This article was originally written and published in Indonesian on 14 January 2022
The fans are attracted in a parasocial way to their idols if they are excessively interested in their idols’ persona shown through the media. The high intensity of a parasocial relationship could build an obsession that causes Celebrity Worship. Whether realized or not, a parasocial relationship impacts those involved in it.
K-Pop, Persona, and Parasocial
The trend for idolizing K-Pop idols has significantly increased. According to Korean Foundation, in September 2020, 100 million people participated in 1.835 Korean Wave clubs worldwide. Therefore, it shows an enhancement for the participants in the amount of 5,45 million people compared to last year. Fuhr (2015) on Hwang (2018, 192) described K-Pop as a product that has a unique combination of visuals, lyrics, dances, and fashion. It is also a postmodern outcome of art and parody, a content celebration of difference, an exhilarating space of escapism, and high participatory cultural practice that enacted through the digital media. Hwang said that the core of K-Pop that attracts fans is the global high quality of its music, visuals, and the presence of the music itself. K-Pop’s popularity as a long-lasting product is due to the culture of parasocial relationships and participatory cultural practice that the K-Pop fandom relies on (Kim 2011; Hwang 2018, 193). Kim (2011) stated that forming a K-Pop group depends on how the talent is managed and also on the invention of the formula to create the best product to attract numerous audiences.
The K-Pop system shapes the idol to adjust themself to the narration and the characteristics that fit their public persona (Hwang 2018). Hwang further stated that the K-Pop system involves the media at an extreme level and depends on the idol who has never removed their persona to do their role in the group. In another way, being an idol means they will never leave their characteristics given by the agency. Hwang said that the fans could consistently love the idol with their persona or image provided by the media. That culture of idolizing the idol is built by thoughtfully controlling the idol’s stage characteristics, such as seductive, shyness, cute, and other characteristics that are subsequently maintained in their public presence.
The fans watch the idols in the media and think as if there is an actual two-sided interaction between them, when in fact, the interaction that happened is only one-sided. That one-way interaction is called parasocial interaction. Hartman (2016) in Perbawani and Nuralin (2021, 43) stated that parasocial interaction is the fan’s illusion feeling where the fans think they are in a reciprocal social interaction when they are not. In this parasocial interaction, the fans believe they interact with the idols personally within the media. Still, in reality, the idols interact with all the fans simultaneously. For instance, the fans think they are directly interacting with the idols because they feel the idol’s gaze towards them. Parasocial interaction solely occurs when the fans and the idols interact through the media.
Parasocial interaction is different from parasocial relationships. A parasocial relationship is a relationship that is formed when an individual constantly has and builds an emotional attachment and thinks as if they are in a friendship or any other close relationship with their idols (Horton and Wohl 1956). Hartmann (2016) said that a parasocial relationship could be interpreted as a social relationship between a person–in this case, the fans–towards another person they have met through the media. The illusion of being in a friendship or any other close relationship with the idols happens, considering the fans believe that they know their idols in person. The parasocial relationship has some types, from extreme worshiping to romantic or even antagonistic relationships. The emotional attachment built between the fans and the idols makes the fans feel like they are in a particular relationship, even when they do not directly interact through the media.
However, the parasocial relationship will still continuously happen even if the idols do not present in the media. The case that started as a parasocial interaction might continue to become a parasocial relationship. Nevertheless, an intense parasocial relationship could happen even without creating a parasocial interaction in the first place (Hartmann 2016).
The Fans’ Parasocial Relationship With the Idols
When the fans became interested in the idols and their persona, several fans also used the idol’s persona as motivation and inspiration. Most of the time, the fans who feel connected with the emotion they have shared with the idol through the media will get attached. The person who desires to build an intimate relationship but is simultaneously anxious and skeptical about the relationship accomplishment is likely to be interested and stuck in a parasocial relationship (Hartmann 2016).
In their study, Cole and Leets (1999) explained the effect of attachment styles on the intimacy of a parasocial relationship. The attachment style is a derivative concept from John Bowbly’s (1969) attachment theory that refers to a character as well as a unique way to associate themselves being in a relationship with the “attachment figures” (Levy et al. 2010). The Hope-Filled Family stated that the attachment style is a way to associate with others, especially with the closest one. The attachment style is divided into four types; secure attachment, avoidant attachment, preoccupied/ambivalent attachment, and dismissing/disorganized/disoriented attachment.
A person with a secure attachment would feel more open to being in a relationship with their closest ones (Levy et al. 2010). Furthermore, The Mind Body Green explained that a person with avoidant attachment frequently feels uncomfortable in a relationship. More than that, an avoidant attachment person prefers to be independent, so they are not interested in a relationship. Otherwise, Levy et al. stated that a person with an ambivalent attachment would be highly interpersonally attached in a relationship. Last but not least, a person with a dismissing attachment frequently feels resistant to affection and struggles to ask for or receive help from others (Dozier 1990 in Levy et al. 2010, 195).
Cole and Leets (1999) explained that a person with an ambivalent attachment would likely be in an intense parasocial relationship, while one with an avoidant attachment would be in the light one. An uncertain attachment person desires to be in a relationship, but at the same time, they feel afraid and doubtful about it. They could be in an intense parasocial relationship considering their desired intimacy level, yet they are still frightened to have it in reality.
Several studies explained a link between the parasocial relationship with loneliness. A study found that loneliness is related to the intensity of the parasocial relationship (Greenwood and Long 2009). That loneliness causes a person to be stuck in a parasocial relationship and driven by a needy feeling. The parasocial relationship positively correlates with loneliness and negatively with insecurities (Baek, Bae, and Jang 2013). The fans become stuck in a parasocial relationship due to feeling fulfilled by the idol’s presence.
