Always a Voice for Students

Imua ʻIolani

Always a Voice for Students

Imua ʻIolani

Always a Voice for Students

Imua ʻIolani

Worship or Connection?: The Allure and Pitfalls of Parasocial Relationships

In the lense of a camera, the core of the entertainment industry, a fan’s love. Illustration by Mia R. ’26

Capturing Fan Intent

Bright pearly whites, flawless skin, luscious hair, and humorous: how could someone not fall in love? With the rise of social media, the community has access to unlimited entertainment. Ranging from a plethora of fandoms, K-pop stans, otakus and sports fanatics alike find and claim their ultimate celebrity crush. K-pop fans often refer to their idols as their ult or bias. Otakus show preference towards husbando or waifu. Starting as an innocent interest evolves into a perceived bond between the fan and the celebrity called a parasocial relationship; a one-sided relationship, where one person, the fan, extends emotional energy, interest and time, while the other party, the celebrity, remains completely unaware of the other’s existence. Harsh reality emphasizes how slim of a chance a fan has of developing a legitimate and mutual connection with the celebrity. In actuality, while the fan recalls the celebrity’s favorite breakfast, dog’s name and other miscellaneous details dropped in televised and transcribed interviews, the celebrity seldom remembers that person’s name. Nevertheless, this connection offers fans a sense of belonging and emotional fulfillment, often providing an escape from reality. However, it also raises ethical questions surrounding privacy and boundaries for both fans and public figures. The perspectives of both the fans and celebrities underscores the need for balance, mutual respect, and a deeper understanding of the human experience within this unique relationship. 

For a celebrity, self-branding, the intentional effort to create and influence public perception by positioning themselves as the authority in their respective industry, elevates their credibility and gives rise to their name. Some examples would be Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop” and Taylor Swift, “The World’s Most Powerful Female Musician”. As a celebrity, having a signature red lip, an iconic dance move or a notoriously high ponytail will differentiate themselves from the competition. Musical artists, in particular, maintain the interest of certain niches by offering escapism or an outlet that strengthens the loyalty of their fandom. While a listener can interpret the song the way they want, the artist’s intentions aligning with a listener’s emotions can spark a connection between the listener and the celebrity. 

Regarding the benefits of parasocial relationships, ‘Iolani Drummer Leila Hansen ’26 said, “Music can really be therapy. A great coping mechanism. Sometimes when family, friends or even therapists don’t really understand you, ironically, music listens. To me, I feel the art in my soul. I genuinely believe that artists are capable of making music that can really get you in the feels and unlock a deeper understanding and connection that’s so close to home, that I cannot effectively put it to words.” The mutual understanding found through artistry strengthens parasocial relationships. Oftentimes, a fan’s love will benefit them as through the artist they find comfort, relax, unwind or feel less anxious. 

Top-notch celebrities work to solidify and market an appeal to garner the attention of the mass media. Utilizing parasocial relationships as a coping mechanism, fans often get attached to TV characters with desirable characteristics that they then try to embody. Not limited to adolescence, emulating the attributes of a character or celebrity remains a common practice. Member of the BTS ARMY, ‘Iolani Dance Teacher Mrs. Cyrenne Okimura said, “BTS’s work ethic and ability to stay humble is one of the main reasons why I respect and hold admiration for them. That’s where my parallel to them comes from. Their general character and sacrifice compel me to do the best work I can do. As an artist, doing the best work that I can, that’s the nature of who I am. Anytime you use anyone’s music for any reason, you must uphold this responsibility to do justice to their work. Overall, BTS has brought a lot of joy to me, and their close brotherhood matches the nature of my dance program.” 

Additionally, the phenomenon of falling in love with public personalities has an intense effect on one’s emotional well-being and social skills. This relationship can also affect one’s standards for relationships. Leila Hansen ’26 primarily attributes her interest in music, this includes playing guitar and drum, collecting vinyl and attending concerts of the iconic band, The Beatles. Leila said, “I sympathize and empathize with them a lot. The Beatles are not perfect people, but then again, they are not God but humans. I do think I have a personal connection with a member, John Lennon. I feel as if he is looking over me and other Beatles fans.”

