The Age of Parasocial Relationships

We all have parasocial relationships. With characters from a series, cinema, literature and videogames. We spend hours with them and go back to them, share our days with them and they keep us company.

We watch them and attach the best version of ourselves to them. We watch them and we’re home. They’re friends and companions. We revisit them, never let them go, never grow tired of their regular presence in our domestic life. Those flashing bodies on our screens. The lively silhouettes we imagine in our heads. They all resonate with us and give us comfort.

Of course, the question arises whether these relationships are one-sided, unhealthy or indeed homely. The characters we spend so much time with don’t have an awareness of us, of this intimate relationship we have with them, how well we know them, not vice versa. There are several layers to this concept. Concentrating on the character, not on the actor, we are already placed in a fictional world that we engage with on the same level, living by watching, learning by observing, crying by being affected and laughing by understanding exchanges. Their presence is not only on the screen, but also in our minds and we project our lives and associations onto the images and relate and identify ourselves with the characters and their experiences. We’re never alone because we know them so well. We’re safe with them. We know their characters and lives inside-out. They are there on command. Just because they are not physically with us and operate on-screen and in our heads doesn’t mean they’re not real. We make them real, to us.

It cannot be denied that these characters are dominant presences in our daily lives. They give us something because we take it. We invest in them. They inspire us and may motivate us and resonate with us. Disappointment is out of the question. How does this exchange work? Are there just positive and life-affirming emotions in the mix? Or is there a detrimental side to it? Do we want more at some point even though every show, every film and book reach their end and we only get what is there or are we indeed fine with the initial awareness and agreement that we know the length of our involvement and that what is offered will always be the same?

Frankenstein’s creature can be seen as either a monster or a human being; it depends on how you deal with it. That concept counts for everything double-edged in modern life, the internet, social media and our behavioural patterns with moving images. As long as there is a healthy weight of reality attached to every panorama of the imaginary we’re good. And, either way, both are interdependent and influence one another and can have the most wondrous collaboration if the balance is right.

trendy ethnic woman applying lip balm in front of mirror
Photo by Retha Ferguson on

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