The Impact on the Adolescents
One of the advanced impacts of adolescents’ involvement in parasocial relationships is celebrity worship or Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS). Maltby (2003) in Sahrani and Yulianti (2020) interpreted celebrity worship as a strange parasocial relationship in which a person is involved, excessively interested, or even obsessed with the celebrity’s private life. Celebrity Worship Syndrome needs to be diagnosed by a professional. Furthermore, Giles and Maltby (2006) stated that parasocial relationships are divided into three levels; entertain-social, intense-personal, and borderline-pathological. The entertain-personal level is attained when the fans are interested in the idols but are not involved in a parasocial relationship. This level is the general level in a parasocial relationship; that is to say, the fans simply admire and talk about the idols, but they are not involved in any interaction with them. The intense-personal level is the advanced level in which the fans admire the idols and believe they know them in person. The fans at this level usually make a lot of interaction and a further effort to idolize them, such as being involved in a “fandom” culture, i.e., streaming, voting, fan meeting, etc. The highest level of parasocial relationship is borderline-pathological, in which the connection is already difficult to be controlled and aimed to be the delusional one. This adverse action, such as stalking, could occasionally happen because the fans at this level believe they are in a real relationship with the idols.
Several factors cause adolescents to be involved in celebrity worship. One of the most significant factors is the parasocial relationship as compensation for adolescents’ insufficiency (Shi 2018). Cheung and Yue’s (2013, 40) study with 401 Hong Kong students shows that adolescents adore their idols due to parental absence. Furthermore, their low social status encourages them to seek compensation for their insufficiency.
Celebrity worship and CWS occasionally negatively affect adolescents in bonding a relationship with others, especially romantic ones. Erickson (2018) in Shi (2018) stated that 94% of teenagers look for a piece of information about the romantic relationship through television and film as well as movies that provide an idea about sex and social relationship that influence them to enact and comprehend the concept of gender as well as gender roles, sex, and social connection. Moreover, Erickson stated that teenagers who determine how to enact and comprehend a romantic relationship through the parasocial one are likely to acquire the same relationship as they believe. This idea will negatively influence if the fans determine the negative association with the celebrities.
In another study by Maltby et al. (2005) about the link of celebrity worship with the cause of intense-personal and concern for girls’ body shape in Northern England, there are three ideas about body image. Firstly, celebrity worship relating to body image is even worse for teenage girls and did not happen to other group samples. Secondly, this celebrity worship of body image is worse because it is possibly limited only to an intense-personal worship orientation. Thirdly, the link between celebrity worship and the causes of intense personal concern for body shape is not always happening because this study shows that the connection is gone when a person is in early adolescence. Furthermore, this study shows that a person in celebrity worship for intense-personal reasons shows worsened mental health symptoms, starting from depression, anxiety, somatic symptoms, social dysfunction, occasional stress, and dissatisfaction with their life.
Another study by Cheung and Yue (2003) in Shi (2018) with 833 China adolescents as a sample shows that adolescents who worship celebrities struggle because they slowly lose their self-confidence and downgrade their self-achievement. Likewise, this study shows that the adolescents involved in celebrity worship would feel less appreciative of themself. This study found that associating with celebrities gives adolescents a particular meaning to their lives and helps them build a new identity imitation.
Celebrity worship has a bad influence on mental as well as physical health. Dittmar (2000) in Maltby (2005) stated that the desire to be skinny is the most problematic adolescent issue when maturing. Although, in adolescence, the fat on a girl’s body most likely be around the hips and chest.
Thus, in another study by Sahrani and Yulianti (2020) about the standard of living of K-Pop teenage fans in Indonesia, it stated that the participants had an excellent standard of living based on four points; physical health, psychological condition, social relationships, and environment. K-Pop teenage fans admit that K-Pop idols establish a good life for them, especially for their mental health. The psychological condition pointed out in this study shows that it is the second of the 4 points.
Moreover, Sahrani and Yulianti explained that the fans’ psychological condition is greatly affected by the presence of their idols. This fact relates to the adolescent’s psychological growth condition and the modeling construct in which they consider the celebrity or other person a role model. If K-Pop idols positively impact the fans, the result from the modeling process, in which they think of the idols as role models, is also positive.
Likewise, Sahrani and Yulianti found various reasons why adolescents become K-Pop fans. In the same study, 90 participants became K-Pop fans since K-Pop idols inspired them to be better human beings. On the other hand, 67 participants became K-Pop fans because K-Pop idols gave them sparks and motivation. Sahrani and Yulianti concluded that K-pop could motivate fans to face their crisis identity; therefore, fans can have a high quality of life.
The parasocial relationship influences the fans’ loyalty to consume the products associated with their idols. Purbawani and Nuralin’s (2021) study explained a significant link between parasocial relationships and fans’ loyalty. Lou and Kim’s research (2019) with 500 teenagers in the United States as participants explained influencers and parental roles in parasocial relationships, materialism, and purchase intention. It says that teenagers in a parasocial relationship correlate with materialism and the will to purchase idols-advertised products.
Celebrities have various impacts on adolescence. Some of them are positive, while others are not. These impacts depend on the individual–in this case, adolescents–how they perceive and conduct themself toward the idols. Even though celebrities have already become a part of some individuals’ lives, it is crucial to choose and control how much the celebrity can impact them (Shi 2018, 10).
Authors : Irdha Dewi Mahardika and Ryzal Catur Ananda Sandhy Surya (Intern)
Editor : Hasna Aliya Ady
Illustrator : Embun Dinihari (Intern)
Translator : Irdha Dewi Mahardika
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