu; a series of kind of quirky-but-in-a-successful-way poems that felt very pertinent to my current Big Depressive Mood. Buy it here!


📱 Pinterest

I know this is a silly recommendation because Pinterest is already a very popular app and lots of people have been using it for years. But this is my newsletter so I can do what I want. I went through a short-lived Pinterest phase in college when I wanted to be a lifestyle blogger or something (lol). And now I’m back at it! I’ve been making due with other social media apps to find specific vibes that I’m looking for, but Pinterest really is it—I love being able to search for the exact kind of inspiration I’m looking for, whether it’s an outfit, a tattoo, a hairstyle, or a really cute desk setup. Plus, it makes me feel like I’m back in my super early Tumblr days, curating my taste with reblogs.


🎶 Spotify Blend

This is such a fun new feature! I’ve been sending friends invite links to blend our music tastes (many of us listen to Mitski) and building the best playlists full of tracks I already listen to with a little bit of new stuff sprinkled around in there. Just search “Blend” in your Spotify search and it’ll take you to where to generate them.


🎶 Chill with Taiki

This is one of my favorite livestreams to listen to, whether I’m trying to get work done or I’m just laying on the couch drinking tea. Perfect for chill, cozy vibes. I also like this one, which has a pomodoro timer to help you stay focused.