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03/07/2020 The Communication Science magazine

Parasocial relationships and fictional loyalty: How’s that actors and characters are not the same person (but people don’t get it)

Have you ever felt as if the person who got you best wasn’t your best friend, or one of your family members, but rather your favorite actor, singer or movie character? Has it ever happened to you? Yeah, I thought so. But don’t worry, you’re not the only one. 


There are millions of people out there involved in what scientists refer to as parasocial relationships. And by parasocial, they mean one-sided. Because as you might have noticed, when people yell at the TV screen or get mad at celebrities due to their love choices, they usually don’t get an answer. And it is not just because they can’t hear them, but most of the time it is because they don’t even exist! 

Let me tell you something: once I was watching a movie with my sister and after yelling at the characters for a while she turned to me and said, “You know what? I’ve tried warning them. Really. But it’s like talking to a pair of shoes, they won’t listen to me!”. Hmm, I wonder why. 

I get that F.R.I.E.N.D.S. is truly “always there for you”, but if you just give them a chance, three-dimensional people might be as well.

I also remember this friend of mine who used to get really mad at the Gilmore Girls because of their ability to eat tons of junk food and still look skinny and fit. Now, I get how that might be kind of upsetting at first, but guess what? They don’t actually eat it. It’s a TV series. That’s the point. However, no matter how hard I tried to explain to her that what took place on set didn’t necessarily match with reality, she still wouldn’t drop it. 

So I wonder, why do people seem to understand that actors are not the characters they play, and yet keep on texting Patrick Dempsey asking for medical advice? Well, I did some research and one of the explanations is a philosophical concept called alief. Basically what happens is that people’s cognition messes up with their wishes. So that in their mind, if McDreamy is Patrick Dempsey, this must be vice-versa. I mean yeah, they are the same person when it comes to fingerprints and head-shape, but that’s it. 

That’s why at the roots of theatre, actors used to wear masks: so that they could be somebody else. And yet, even then, not everyone was able to identify the point where reality stopped and acting took over.  

How to cheat on Angelina Jolie without even knowing her

A couple of years ago, my friends planned a night at the movies. At that point, Allied had just been released and we thought “why not? Let’s give it a shot”. But apparently, we weren’t just going to watch a movie, but about to take sides in a Hollywood scandal. Indeed, rumors said something along the lines of “that … (I’ll leave the exact words my friend used to refer to Marion Cotillard up to your imagination), is the ONLY reason Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie divorced. How dare you?”. Well, I am sorry. I guess we should have asked Angelina first. 

So this is what I like to refer to as “fictional loyalty”, my friend getting mad at me because I “betrayed Angelina in such an ungrateful way”. Shame on me.

Now, this might seem a little extreme, but not absurd compared to Jessie J’s fan who broke her foot on purpose when the singer got injured while rehearsing. I guess a simple “get well soon” tweet or comment wasn’t enough. She had to prove her devotion. Again, “fictional loyalty”.

In conclusion, yes, having a parasocial relationship is not as uncommon as you might have thought, but nobody says it is any healthier for you. I mean, I get that F.R.I.E.N.D.S. is truly “always there for you”, but if you just give them a chance, three-dimensional people might be as well. And fun fact, they might even answer back to you.

Cover: Kaushal Moradiya 

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