In my last post I discussed the nature of parasocial relationships- what they are, how they form, and how they contrast (or indeed align) with the standard relationships we build offline. I did a quick Google search to see how others have defined the phenomenon, and the one I like best comes from the website findapsychologist.org:
“Parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships, where one person extends emotional energy, interest and time, and the other party, the persona, is completely unaware of the other’s existence.”
It’s that simple. As I said in the previous post, this term predates the internet, and goes back to the rise of mass media consumption that occurred in the 20 thcentury. The most obvious example, to my mind, is the unprecedented popularity of Elvis Presley in the 1950s. Aside from transgressing cultural norms in a way that resonated specifically with young people, his rise to fame coincided with the decade in which the TV came to dominate American domestic life. It was against this backdrop- with every house including a TV set showing Elvis gyrating hips- that psychologists first began to use the term “parasocial” to refer to one-way emotional investment.
In Part One I explored parasocial relationships through the lens of ASMR, because I think it makes for an interesting case study. As a genre of online content, it’s a particularly hot topic at the moment, especially when thinking about how the parasocial relationship can turn unhealthy. The way a person might idealize, fall in love with, or obsess over an ASMRtist reminds me a lot of a phenomenon referred to in psychoanalysis as Transference. This is when a patient projects the feelings they have for a former authority figure onto their therapist. It’s not necessarily sexual- a patient might transfer their anger toward someone else onto their therapist, or their dependence. Often, the therapist inherits unexpressed feelings the patient feels toward a significant figure from their childhood.
There’s an episode of The Sopranos where Tony tells his therapist, Melfi, that he’s in love with her. He goes into a speech about…