Downsides of a Public Life

Instead of the kind and calm welcoming of a sunrise, public figures are blinded by camera lights and deafened by the vicarious and invasive questions asked by paparazzi. In an interview with Gareth McLean, actress for hit sit-com “Friends”, Lisa Kudrow voiced her discomfort towards toxic public life, “I’ve been careful to keep my life separate because it’s important to me to have privacy and for my life not to be a marketing device for a movie or a TV show. I’m worth more than that.” Although public life fuels their monetary livelihood, celebrities should be entitled to their own privacy and bodily rights. 

On the opposite spectrum of parasocial relationships are manic fans who disregard personal boundaries and social cues at the mention of their favorite idol.  Delusional fans have prevented their idols from dating or going to the store peacefully. A prime example would be a member of the British Royal Family, Princess Kate, who was diagnosed with cancer. Before this news, netizens felt personally obliged to know the reason for her hiatus and wrote letters, drawing up absurd conspiracy theories for the matter. One conspiracy theory theorized that current Princess Kate was body-double and her true self nowhere to be found.

In an Instagram Story, singer-songwriter Halsey angrily responded, “Hope the people and media who sensationalized a woman’s desire for privacy following a known health incident are experiencing regret and remorse.” She then added on to say that this medical situation “would stand even without the terrible news of her journey. I understand that when you have a public life certain things like this can get out of hand. But God forbid someone needs a few weeks or months, it’s no one’s business why.”

Enthusiastic pop culture aficionado Faith Tanaka ’26 said, “Fans often feel entitled to their idols because idols always say they love their fans. This creates a false sense of belonging, therefore causing fans to be possessive over their favorite idol. To me, idols should be able to date as they have the right to live their own lives and true fans would wish for their idols to be happy.”

Regardless, the behavior of others should not castigate someone’s entire fandom, as marginalizing the whole fanbase because of the minor subcategories of said fanbase, undermines the happiness of fans who benefit from parasocial relationships.

Public entertainment has served as a source of happiness for its viewers. Regardless, the content creator should not sacrifice their lives for their viewers, just like a doctor should not sacrifice their health for their patients. A balance must be found and boundaries must be withheld as whether your name is known or not personal boundaries apply to every person. Mrs. Okimura said, “The general person that you are stays with you for your entire journey. Altogether, it’s really about being respectful and realizing at the core of it, we’re all pretty similar human beings. Anyone successful had to work to get there. There are lines of respectability and professionalism that no one should ever cross. If you’re altogether a nice human being, give everyone the benefit of the doubt, that they are supported and their opinion is valued.”

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About the Contributors
Madeline Lucy N.
Hello, my name is Madeline Lucy. I entered ‘Iolani School as a freshman and I’m now a sophomore. I joined Imua Newsroom because I wanted to embrace my passion for reading and writing. I am on the ‘Iolani kayaking and paddling team while also paddling for a club as well. Additionally, I dance for Halau o ‘Iolani, ‘Iolani’s hula program. My hobbies are learning about the environment, engaging in social wellness initiatives and immersing myself into different cultures. As a new staffer at Imua, I’m so grateful to be immersed in a community full of 5 things that I love. FUN FACT: I love to play with my dog who is named after my favorite boy band!
Phoebe H.
Phoebe H., Staff
Hi! My name is Phoebe and I’m a freshman at ‘Iolani School. This is my second year as an Imua Newsroom staff member! I originally chose Imua last year to try something new and enhance my writing skills, but I came back again this year because of the people and memories I made in this community. Outside of the newsroom, I love hanging out with my friends and exploring new food spots and beaches with them. My favorite movie is How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days or Black Panther. I typically enjoy reading articles about ‘Iolani’s campus life, national news, and popular trends/media, so I’m hoping that this year I get the opportunity to write more pieces surrounding those topics. I’m super excited to be a staff member for the second time and am looking forward to seeing the articles we put out this year!

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